Imagine you’re a good-looking 23-year-old woman. You’ve done some modeling, won a few beauty contests, had your physical appearance judged as you strutted the stage. You’re okay with that . . . after all, you grew up in Alabama, a state not known for its reluctance to hail feminine attractiveness. Since you were teased and bullied about your looks as a child, it’s nice to get some affirmation.
Then a man 50 years your senior, old enough to be your grandfather, gushes over your looks on national television.
“What a beautiful woman!” That’s some of what Brent Musburger, 73-year-old sportscaster, said over the air at the BCS Championship football game about Katherine Webb, who is dating the University of Alabama’s star quarterback, A. J. McCarron.
As ESPN cameras focused on Webb, Musburger blurted more than was really healthy.
He totally ignored McCarron’s lovely mother, Dee Dee Bonner, standing inches from Webb. Bonner, who is young enough to be Musburger’s daughter? Nope, Musburger said zip about her. He had eyes only for Webb.
Notice that he didn’t say of Webb, “what a beautiful young woman”, thus acknowledging the age difference between himself and Webb, a distancing tactic that would have rendered his words a bit less grandiose: “I think you’re gorgeous, but I’ve got five decades on you, so this perception is merely the appreciation of an elderly man for the gifts of youth.” One can almost hear Maurice Chevalier humming in the background.
No, his word choice shows that he envisioned Webb and himself as contemporaries. They stood, in Musburger’s mind, on a level playing field. They shared parity, if nothing else.
No wonder that women interviewed about Musburger’s reaction called it “creepy”.
Webb has been gracious about the Musburger ode. She doesn’t mind, she insists. She enjoys having her beauty acknowledged. (Although since that night, she’s had to change her phone number, and I would be surprised if Twitter hasn’t carried some less-than-lovely tweets.) It’s true, too, that Musburger wasn’t the only man expressing appreciation of Webb’s looks. He was, however, the most vocal. And the camera guys were being instructed by the ESPN director, who carries responsibility for focusing on Webb rather than on the game itself.
But Musburger’s words were his. The adoration, his. The smacking lips, all his.
That last one is a joke. I hope.
A bunch of people – hold it, a bunch of men – are protesting the protest. Cut Musburger a break, they say! Especially because he’s been through the sportscaster wringer.
Just because someone’s experienced bad luck at work doesn’t mean they should get a pass on future behavior, does it? That’s too big a “free pass” card.
Imagine if Musburger were female and Webb male. A 73-year-old woman carrying on over national television about a much younger man, one her grandson’s age? You can hear the hoots and protests, the shouts to call in the mental health professionals.
Look, beauty is tempting. It’s nice to regard, fun to fancy.
But where the age difference is so great, at the very least, acknowledge that. Alternatively, keep it zipped.
You’ll sound a lot less like an immature creep.