Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Give Brent Musburger a break

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 11:41 AM EST, Thu January 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brent Musburger commented on air that a player's girlfriend was "lovely"
  • Dean Obeidallah asks: Why should ESPN have apologized for the remark?
  • Obeidallah: Would a 73-year-old woman be slammed for such a comment about a man?
  • He says overwrought critics hurt their credibility when a real outrage arises

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog "The Dean's Report" and co-director of the upcoming documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy

(CNN) -- What's the age at which older men are no longer allowed to compliment women in their 20s on being beautiful? Is there an age when such compliments go from nice to creepy? And is there a similar rule that bars older women from calling younger men "handsome"?

We ask because of the uproar that erupted this week when 73-year-old ESPN sportscaster Brent Musburger made a slew of comments -- on air -- about the beauty of 23-year-old Katherine Webb, the reigning Miss Alabama. He did this during Monday's national championship college football game between Alabama and Notre Dame; Webb is dating Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and was in the stands for the game.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Here's what he said when the cameras focused on Webb during the broadcast: "...you see that lovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I'll admit that, but she's also Miss Alabama, and that's A.J. McCarron's girlfriend. Wow, I'm telling ya, you quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman! Whoa! So if you're a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pops."

And boom! Cue the controversy. People attacked Musburger as "creepy," for ogling her too much, for being a "dirty old man," for being sexist, inappropriate, and more. One publication even went so far as to claim that Musburger's comments are "evidence" of "a culture of domestic violence and sexual assault in football."

Katherine Webb: Media unfair to Musburger

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The attacks on Musburger reached such a deafening crescendo that ESPN issued a statement: "We apologize that the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that."

I'm glad Brent understands it, because I don't. Can someone please explain to me where Musburger went too far?

Musburger didn't imitate Howard Stern and evaluate Webb's physical attributes part by part so he could decide if she was attractive enough to pose for Playboy? Musburger didn't utter a truly creepy remark like Matt Lauer did when recently interviewing actress Anne Hathaway after her wardrobe malfunction and opening the interview with his comment: "Seen a lot of you lately."

Musburger didn't continue with a running commentary of Webb's beauty during the telecast. He didn't abandon the announcer booth and run down to the stands in the hopes of getting a date with her.

Nope, he just made a few comments about Ms. Webb's beauty in the span of 15 to 20 seconds. But in this day of instant outrage and instant access to social media to vent it, that was enough to create a media storm.

Quarterback's girlfriend talks about fame
Alabama QB's second chance at life

News: Game? What game? There's a pretty woman in the stands

The only criticism that's arguably fair is Musburger's implication that if you are great quarterback, you will have earned a beautiful woman -- a reward, more than a human being. If that had been Musburger's intention, that, of course, would have been wrong.

However, if you listen to the actual broadcast, you can clearly tell from Musburger's tone that that was not his point. C'mon, we all know the difference between when people are being playful and when they are being hateful. By objecting to mere playfulness, well-intentioned people are going to undermine their credibility when they latter offer criticism on issues that really are objectionable.

And let's be brutally honest: If Musburger had been a 73-year-old woman and gushed over how handsome a 23-year-old man was, would there be any uproar at all? Of course not.

But for those who still have issues with Musburger, maybe Webb's own comments on Wednesday morning's "Today" show will sway you: "I think the media has been really unfair to [Musburger] ... If he would've said something along the line that we were hot or sexy or made any derogatory statements like that, I think that would've been a little bit different, but the fact that he said that we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don't see why any woman wouldn't be flattered by that."

And Webb's parents have even come to the defense of the sports announcer. Indeed, her father's comments to the media I think best sum up the entire situation: "...he was trying to be complimentary, and I think they need to give Brent a break."

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
updated 10:52 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT