I teach a class titled “Sports Media Survey,” about the charmed synergy of sports and media, from hunter-gatherer days to the present. It’s offered only during fall semester, but sometimes I wish it ran all year long — there’s so much fodder. Almost certainly, we’d be talking about the apotheosis of (a former) Miss Alabama, Katherine Webb, who appeared onscreen multiple times during ESPN’s telecast of the Alabama/Notre Dame snorefest Monday night because she is the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. And because… well, there was some other reason…
I missed it, unfortunately. I had little interest in the game, mainly because it represented to me most of what I detest about so-called “amateur” sports — as much as I enjoy them. On one hand, ho-hum, Alabama, sparkling proof that obsessed alumni donors can keeping buying themselves national championships. On the other, Notre Dame, a storied gridiron power that rose from unranked to title game, undeterred by grisly rape allegations. I watched a little, with no enthusiasm, until it became apparent that it wasn’t much of a game anyway.
Early in the semester, once we get around to the modern age, I show parts of “Monday Night Madness,” a 2002 TNT movie about “Monday Night Football,” because it demonstrates how that broadcast helped make football the national compulsion it has become. The talented but troubled director Chet Forte scans crowds for attractive women — particularly when the game is boring, a point I recall when we get around to talking about media, sports and women later in the semester. The NFL, with its usual profit-seeking aplomb, has built a huge female fan base in recent years, and as a society we’ve learned to tone down rampant sexism.
To a point, that is. For we still have (figuratively) Chet Forte in the truck, and (literally) Brent Musberger in the booth. So I was not surprised to read Mary Pilon’s New York Times story Tuesday noting that at least some people found Musberger’s comments about Webb annoying.
Musburger called the 23-year-old Webb, a former Miss Alabama, a “lovely lady” and “beautiful,” and said to his broadcast partner, Kirk Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State, “You quarterbacks get all the good-looking women.”
“A J’s doing some things right,” Herbstreit replied. Musburger, 73, then said, “If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop.”
Pilon, noting Musberger’s 73 years, quotes two journalism professors, including one at Alabama, saying that Musberger’s comments were inappropriate. ESPN pointed to the Alabama-Auburn angle, as Webb is a graduate of the rival latter school. And Webb, who instantly gained about 100,000 Twitter followers, was anything but offended. Again, from the Times story:
“It was kind of nice,” Webb told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I didn’t look at it as creepy at all. For a woman to be called beautiful, I don’t see how that’s an issue.”
Webb, 23, who has known McCarron all of three weeks, plans to move from Los Angeles, where she had been pursuing a modeling career, back to Alabama. She claims that she has no thought of capitalizing on the attention.
Uh-huh. Will they become the next Tom and Giselle of the NFL? Will she eventually grab the media reins, drop AJ and get her own reality show? Or does she need to stay with the QB to keep trending? Sports, media and women…