Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Beauty and The Creep

Other than, perhaps, "Nick Saban's legacy", the most discussed topic emanating from the Alabama-Notre Dame NCAA football championship game does not directly involve a player or coach on either team. Instead, the focus has been on Brent Musburger and the girlfriend of AJ McCarron, Alabama's quarterback. 

Most Irish fans are just fine with that.

The game had the smell of a rout from 'Bama's first drive on, and commentator and hall of fame blow-hard Brent Musburger wasted no time in confusingly alternating between trying to convince the viewers that it was still a game and handing Alabama the trophy.

Late in the first quarter -- far too early for the "filler" that television uses to try to keep the few still watching a blow-out engaged, the camera panned to the crowd and everything got more interesting and a whole lot creepier. In what had to have been a planned sequence, the camera fixed on a young lady in the crowd. Musburger, on cue, began to explain who she was, but apparently should have been shown a picture of her before the game, as what is left of his 74 year-old libido kicked in with a vengeance. With some "help" from sidekick Kirk Herbstreit, this is what ensued.

The dialogue in written form is every bit as interesting/amusing/odd.

"B: Now when you’re a quarterback at Alabama . . . you see that looovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I will admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama and that’s AJ McCarron’s girlfriend. Okay? And right there on the right is Dee Dee Bonner . . . that’s AJ’s Mom wow I’m tellin’ you quarterbacks . . .

K: Ha ha ha.

B: You get all the good lookin’ women ah that’s a . . . what a beautiful woman!

K: Wow! AJ’s doin’ some . . .

B: Whoa!

K: Some things right down in Tuscaloosa.

B: So if you’re a youngster at [sic] Alabama start gettin’ the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop."

The day after the game, ESPN apologized for Musburger's remarks (although Musburger himself apparently has not) by saying that "the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that." The young lady, Katherine Webb, (notably not identified by Musburger by name) has herself stated that she didn't take offense because "I think it's okay for a man to tell a woman that she's beautiful, no matter what age."

And, of course, pundits, experts, bloggers, and blog commentators have weighed in at both ends of the spectrum, from those who assert that Musburger's comments were "a major personal violation" and "evidence of a culture that views women as nothing more than chattel", to those who who viewed it as harmless banter and others who essentially accused Musburger's accusers of ageism by stating that the conversation wouldn't have been found to be offensive if Musburger were, say, Herbstreit's age.            

To all of which I say: I'd almost rather listen to Musburger.

In the inevitable rush to be offended, and the equally inevitable rush to defend offenders, many forget their common sense. For me, the bottom line is: was this commentary something that would have been acceptable for Musburger to say, in-person, face-to-face with Ms. Webb?

Of course not.

Those who insist that Brent didn't say anything wrong and that our society has broken down because a man cannot compliment a woman on her appearance are taking little bits of Musburger's half-minute performance, ignoring or subtracting their tone, and making them the entirety. 

Would it be okay for Brent to say to Ms. Webb during a conversation: "you look nice this evening"?  Almost certainly.

What if he said: "you are a beautiful woman"? Maybe, although unlikely given their lack of familiarity. 

How about: "you are a looovely lady!" No. 

And, finally, what if Brent said directly to Ms. Webb: "you are a looovely lady! Whoa! I'm gonna tell my grandsons to forget about schoolwork and practice their spirals so they can snag a beauty like you some day!"? No. No. No. 

Does the fact that Ms. Webb, 50 some years younger than Musburger, could be his grandchild make it creepier? Of course.

That is not to say those on the other side didn't go overboard too. Brent's musing weren't intended to further, nor were they caused or sanctioned by, some societal diminution of women. They were just the lame, off-the-cuff comments of a creep with a long history of inane remarks. 

While Brent and Kirk yucking it up did have a "locker room" feel to it (that last "Whoa!" from Musburger gets me every time), they did not, as many have pointed out in their defense, discuss Ms. Webb's physical attributes or make any sexually suggestive comments.

All of which leads me to this -- a little advice regarding what I view as a few simple, common sense rules when communicating with or about your fellow human beings.

First, limit to whom and how often you comment on someone's appearance. Never talk about someone's appearance with someone else in a work setting. When you do discuss appearance directly with someone, be sincere and keep it generic. Remember the old saw: "If you can't say something nice ..."

Second, when saying, writing, or posting anything about someone, whether their personality, their appearance, their attire, or any other attribute, act as if you were saying it face-to-face and ask yourself if it would be appropriate in that context. If not, it's probably something that shouldn't be said.

Finally, sometimes it's okay to engage in humorous banter as long as it's not offensive.  But choose topics, and know the person well enough, to be sure that they will not be put off.

For example, I just can't resist posting this picture again -- its ridiculousness is the cherry on top of the Musburger cake. While I don't know Brent, I am positive that he thought it was a cool picture when it was taken.

And, yes, I would be fine with telling him that to his face.


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