Musberger musings not amusing

Published On January 11, 2013 | By Alice Cook

It’s funny how the Brent Musberger situation is the most talked about topic coming out of the most hyped college football game in many years. We know the game was a total bust. Alabama crushed the Fighting Irish, 42-12. Most of America tuned out by halftime.

The real story began with 4:22 left in the first quarter and Alabama leading 14-0. That’s when the ESPN director cut away to the “family camera.” Musberger and his partner, Kirk Herbstreit, were most likely cued in their headsets about the shot coming up. America saw a striking young woman, and we were told it was Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, Miss Alabama a.k.a. Katherine Webb. As an aside, we also learned the woman on the right was AJ.’s mom, Dee Dee Bonner. Ho hum.

What stirred the controversy is Musberger continued to gush about the 23-year-old beauty queen. This is when I wondered out loud how old Musberger was.

My husband said he was at least 70. Close. Brent Musberger is 73.

Look, there is something kind of creepy about a 73-year-old man fawning over a 23-year-old woman.

I thought it was weird, but that alone did not offend me.

It’s what Musberger said next that rubbed me the wrong way.

“You quarterbacks, you get all the beautiful woman. What a beautiful woman!  If you are a youngster in Alabama, start throwing the football around in the backyard with Pops.”

Could we turn that comment around and say, “Hey if you are pretty girl in Alabama, start competing in beauty competitions so you can snag a handsome, successful quarterback who will make millions of dollars in the NFL someday?”

Didn’t think so. That would be demeaning.

Musberger was being playful, and it’s his job to keep the viewer engaged.  In this case it didn’t work. I have to admit though, I was surprised when I saw the apology from ESPN.

I was not surprised when Katherine Webb told the Today Show that she “appreciated the apology, but it was not necessary. ”

“I think the if he would have said something along the lines that we were hot or sexy, or made some derogatory statements like that, I think that would have been a little bit different,” Webb said. “But the fact that he said we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don’t see why any woman wouldn’t be flattered by that.”

I am not sure why Webb said “we” instead of “I” (they never gushed over McCarron’s mother), but the answer was spoken like a true pageant pro. Take the high road and accept the compliment. I get that.

The Musberger gaffe is milk toast compared to some other things we’ve seen and heard during national telecasts.

Remember when Joe Namath said, “I wanna kiss you” not once, but twice to   ESPN’s Suzy Kolber? It was 2003. I was covering that game between the Jets and Patriots on a Saturday night at the Meadowlands. From the press box, I saw Joe Namath stumble into Kolber almost knocking her down on the sidelines before the interview took place. Shortly after the incident, Namath apologized to Kolber and admitted to having an alcohol problem.

Many years later, Kolber talked about the incident during an HBO special.  Kolber said she refrained from talking about it before “because I knew he wanted it to go away.” Kolber handled it like the pro she is.

On the air Kolber laughed off Namath’s overtures by calling it “a huge compliment.” Talk about grace under pressure.

“I think the way I felt about it at the time was that he’s a really good guy having a bad moment that happened on national television,” Kolber told HBO.

The other incident that comes to mind happened on national radio. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser was suspended by the network for comments he made about Sportscenter’s Hannah Storm and her wardrobe.

In April of 2010 Kornheiser called Storm’s outfit that morning “horrifying.”

“She’s got on red go-go boots and catholic school plaid skirt, way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now. She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt. She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body.”

Kornheiser apologized for his remarks. He was then suspended for a few days from his ESPN show, “Pardon the Interuption.”

My advice to male commentators far and wide:

Don’t say anything about a woman’s appearance on a national broadcast that you would not say to your own mother. Do not try to kiss any sideline reporters in front of cameras. Do not make any comments ever on a woman’s wardrobe, makeup or hair. It’s a no-win situation, no matter how good your intentions are.

Brent Musberger is a great play-by-play man, and he understands the importance of weaving in a good story. I liked the mention that Katherine Webb went to Auburn and her boyfriend plays for arch-rival Alabama. That was relevant.

Unfortunately, that story line got buried quicker than the Notre Dame defense.

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About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.