TV commentator's remarks kick off sexism storm


AMERICAN FOOTBALL:On Tuesday morning, commentary on the broadcast of the Bowl Championship Series national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame included words like “creepy,” “awkward,” “uncomfortable” and “heteronormative”. The subject was not Alabama’s 42-14 victory, but comments made during the game by the ESPN play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger regarding the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.

In the first quarter, ESPN showed McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, who was sitting near his parents. Musburger called the 23-year-old Webb, the current Miss Alabama, a “lovely lady” and “beautiful”, and said to his broadcast partner, Kirk Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State, “You quarterbacks get all the good-looking women.”

“AJ’s doing some things right,” Herbstreit replied.

Musburger, 73, then said, “If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the back yard with Pop.”

Almost immediately, Webb’s name began trending on Twitter and her account added nearly 100,000 followers, including athletes like LeBron James. Meanwhile, Musburger’s comments, which some saw as harmless fun, struck other observers as off-putting.

“It’s extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual’s looks,” said Sue Carter, a professor of journalism at Michigan State. “In this instance, the appearance of the quarterback’s girlfriend had no bearing on the outcome of the game. 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 practising in these eras to keep up and this is not a norm.”

Went too far

ESPN planned in advance to mention that Webb, an Auburn graduate, is dating McCarron. But when Musburger’s gushing over her went too far, the network later apologised for his comments.

“We always try to capture interesting story lines and the relationship between an Auburn grad who is Miss Alabama and the current Alabama quarterback certainly met that test,” spokesman Josh Krulewitz said. “However, we apologise that the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that.”

For her part, Webb did not seem to mind what Musburger said. “It was kind of nice,” Webb said on Tuesday. “I didn’t look at it as creepy at all. For a woman to be called beautiful, I don’t see how that’s an issue.”

Carter was among those who said she thought Musburger should be reprimanded. “I think because sports has been such a male-dominated domain, he obviously felt licence and privilege and he’s been able to do that for years,” Carter said. “But the masculine aspect of sports is changing.”

Controversial comments

Musburger has made other controversial comments. His criticism of the demonstration by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics included a reference to Nazi Germany. While announcing a game in 2005, Musburger commented on a scantily clad Florida State fan, Jenn Sterger, who parlayed her notoriety into a television career.

Even on Alabama’s campus, there were those who felt Musburger went too far.

“Football is a male domain,” said Jennifer Greer, the chairwoman of the journalism department at Alabama. “And the role that women play even in the journalistic respect is in the supportive role, the mom, the hot girlfriend, the sideline reporter. They’re accepted in this world, but in particular roles. It reinforces this stereotype of the hot model girlfriend attached to a quarterback and the maleness of sports that is hard for serious female athletes.”

While critical of Musburger’s comments, Greer said the mere fact that there was controversy surrounding them was 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,” she said.

New York Times

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