Posted: October 11, 2016
Sometimes, the best part of watching sports is not the sport itself, but the colorful commentary behind and between plays. Whether we are aware of it or not, we tend to suture together sport and the voice behind it, making for one unified event, familiar in its play-by-play personality yet unpredictable in content and result. And one voice among broadcasters is particularly special, if not for its smooth, assuring tenor, or its sports IQ, or its signature humor—then for the man behind it.
Jason Benetti is a renaissance man of sports broadcasting, having covered college basketball, college football, high school football, lacrosse, baseball, and even events at the Special Olympic World Games. But as of this year, Benetti is perhaps best known as the play-by-play voice behind home games of the Chicago White Sox Major League Baseball (MLB) team. What is not very well known about Benetti, however, is that he lives with Cerebral Palsy. With this, Benetti’s voice doubles as one for the sports community as well as for the Cerebral Palsy community.
Hired in January of this year as an MLB commentator for the White Sox, Benetti is living his dream. In elementary school, he wrote that he “would like to be the White Sox sportscaster” in response to a “what I’ll be in 20 years” assignment.
Fascinating as Benetti’s life is having met his childhood aspirations, it was far from easy, and far from predictable. Benetti was born 10 weeks premature, diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy soon after birth, has endured eye, heel cord, and hamstring surgeries, fended off ridicule at school, and walks with a slight limp. He engaged with his passion for broadcasting while young, beginning his journey to the Big Leagues at a humble high school radio station. His being an announcer began when his band instructor suggested it to him after participating as a band member proved too strenuous. He became the announcer for his high school band’s sets this way.
Benetti went on to study broadcast journalism, economics, and psychology at Syracuse University, announcing for the Syracuse Chiefs Minor League Baseball team. He was well in pursuit of his dream, but earned a J.D. law degree from Wake Forest University in the meantime—he knew that announcing for the White Sox was somewhat farfetched and that at any one point, swarms of commentators were vying for that esteemed position, so a law degree gave him a cushion, a backup plan if you will.
Benetti joined ESPN in 2011, covering various sports at the college and high school levels. The thing about play-by-play broadcasting is that merit is earned by hard work, swift thinking, and a penchant for commentary. What is not relevant in the ascension up the broadcasting ladder is a disability like Cerebral Palsy, and Benetti is proud to have ascended on the basis of his work ethic, not on the basis of his disability. Benetti has a lazy eye that at first gave him apprehension about doing television work, but he has been well received for his quality reporting and likable personality. Having had to defend his intelligence growing up because of peers implicating his gait and other appearances associated with Cerebral Palsy, Benetti is passionate about changing perceptions of Cerebral Palsy to ones that cast those with it in a positive light.
Combining his passions for changing perceptions of Cerebral Palsy, for sport, and for announcing, Jason Benetti is quite a success story, if only because all of these passions are active in his new position with the White Sox. Defying all odds—both in terms of raw probability and in terms of resilience—Benetti now stands at the zenith of the broadcasting world as the voice and personality behind the Chicago White Sox. Benetti’s first nationally-televised Big League broadcast took place on June 22nd, on ESPN. His story is a rare one, and many rightly view it as heroic, whether this sentiment is coming from the sports community, the Cerebral Palsy community, or both.