A low moment in sports broadcasting

Football star punches woman in the head
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Story highlights

  • Roxanne Jones: Brent Musburger mishandled commentary on Oklahoma running back -- twice
  • Musburger could have taken a lesson from how commentators met Penn State issues head-on, she writes

Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of "Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete." She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia's 900AM-WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers.

(CNN)At the beginning of this college football season, I reached into a dark corner of my closet and pulled out my favorite Penn State sweatshirt.

It was time, I told myself, to go back to being the proud alum and former cheerleader I was before convicted child rapist Jerry Sandusky, and disgraced head coach Joe Paterno, who helped cover up the scandal, brought shame to my university, and made me vow to never again cheer: "We Are ... Penn State."
Roxanne Jones
This season, watching my 11-3 Nittany Lions claw their way back to the top of the college ranks and ending up at the Rose Bowl, made me proud. No matter that they lost, 52-49, to USC, which scored a heartbreaking, last-second field goal. It was still a huge win for this cleaned-up program and the new coaches and players who could only be considered innocent victims in a sick story. For one day, out in the glorious California sun, watching those boys play the game I love with grace and grit, I felt like Penn State had finally won back some respect.
    But it would be dishonest of me to say all is forgiven, or forgotten. I remain a hesitant college football fan and have no illusions about the corruption that big-money football programs can bring to a campus, especially regarding issues of domestic violence and abuse perpetrated by players or coaches.
    On the same day that the Nittany Lions were playing in the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon took the field as his team faced Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Mixon was embroiled in a scandal in December after a video released early last month from the 2014 incident shows him punching a woman in the face, fracturing bones.
    Instead of addressing the controversy surrounding Mixon, ESPN announcer Brent Musburger decided to dismiss it. His insulting sidestep of the domestic abuse case was a low moment in football broadcasting -- and unfortunately not the first one for Musburger, who seems to have a problem talking football and respecting women at the same time.
    01 Jan. 2016: ESPN college game day analyst Brent Musburger on the field before the start of the 2016 Rose Bowl game played between the Iowa Buckeyes and the Stanford Cardinal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. (Photo By John Cordes/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
    "It was troubling, very troubling to see. We've talked to the coaches. They all swear that the young man is doing fine. Like I said, Oklahoma thought he might even transfer, but he sat out the suspension, reinstated, and, folks, he's just one of the best, and let's hope, given a second chance by Bob Stoops and Oklahoma, let's hope that this young man makes the most of his chance and goes on to have a career in the National Football League," gushed Musburger, briefly mentioning Mixon's suspension (for the entire 2014 season) over the incident, for which Mixon pleaded guilty to assault. (Oklahoma won the Sugar Bowl, 35-19.)
    I'm all for second chances. But I am never all for men who ignore and excuse violence against women under any circumstances. And that's just what Musburger did, going so far as to reiterate his position after fans watching the game expressed their surprise and disapproval on Twitter: "'You know Jess, apparently, some people were upset when I wished this young man well at the next level. Let me make something perfectly clear. What he did with that young lady was brutal, uncalled for. He's apologized. He was tearful. He got a second chance. He got a second chance from Bob Stoops. I happen to pull for people with second chances, OK. Let me make it absolutely clear that I hope he has a wonderful career and he teaches people with that brutal, violent video, OK?'"
    Musburger's angry, defensive rant after fans across social media who justifiably criticized his lackluster reporting of the facts in the Mixon case, was unprofessional, thin-skinned and wrong.
    As a woman who worked in sports for 15 years, I know it's not easy to report on these stories. Athletes, coaches and media spend more time on the road together that they do with their own families, most times. And whether they admit it or not, many have conflicts of interest when it comes to reporting on the ugly side of sports.
    You don't have to be a woman to grasp the seriousness of domestic abuse or to believe that each of these stories can be a teaching moment for our men, women and children. In fact, many of those who expressed their outrage at Musburger's comments on social media were men.
    The fact is that the Musburgers of the world prolong the gender stereotypes that continue to thrive in the sports industry and prevent some of the most talented women in sports from rising to the broadcast booth, or the top-decision making positions. At some point, that will begin to hurt your TV ratings and your money in a sport where 55% of women are watching.
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    The sooner we get men like Musburger -- bumbling at best, dangerously sexist at worst -- out of the broadcast booth, the better for sports all around. Then, just maybe, we can promote some of those football savvy women, who've been forever relegated to the sidelines, into that booth. I guarantee we would not be discussing sexist rants by announcers ever again.
    Now, that would be a refreshing game-changer.