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 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT