Apparently sportscaster Brent Musburger is in all kinds of hot water because of comments he made during the Bowl Championship Series Alabama-Notre Dame game. When I read that it involved remarks about the Crimson Tide quarterback’s girlfriend, I really braced for something awful.

The subject was not Alabama’s 42-14 victory, but comments made during the game by the ESPN play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger regarding the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A J McCarron. In the first quarter, ESPN showed McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, who was sitting near his parents. 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.”

That’s it? He says that a former Miss Alabama is a beautiful woman, that quarterbacks always get the girl, and that that is an incentive to be a football player? I could understand an outcry if, say, the girlfriend was a Rhodes Scholar or a theoretical physicist or even a law student. But she’s a former Miss Friggin’ Alabama.

That’s part of the culture of college football and of beauty pageants. Jocks get the girl. The pretty ones are Miss Whatever. Guys do what they can to date Miss Whatever.

And because of that, you might well say, “That’s right. It’s the culture. And that culture sucks and is demeaning to women and emphasizes idiotic masculine tropes.” Fair enough. I basically agree: I think pageants are dumb, and I am coming around to Mike O’Hare’s view that football is, too.

But it seems a little silly to me to blame Musburger for this. Yes, I know: he’s reinforcing the culture yadda yadda yadda. But don’t attack the messenger for a bigger — and really, a more important, and more controversial, and more radical point. People aren’t attacking Musburger for going “over the line,” even if they say they are. They are taking on college football. They are taking a massive entertainment and financial juggernaut. And they should. But go after the big boys, so to speak. Musburger is well-paid for what he does and obviously can take care of himself. But he’s a cog in this stuff. ESPN has apologized for Musburger’s comments and has said that he “went too far”, but why in the world was Webb on the screen to begin with? ESPN like all networks is avoiding its own complicity in what is going on here.

Should we boycott Discover Cards for sponsoring the game? Or FedEx for sponsoring the stadium? Or all the other sponsors, and the NCAA itself? Maybe we should. But then focus on them. Getting outraged at Musburger seems to me to be sort of cheap and safe way to avoid really making the critique that ought to be made.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.