On Monday night, millions of college football fans tuned in to watch the event of the season: the BCS National Championship game, during which the Alabama Crimson Tide prepared to defend their title against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. After the deed was done, the “Roll Tides!” had been cheered and the blue and gold was retired for the season, I am willing to bet maybe half of the viewers would be able to recount which players scored a touchdown, the athletes bestowed the honor of MVP or even the final score for that matter. Why, you ask? Everyone was too busy Googling, ogling over and Twitter-following Katherine Webb.
In case you too are in the dark on the outcome, allow me to refresh your memory with a little joke I heard. “What do Notre Dame and a sandcastle have in common? Both were pretty until the tide rolled in!” That’s right, Alabama shocked no one when they rolled over Notre Dame to capture back-to-back national champion titles, but not to worry; sportscaster Brent Musburger provided enough jaw-dropping commentary for everyone to forget the less than exciting activity on the field. However, it wasn’t nearly as funny as my little play on words (i.e. not funny at all). When it comes down to it, it was just bad form.
During the game, the camera and attention cut to the crowd, as they often do, focusing on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb. No big deal, right? No, not until Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit decided to air their locker room-like talk about her on national television, over and over again. What started as a human interest piece about the 2012 Miss Alabama and Auburn grad dating McCarron, the quarterback of her alma mater’s bitter rival, soon turned into approximately thirty seconds of stereotype-inducing commentary that ESPN and Musburger won’t soon live down. As America caught a glimpse of Miss Webb, the long-time football correspondent started in by saying, “Wow, I’m telling ya, you quarterbacks get all the good looking women. What a beautiful woman!” Soon after, he would jump right back in, interrupting Herbstreit at one point to exclaim, “Whoa! If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throwing it around the backyard with pops.”
Perhaps a blessing in disguise, Herbstreit couldn’t get a word in edgewise, only contributing an equally pig-headed statement with, “AJ’s doing some things right down in Tuscaloosa.”
Within 48 hours, Webb went from Alabama beauty queen to national starlet, rocking social media and gaining over 200,000 followers on Twitter. There isn’t a news outlet in America that isn’t talking about the “girlfriend heard round the world” and the corresponding comments that thrust her into the spotlight. If you type “kath” into google, Katherine Webb is the top related search, just above actress Katherine Heigl. She even made an appearance on the Today show Wednesday morning, where she responded to the situation with the kindness and grace that one would expect from a polite, southern pageant veteran.
Regardless of Webb’s nonchalant response, ESPN has since released an apology saying Musburger’s comments “went too far.” Webb advised the acknowledgement was not necessary, stating that the media had been too hard on Musburger and that she was flattered. “Had he used words like hot, or sexy, or commented on our body parts, that would be have been completely different. I didn’t take any offense to it because I think it’s okay for a man to tell a woman she’s beautiful.”
Webb herself may have been the most understanding of anyone. I grew up in a “football house” with a coach for a dad and spent much of my young adult life immersed in the world of college athletics; one of my first jobs was in athletics communications and media relations, so I know firsthand the immediate headache that set in as the cringe-worthy words left Musburger’s mouth. Even so, I found myself discussing the inappropriateness of his words and apparent disregard for the fact that millions were listening to his commentary. For better or worse, I have heard similar bantering and comments thrown around during backyard football games or even outside of a locker room once or twice, but never on national television. Some have agreed with Webb saying the thirty-second incident has been blown entirely out of proportion; others argue that Musburger’s words were not only sexist, inappropriate and a little creepy but also the type that foster unflattering stereotypes. Either way, the national championship garnered more attention from the activity in the stands than on the field.
It is likely that Musburger meant no harm with his words and in my opinion, they were not necessarily derogatory in nature. What was inappropriate was that he felt national television was a suitable medium to not only comment on a woman’s beauty whom he had never met, but nearly “cat call” at her from the booth, pushing his remarks to a point that made most of America shift uncomfortably on their couches. Not to mention it is hard to argue that, intentionally or not, his phrasing did nothing short of tell boys they could only get a girl like Webb if they too were a college QB, while making women feel as if it’s necessary to resemble a beauty queen to be the object of affection in this game.
All in all, it was right of ESPN to apologize and while Webb found it unnecessary, I believe most of America was relieved to know that the network found the over-exposure of McCarron’s girlfriend to be, at the very least, off-putting. We could debate the fact that there is a time and a place for “locker room talk,” light hearted razzing of your friends about a pretty girl they are dating, but I think we can all agree that national television is never the appropriate medium to express this type of back and forth. Especially when it is more of a rant than a two-sided jest; especially when you’re a word master and find yourself promoting stereotypes without even trying; especially when you could be the grandfather of the lovely lady you’ve thrust into the public eye. Ick.
I will not stand behind the people who have said that this 73-year-old man’s comments are “evidence of a culture of domestic violence and sexual assault in football” because I believe that is taking it to an unfair level; no matter how untimely, poorly-worded or over-exaggerated his opinions were, he did not direct derogatory comments towards Katherine Webb nor allude to the notion that treating her, or any woman, in such a way would be appropriate. There is actual sexual assault happening, right in front of our eyes, that we would do well to shift our focus towards. What I will say is, Brent, this was just bad form. Even though we are only ten days into the new year, I am going to go ahead and call it: this will be one of the most ill-timed, poorly-delivered, inappropriate public rants we witness in 2013.
And since everyone seemingly forgot about the Alabama Crimson Tide solidifying their status as a football dynasty, let me take a second to say congratulations and Roll Tide, Roll! Better luck stealing back your spotlight next season.
Featured Image via Twitter