Before examining the ridiculous controversy stemming from Monday night’s college football championship broadcast, let us stipulate that there are more urgent and scary ways to describe the current changes in America.
We are becoming a culture of dependency. We are becoming a neo-socialist experiment. We are becoming a dumbed-down nation unappreciative of its founders. We are losing touch with the Constitution and the very concept of liberty.
I do not argue that today’s essay is our most pressing problem. But as scores of fine writers address the various angles of our republic’s dangle from a precarious thread, I thought I’d venture to the periphery to lament another type of change which accrues to our societal detriment.
We are becoming a nation that caves to humorless, scolding bullies on matters of little or no consequence.
Not exactly a fiscal cliff or an Islamist-friendly CIA director, but a problem nonetheless.
If you didn’t see it live, you surely have by now. The iconic Brent Musburger took a moment between plays to comment on the images from ESPN cameras dwelling on Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend in the stands.
Turning to colleague Kirk Herbstreit, he playfully nudged: “You quarterbacks, you get all the good looking women. What a beautiful woman. Wow!”
Herbstreit, quarterback at Ohio State just over 20 years ago, added: “A.J.’s doing some things right down in Tuscaloosa.”
Musburger then filled the remaining seconds before the next play: “So if you’re a youngster at Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around with Pop.”
Somewhere, a shriek rang out.
This is the only theory that can possibly lead to the sheer idiocy of ESPN apologizing for a completely innocent 30 seconds of broadcaster banter.
Somewhere, a phone rang. Or a hundred phones. An email, or a hundred emails, were sent. The sliver of America that found those moments offensive was going to get its pound of flesh.
Surely ESPN did not buckle on its own. Surely a network that will show you cheerleaders twenty times a game did not suddenly recoil in the production truck. No one wearing headphones said at the time, “Oh, dang, that was terrible, we should apologize for that.”
But the pathetic thing is, someone at ESPN may well have tensed up at the time-- not because the event was truly bad, but because every TV and radio operation knows that countless humorless scolders with empty lives stand poised to pounce on any turn of a word or phrase that jostles their fragile sensibilities.
Genuine offenses deserve genuine apologies. If Musburger had growled lasciviously about a wish to be 50 years younger while Herbstreit egged him on with his own prurient patter, I’d be leading the call for displays of contrition.
But it is vital to understand that neither Ms. Webb nor her parents nor her national champion boyfriend were offended in the least.
But if a needed apology undelivered is an etiquette violation, it is an outright attack on our social order to make-- and tolerate-- demands for apology that are wholly without basis.
A culture filled with contrived offense erodes our measurements of which affronts are deserving of actual repentance. And the heartfelt regret of actual transgressors is devalued when surrounded by the din of phony apologies offered merely to stem a wave of phone calls and emails from troublemakers with time on their hands.
But if there is anything worse than an unnecessary apology crafted to reduce heat, it is an apology of that type that seeks to hose the public in the process.
“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,” said the ESPN statement.
Sure, guys, it’s all about her being from Auburn. Please.
If Katherine Webb were somewhat plain, she would not have been on camera as much. Conversely, blessed as she is, she would have been on camera as much if her degree were from Delaware State.
The statement went on to express regret that the commentary “went too far and Brent understands that.”
I hope not. I hope Brent thinks this whole thing is as stupid as it actually is.
If ESPN’s phone lines did indeed blow up with outraged viewers the moment Musburger and Herbstreit finished calling a pretty girl pretty, I would have wanted a very different statement from the network:
“ESPN welcomes input from all viewers on the commentary of our announcers. However, after reviewing the words spoken in this instance, we find that the only occurrence was a compliment to Ms. Webb and accompanying upbeat banter that also related to her in a completely positive way.
“We note, and recommend that others do as well, that no one involved was offended, and as such, we see no reason whatsoever for an apology from Brent or anyone else.”
We should always be vigilant about broadcast comments that truly hurt or offend people. But the flip side of that responsibility coin is to stand guard against contrived offense meant to stoke political fires, in this case, perhaps a feminist agenda that it is somehow inappropriate to observe that a beautiful young lady is a beautiful young lady.
Is this a case of stereotype, perpetuating some notion that the quarterback will always get the pretty girl, or that having a plainer girlfriend is somehow a lesser blessing?
Just asking that question takes the whole matter into the muddled world of overanalysis. Some people need to learn to let a compliment be a compliment, and in a sports broadcast booth, if there is no harm done, to let guys be guys.
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