Those of us who stuck out that snoozer of a BCS National Championship got to see a rare occurrence of broadcasting catastrophe when ESPN announcer Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit took time from calling the game to rave over the attractiveness of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb.
Musburger called Webb — former Miss Alabama USA — a “lovely lady” and “beautiful.” He then turned to his broadcast partner, Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, “You quarterbacks get all the good-looking women.”
Herbstreit replied with, “A.J.’s doing some things right.”
Musburger, 73, then said, “If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop.”
Musberger received almost instant backlash for his comments across news platforms and social media alike, causing a hellfire of sports and opinion writers to either tear him apart or back him up over the past week.
Within the next 24 hours, Webb gained 90,000 twitter followers and instantly overshadowed McCarron’s 42-14 win over Notre Dame. ESPN had originally planned to spotlight that Webb, 23, is an Auburn graduate — making their relationship a bit scandalous for those football-crazed Alabamians — but they didn’t expect Musburger to say what he said, nor for him to dwell on it for so long.
ESPN apologized this past Tuesday for Musburger’s conduct. Oddly the sports network didn’t apologize for repeatedly putting Webb on camera nor for Herbstreit’s comments.
Timothy Burke, an editor at the sometimes risque Deadspin website, wrote a piece the night of the game criticizing Musberger, saying his comments went too far.
Burke posted a the video of the commentary with the description, “Here’s good ol’ Brent whacking it to Miss Alabama (and, sort of, McCarron’s mom) in all its uncomfortable, awkward, heteronormative glory.”
The New York Times published a piece that interviewed two women in journalism academia: head of the Alabama journalism department Jennifer Greer and Sue Carter, a professor of journalism at Michigan State.
“It’s extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual’s looks,” Carter told The New York Times. “It’s a major personal violation, and it’s so retrograde that it’s embarrassing. I think there’s a generational issue, but it’s incumbent on people practicing in these eras to keep up and this is not a norm.”
Greer told The New York Times that Musberger’s comments show just how much of a male domain football is and that it translates into the larger stereotype that women play the supporting role, such as the quarterback’s girlfriend.
She also spoke about how the mere fact that his comments caused a stir is a sign of progress for women and sports.
“We’ll be using this as an example in our classes when we talk about journalists and sensitivity to issues,” Greer told The New York Times.
But should this incident be used as an example of insensitivity in journalism or should it have been dismissed instantly as an eccentric compliment to Webb, McCarron and the entire state of Alabama?
Webb herself told “Today” host Matt Lauer that the apology wasn’t necessary.
“I think the media has been really unfair to (Musburger). I think if he would have said something along the lines of that we were hot or sexy, or made any derogatory statements like that, that would have been different,” Webb told Lauer.
Even Webb’s father, Alan Webb, said that he thinks Musburger’s comments were misinterpreted.
“On one hand, you can look at it as being kind of like the dirty old man, but I’m used to this and I think if you really look into what that he was trying to say, he was trying to be complimentary, and I think they need to give Brent a break,” Alan Webb told FOX 5 Atlanta.
If anything is to blame, it is the BCS for giving Herbstreit and Musberger such a terrible matchup to commentate on in what should have been a great game. Musburger is one of the most respected commentators in college football today, and it is sad how quickly the media turned him into the equivalent of a pedophile.
This incident should serve not as a lesson in insensitivity but as a lesson in listening to a comment for the way it was intended: as a compliment.