Sportscaster Brent Musberger, 71, unwittingly touched off a cultural phenomenon at a college football game on Monday night, by allowing his eyes to wander into the stadium while they were still attached to his mouth. As recounted by CNN:
When you get bored, your eyes wander.
So when a blossoming blowout between the University of Alabama and some other team in Monday night’s college football championship floated into yawnfest territory, the electronic eyes of ESPN naturally went wandering — settling on a brunette bombshell who just happens to be the girlfriend of Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron.
“Now when you are a quarterback at Alabama, you see that lovely lady there, she does go to Auburn, I want to admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama and that’s AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, OK,” ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger said Monday night as the camera focused on Katherine Webb in the stands.
“Wow, I’m telling you, quarterbacks — you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman,” he gushed. “Wow!”
As the chasm grew between Alabama and the other team — the name will surely come back to us soon — ESPN kept going back to the well, repeatedly showing Webb cheering in the crowd, wearing her boyfriend’s No. 10 jersey.
Finally, Yahoo! Sports columnist Jess Passan jokingly tweeted, “Sources: A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend to seek restraining order from Brent Musburger at halftime.”
The story really caught fire overnight, leading to much ribbing of Musberger and an astonishing surge in popularity for the reigning Miss Alabama, who CNN tells us “went from a scant 526 followers December 26 to more than 148,000 Tuesday” on Twitter. That puts her well ahead of McCarron, who has 91,000 Twitter fans.
This, by the way, is Katherine Webb:
Further hilarity ensued when Arizona Cardinals defensive end Darrell Dockett tried hitting on Webb with a Twitter invitation to grab some chicken wings, which included his phone number. He forgot to make it a private message, so the whole world saw it. “Dang it, that should have been a Direct Message!” has been the Twitter epitaph of many a reputation.
What makes this story interesting from a cultural perspective is that our culture-shapers couldn’t quite figure out how to process it. There was a vague sense of outrage that couldn’t quite justify itself. The confusion was made deeper because everyone involved had a great sense of humor about the incident. McCarron responded to Darrell Dockett’s efforts to swipe his girl by making fun of him, saying “you don’t win enough” and “you’d better keep dreaming like the rest of these dudes.”
Making fun of Musberger swiftly became a national pastime, with a parody “Creepy Musberger” account appearing on Twitter, while Alabama center Barrett Jones sighed on CNN, “Where’s the love for the actual players? She is certainly very pretty, but I just think Brent needs to share the love a little bit, that’s all I’m saying.”
Webb herself was extremely gracious, saying of Musberger’s unsolicited attention, “It was kind of nice. 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.” She actively came to Musberger’s defense, speaking out against the “backlash” he had suffered.
Webb probably doesn’t see how this is an “issue” because she doesn’t spend a lot of time hanging around with modern feminists. The New York Times quotes journalism professor Sue Carter of the University of Michigan explaining why everyone should stop laughing and purse their lips: “It???s extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual???s looks. 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 practicing in these eras to keep up and this is not a norm.”
“I think there’s a generational issue?” Is that a whiff of… ageism I detect rising from these comments? And when did it become “extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual’s looks?” People earn vast fortunes because the public focuses upon their looks, and that didn’t start happening yesterday. Webb is the reigning queen of a beauty pageant, after all. And since she became an overnight sensation for unwittingly becoming a topic of on-air conversation while she was watching a football game, what else was anyone supposed to focus on at the time?
So there you have it, Miss Webb. Wipe that gracious smile off your face pronto, and start howling for blood! ESPN was swiftly pressed into throwing a flag on this “major personal violation,” issuing a statement of apology on Tuesday: “We always try to capture interesting storylines, and the relationship between an Auburn grad who is Miss Alabama and the current Alabama quarterback certainly met that test. However, we apologize that the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that.”
Thus we reach the humorless denoument of a story that only captured the public imagination because it was funny, and everyone was having a good time poking fun at Musberger. I suppose sports cameramen will soon receive directives to avoid pointing their lenses at good-looking women in the crowds – a practice that has a far older pedigree than last Monday.
Update: Courtesy of Fox News, it’s easy to see where Katherine Webb inherited her good nature from:
Webb’s dad says critics should cut Musburger some slack.
“On one hand, you can look at it as being kind of like the dirty old man, but I’m used to this and I think if you really look into what that he was trying to say, he was trying to be complimentary, and I think they need to give Brent a break,” Alan Webb told FOX 5 Atlanta.
Webb’s mother Leslie also told FOX 5 her daughter has been shocked by the attention she has received following the telecast.
“She didn’t even know that they had the camera on her,” said Katherine’s mom, Leslie. “She didn’t see it.”
Webb’s parents said their daughter was once an ugly duckling, bullied both for the skin condition Vitiglio and her height.
“That’s actually what the Miss USA pageant did for Katherine is to help develop a better self-esteem to finally love herself. Her self confidence grew dramatically because of that,” her mom said.
Her parents said Katherine is very involved in her church, and only met McCarron in November at the Miss USA pageant.
“I have been very impressed with him. He’s a very good man and I know that she’s impressed with him,” her dad said. “I think she really likes him.”
Now I almost feel bad for poking fun at Musberger yesterday. Except that he’s probably well-accustomed to the experience of locker-room ribbing, just as beauty queens are accustomed to people taking note of their physical appearance.