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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

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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
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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."

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

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