Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Give Brent Musburger a break

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
January 10, 2013 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
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
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
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.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
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
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
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
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT