It was your run of the mill mid-June Major League Baseball game that came one night after fans were disappointed they didn’t get to see a matchup between two of the most dominant pitchers in the game. But last Wednesday night marked television history, when 32-year-old Jason Benetti became the first broadcaster with cerebral palsy to call a nationally televised game.
Despite his disability, Benetti has risen up in an industry that usually greets people with years of denial and relocation from one remote city to another. Most sportscasters are well into their 50s and 60s when they finally reach the big leagues, but the Chicago White Sox named Benetti the play-by-play announcer for home games this year after hearing him call lower-level events such as college, high school and little league sports.
Benetti’s path to the broadcast booth began when he unsuccessfully tried out the tuba for his high school marching band. The band director asked instead if he was interested in sitting in the press box during games and calling out the next set as the band was performing. It was in the press box where Benetti was exposed to play-by-play announcing and a passion was quickly born within him.
This passion led Benetti to attend the renowned S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. His first on-air opportunity came after hosting a studio show for IMG. In September of 2006, he went to High Point University to be their play-by-play announcer. From High Point, he got his initial job in professional baseball landing a job with the Triple A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, the Syracuse Chiefs. During the past six years, Benetti has seen his career take off, working for media giants Time Warner, Fox and ESPN.
Benettiwas born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle coordination, movement and balance, and works with the “Just Say Hi’ campaign as part of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
When asked in an interview with North Shore Pediatric Therapy, a facility he attended as a child, about some of the hurdles he has to endure on his professional journey, Benetti explained, “It took time for people to warm up to the fact that I can’t look into the camera or have a commanding strut walking into a room, so perceptively there was an adjustment period for people. I quickly found great allies with Time Warner in Syracuse and ESPN. Once they got to know me, they were supportive. It just takes one person.” Benetti is very thankful to have found that one person, as he is currently “living the dream.”
To help others living with disabilities to live their dreams, Benetti gives this advice: “If you think people perceive you a certain way, you are not crazy and they might be, but do everything you can to disregard that and get past it, it could be damaging to the relationship. It is happening, but trust yourself to get past it.”
Incidentally, after earning three bachelor’s degrees in broadcast journalism, economics and psychology from Syracuse University, Benetti went on to earn a law degree from Wake Forest all the while calling baseball and basketball games.