Read some accounts of TV commentator Brent Musburger’s asides during last week’s National Championship game in American college football and it’s easy to get the impression of a sunken-faced old louche fumbling with himself in the commentary booth.
The normally balanced Yahoo Sports had the 73-year old TV broadcast veteran down as “slightly creepy“, after he did the strangest of things for a commentator and provided words to go with the pictures being broadcast (courtesy of his employer ESPN) of a section of the crowd that included Katherine Webb, the strikingly beautiful girlfriend of one of the game’s principal participants.
The Boston Globe denounced Musburger’s subsequent comments about Webb as “offensive ogling” and spoke of a “creepy adolescent dalliance”, before condemning Musburger’s remarks as “prurient, sexist, and just plain too weird for prime time TV, considering that he is a half-century older than Webb.”
And somebody please mop the fevered brow of Sue Carter, professor of journalism, at Michigan State University, who will clearly need some time to recover from this atrocity:
“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.”
My word; how bad can this have been? Shoo the kids out of the room and brace yourself, this gets pretty squalid…
You’re just appalled right? But wait, there’s more. Those tireless newshounds at Yahoo! Sports want us to know that Musburger has form in this area. Steel yourself just one more time and behold this piece of unutterable sleaze from a football game in 2005…
All right, so I’m driving the sarcasm bus here but really… While I would normally dismiss this hysteria as par for the course for those Who Simply Must Be Outraged About Something, there is something runs deeper and more ominously here.
Personally, I can spot in a moment the distinction between celebrating beauty and overtly lusting after it. Had Musburger observed that he “could use a piece of that” or that “there was a gal who could make an old man happy”, all our toes would have curled. But he doesn’t; in fact he simply points out the presence of an attractive young women in a way that was laddish without being crude and then projects the consequences onto the appropriate age-group – the wannabe quarterbacks who would pursue their dream with renewed vigour or the next generation of undergraduates who might just have had their minds made up as to which college they attend.
And that Musburger gets hammered while a TV company – one of many that make crowd close-ups of the beautiful and famous a staple part of their coverage – gets a free pass, represents a common yet lame journalistic distortion: the individual is targeted because it makes for better impact.
Viewers of 20 or 30 years ago would wonder what all the fuss is about but then Musburger’s plight could simply be the inevitable fall-out of an age that has made sex something tawdry and sordid. From hook-up culture, through websites that broker affairs or one-night stands as commodities and on to comedians whose act would collapse were they made to keep it above the waist, the dirty smirk and nudge-nudge mindset predominates, dragging down to its level anyone who wanders into its crosshairs.
So a 73-year-old man pointing out an attractive young woman cannot just be taken at face value but is instead seen as some old pervert who’s throwing his hat into the ring and making a play. Extrapolate this idea and presumably everyone over 50 who might once have complimented good looks must now keep his thoughts to himself. Sexism bad but ageism just dandy. You know how grim a culture has become when even its attempts at moralising sound perverse.
Oh there are some creepy people come out of this tale all right but I don’t have Brent Musburger anywhere on my shortlist. I’m thinking of his hypocritical employers who saw fit to embarrass him with public censure. I’m thinking of journalists and sportstalk jocks so twisted they insist on finding darkness where none exists.
Those are the people in whose company I suspect I could only be for so long before I felt the need to take a shower.