In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Barry Bremen gained national attention after appearing as a player in an NBA All-Star game, an MLB umpire in the World Series, an umpire in an NFL game, and as a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. These stunts, and many others, earned Bremen the nickname “The Great Trickster.”
While that legacy is forever etched in sports history, Bremen was secretly building another that is only now becoming public knowledge 11 years after he died of esophageal cancer in 2011, on his 64th birthday.
More than three dozen people have learned that, through sperm donation, Bremen — a Detroit native who worked as an insurance salesman when he wasn’t sneaking into iconic sports venues — is their biological father. That story is covered in full on the newest episode of ESPN’s “E60,” which premiered Tuesday.
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The documentary, titled “The Big Con and Me,” was written and directed by 11-time Emmy winner Jeremy Schaap, and is told primarily through Bremen’s wife, Margo, the three children they raised — and the biological children that Bremen never met them.
It also features interviews with former NBA star Otis Birdsong (Kansas City Kings) and MLB Hall of Famer George Brett (Kansas City Royals), both of whom befriended Bremen and helped him pull off some of the stunts his.
Another key figure in Bremen’s rise was Dick Schaap, Jeremy’s father and a prominent sports writer and broadcaster. Dick Schaap first interviewed Bremen on “The Today Show” after he was inducted into the NBA All-Star Game in 1979. From there, the two developed a close relationship as Dick Schaap also helped make Bremen famous.
“It tells two seemingly different stories,” Jeremy Schaap told the Free Press. “It’s about this great sports cheat who did all those things that would be impossible to do today because of the ways in which the world has changed. At the same time, he was a family man. That seems like usually where these stories end, but it doesn’t.
“Ultimately, this story is about family, identity, and the latest big reveal from the man known as ‘The Great Deceiver.’ … To me, it’s a very human, multi-layered story that’s obviously about a lot more than sports.”
Bremen’s secret offspring began after he, remaining anonymous, donated sperm to a clinic in Detroit after the birth of his first child.
Produced and directed by Russell Dinallo, whom Schaap calls the “bus driver” of the piece, “The Big Cheater and Me” explores how Bremen’s biological children discovered each other through 23andMe’s genetic testing service. From there, he details the painstaking efforts one of Bremen’s descendants used to trace their ancestry and find the Bremen family through social media.
Schaap, who has a close friendship with the Bremen family, was one of the first people the Bremens told about their discovery in the late 2010s. As more and more people came forward with evidence that Bremen was their biological father, the family organized a gathering.
Cameras caught the moment when the group of about three dozen people all shared the same space; Schaap is sure of one thing – Bremen would have loved to be there.
“Barry would embrace all of that,” Schaap said. “I think some people would react differently. They may not want to be a part of it. They may be confused by what they participated in. But knowing Barry, and you’ll hear Margo say this, he would have loved to meet all these people, to meet his biological children and grandchildren. … He would be at every birthday party, every Christmas party, all these things. Because that was the type of man. He was a popular person.
“He would have thought it was the cutest thing ever. And I think he would have said, “The more the merrier.” Barry (became the Great Con) because, as he said, he liked the attention, being famous, being a celebrity. But you scratched it and what mattered was family. That’s what ties it all together.”
“The Great Imposter and Me” debuts at 7pm Tuesday on ESPN and will be available to stream on ESPN+ following its broadcast.
Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at The Detroit Free Press and can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.