ESPN's Brent Musburger apology, and why accountability matters

ESPN issued an apology for announcer Brent Musburger's comments about Katherine Webb. Here's why they should have.

During Monday night's National Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame, the ESPN cameras cut to the stands. The shot focused on A.J. McCarron's girlfriend Katherine Webb and his mother, both watching the game. Announcer Brent Musberger made some creepy-at-best comments about Webb's attractiveness, including encouraging "youngster[s] in Alabama" to start throwing a football in hopes of becoming quarterbacks at the college one day. Because quarterbacks "have all the luck."

On Tuesday, ESPN released a statement apologizing for Musburger's comments.

We always try to capture interesting storylines and the relationship between an Auburn grad who is Miss Alabama and the current Alabama quarterback certainly met that test. However, we apologize that the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that.

There are many who feel that this public apology is making a mountain out of a molehill. That Musberger's comments were innocuous and "grandfatherly"; that he's a 73-year-old man who lived the majority of his life being able to make these sort of comments -- and much worse. Most of all, there are many who believe that Musburger's comments weren't objectionable in the slightest.

Musburger isn't the only problem here, of course. Part of the problem is the production team and their decision to cut to Webb during the game. They highlighted her with a lower-third graphic in such a way that it seemed almost surprising that her Twitter handle wasn't included. Then, of course, the announcers would have to say something about what the people at home are seeing. These production decisions are also problematic -- indeed, they are symptomatic of how major sports and most news programs are constructed. Just sports isn't good enough to hook the viewer any longer; you must involve personal lives, intrigue ... as the apology reads, "interesting storylines."

So yes, Musburger's comments are part of a larger problem, but an apology -- and someone being held accountable for acting inappropriately -- are precisely how we can begin addressing that larger problem. Musburger made comments that made a great many people uncomfortable. Was he spurred on by the production team and the framing of the broadcast? Absolutely. But a faceless production team can't be tapped for an apology. It doesn't make immediate sense to anyone -- nor does it do any good -- to say "Hey, sorry we picked a problematic camera shot."

For those who are interested in making sure that all people are treated with respect, it is important that there be accountability at some level. In this instance, Musburger was held accountable, as he was the person in our ears waxing lascivious over a woman who had no idea she was being spoken about at that moment, or in what capacity. Musburger's comments, taken at face value, insinuated that Webb had worth based solely on her looks and that an attractive woman should be incentive for youngsters to want to play football. Because women, according to Musburger's ramblings, are prizes to be won. Foregone conclusions. If you play quarterback for Alabama, you will be given a woman that will make an ESPN announcer say, "WHOA!" on the air.

Musburger felt comfortable insinuating those things on a national broadcast in the year 2013. This, above all else, is why someone needs to be held accountable. Because it has to start somewhere.

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