In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Barry Bremen gained national attention as an NBA All-Star, an MLB World Series umpire, an NFL referee, and as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. 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 has only just become public knowledge 11 years after his death from esophageal cancer in 2011, on his 64th birthday.
More than three dozen people have learned through sperm donation that Bremen — a Detroit native who worked as an insurance salesman when he wasn’t sneaking into iconic gyms — is their biological father. That story is covered at length in the latest episode of ESPN’s “E60,” which premiered Tuesday.
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The documentary, titled “The Great Con and Me,” was written and narrated by 11-time Emmy Award winner Jeremy Schaap and is told largely through Bremen’s wife, Margot, the three children they raised — and the biological children , which Bremen has never met.
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 developed friendships with Bremen and helped him pull off some of his stunts.
Another key figure in Bremen’s rise was Dick Schaap, Jeremy’s father and a well-known sportswriter and broadcaster. Dick Schaap first interviewed Bremen on “The Today Show” after he snuck into the NBA All-Star Game in 1979. From there, the two developed a close relationship, as Dick Schaap also facilitated Bremen’s famous antics.
“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 today because of the ways the world has changed. At the same time, he was a person who was all about family. It seems like these stories usually end, but they don’t.
“Ultimately, this story is all about family, identity, and the last great revelation from the man known as ‘The Great Deceiver.’ … To me, it’s a very human story with many layers, which is obviously about much more than sports.”
Bremen’s secret progeny began after he, remaining anonymous, donated sperm to a clinic in Detroit after the birth of his first child.
Produced and directed by Russell Dinalo, whom Schaap calls the piece’s “bus driver,” “The Great Con and Me” explores how Bremen’s biological children discovered each other through the genetic testing service 23andMe. From there, it chronicles the painstaking efforts of one of Bremen’s descendants to trace his lineage and find the Bremen family through social media.
Schaap, who is close friends with the Bremen family, was one of the first people Bremen told about their discovery in late 2010. As more people came forward with proof that Bremen was their biological father, the family arranged a meeting.
Cameras captured the moment the group of approximately three dozen people shared the same space; Schaap is sure of one thing – Bremen would love 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 have been involved in. But knowing Barry, and you’ll hear Margot say this, he would love to meet all these people, meet his biological children and grandchildren. … He’ll be at every birthday party, every Christmas party, all that stuff. Because that’s the kind of person he was. He was a man of the people.
“He would have thought it was the greatest thing that ever existed. And I think he would say, “The more the merrier.” Barry (became the Great Conman) because, as he said, he liked to attract attention, to be famous, to be a celebrity. But you erase that and what mattered was family. That’s what ties it all together.”
“The Great Con and Me” debuts Tuesday at 7:00 PM on ESPN and will be available to stream on ESPN+ after it airs.
Chandler Engelbrecht is an intern reporter at The Detroit Free Press and can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.