Shooting the Messenger: Brent Musburger

Apparently Brent Musburger is in all kinds of hot water because of comments he made during last night’s BCS championship game.  When I read that it involved remarks about the Crimson Tide quarterback’s girlfriend, I really braced for something awful.

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 A J 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, a former 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.”

“A J’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 backyard with Pop.”

That’s it?  He says that a former Miss Alabama is a beautiful woman, that quarterbacks always get the girl, and that that is an incentive to be a football player?  I could understand an outcry if, say, the girlfriend was a Rhodes Scholar or a theoretical physicist or even a law student.  But she’s a former Miss Friggin’ Alabama.

That’s part of the culture of college football and of beauty pageants.  Jocks get the girl.  The pretty ones are Miss Whatever. Guys do what they can to date Miss Whatever.

And because of that, you might well say, “That’s right.  It’s the culture.  And that culture sucks and is demeaning to women and emphasizes idiotic masculine tropes.”  Fair enough.  I basically agree: I think pageants are dumb, and I am coming around to Mike O’Hare’s view that football is, too.

But it seems a little silly to me to blame Musburger for this.  Yes, I know: he’s reinforcing the culture yadda yadda yadda.  But don’t attack the messenger for a bigger — and really, a more important, and more controversial, and more radical point.  People aren’t attacking Musburger for going “over the line,” even if they say they are.  They are taking on college football.  They are taking a massive entertainment and financial juggernaut.  And they should.  But go after the big boys, so to speak.  Musburger is well-paid for what he does and obviously can take care of himself.  But he’s a cog in this stuff.  ESPN has apologized for Musburger’s comments and has said that he “went too far”, but why in the world was Webb on the screen to begin with?  ESPN like all networks is avoiding its own complicity in what is going on here.

Should we boycott Discover Cards for sponsoring the game?  Or FedEx for sponsoring the stadium?  Or all the other sponsors, and the NCAA itself?  Maybe we should.  But then focus on them.  Getting outraged at Musburger seems to me to be sort of cheap and safe way to avoid really making the critique that ought to be made.

UPDATE:  I don’t know why the comments have been disabled for this post, but am trying to fix it.

UPDATE UPDATE: Comments now back on.  Fire away.



Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

13 thoughts on “Shooting the Messenger: Brent Musburger”

  1. I just wanted to be rid of Brent Musberger. I really don’t care how it’s accomplished.

    1. Yeah, but Mike, you hate all sports announcers. (I recall you being a Blyleven-hater, too). If you don’t like Musburger now, you should have heard him in the 1970’s, when he was paired with the likes of Phyllis George and Jimmy the Greek. (I grew up with Vin Scully and Chick Hearn; every other announcer is Cro-Magnon compared to them.).

      1. I grew up with Vin Scully and Chick Hearn; every other announcer is Cro-Magnon compared to them

        I grew up with Ernie Harwell, later I enjoyed Bob Edwards chatting with Red Barber on Friday – Red must have made many very happy. I feel sad for people who couldn’t grow up with voices like these on the radio.

      2. This actually isn’t true. What I like is announcers that don’t make themselves the show and help to inform me about the game. The fundamental problem with Musberger’s comments in this case isn’t that they were sexist; that’s a secondary problem, though one that’s important. The basic issue is that he spent time blathering about something that had nothing at all to do with the game. The reason I don’t like Blyleven is that his whole “Circle Me, Bert” schtick is the same sort of thing: an annoying distraction from what I’m actually interested in. And, yeah, there aren’t very many broadcasters that actually focus on the damned game.

  2. I know nothing about Musburger, and only heard about the comments days later. His comments were gauche, and reflected undesirable aspects of society – but (1) they hardly seemed uncharacteristically so for the genre; and (2) he was commenting on the pulchritude of a professionally beautiful woman, which surely must be different than if he were choosing to emphasize the attractiveness of a fiancee who had not striven to make herself notable in that area, or who was more notable for some other efforts. She literally made a professional career out of being beautiful, and he was responding to it. Frankly, I think I heard a lot of stuff that was if anything tackier years ago about Patriots QB Tom Brady’s then-girlfriend-or-fiancee, supermodel Gisele Bundchen – a situation I think is highly parallel, as both the football player and the fiancee were basically in the same businesses as in this case.

  3. What a silly, pointless episode. There are an awful lot of things worth being outraged by in the world today, and people pick on this?

    Remember the 2008 presidential campaign? Remember the often revolting sexual objectification of Sarah Palin on the part of many right-wing American men? But surely it was the fact of her being nominated for Vice President by a major political party that was the outrage.

  4. Easier to intently focus on Musberger and whathedid and whathesaid and whatthatmeans and gosh how awful and can youbelieve it and oh, gosh! than to even consider thinking about taking even the briefest glance at head injuries.

    1. My sentiments exactly, and really what I was trying to say, less pithily than you.

  5. I turn off the sound when Musberger is providing any sort of commentary, the sound of his voice just grates on me.

  6. Doesn’t anyone in management listen to the guy? A parrot could do what he does. Typical announcing from this bum, ” the Quarterback sets,the tight end is wide right,the sky is freaking blue,the frog leaps,it’s the centers grandmothers birthday, I never said Penn State was a class organization, I meant Notre Dame, no I mean Alabama, has anyone seen OJ?”,yada,yada,yada! They need to line this guy up behind Jarrod the Sub Jockey and kick them both into another freaaking time zone. Brent you suck!

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