Brent Musburger once was a very good sports broadcaster. He detected and captured the moment as well as anyone of his era. As someone who has known Musburger for many years through our alma mater, Northwestern, I always respected his contributions to the big event. If Brent was there, you wanted to be there too.
Today, sadly, Musburger no longer is that man. On Monday night on the Sugar Bowl broadcast, he repeatedly and violently minimized a college football player’s brutal attack on a woman, a punch so overwhelming it broke four bones in her face.
Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon’s assault on Amelia Molitor in the summer of 2014 was captured on video and has been seen hundreds of thousands of times online. One would hope that just hearing the news about this awful act of violence would be enough to bring censure from a play-by-play man when it came time to discuss Mixon’s extracurricular activities, but Musburger had more information .
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Excuse me if I break out a familiar phrase: You are looking live, Brent, at one of the worst things a college football player has ever done.
And this is what you did: After calling the video “very troubling to see,” you charged right into the kind of full-throated protection of Mixon one would have predictable from his attorney.
“We’ve talked to the coaches,” he said. “They all swear that the young man is doing fine. … Folks, he is just one of the best, and let’s hope, given a second chance by Bob Stoops and Oklahoma, let’s hope that this young man makes the most of his chance and goes on to have a career in the National Football League.”
There was no reference of Molitor — how she’s doing, if she’s okay, what her own career might be like. There was no tirade against the blight of violence against women. There was no discussion of whether Mixon should even have been on the field in our post-Ray Rice world.
No, it was all football, all boys will be boys, all business as usual. The man who used to know exactly the right thing to say at the right time was awkwardly out of his element on this one. After hours of preparation, the 77-year-old Musburger was still so improvised that he addressed a vital 21st century issue the only way he could, with a 1950s answer.
There was only one thing to think at that moment. Brent, it’s time to go.
But then along came a second chance. The social media crime over Musburger’s comments was so overwhelming that he came back in the third quarter to give it another try. He clearly hadn’t had time himself to see the response, but he was told that there was trouble.
Even then, if he truly didn’t know what to do, he had the vast public-relations safety net of ESPN ready and waiting. The PR people simply could have written a sincere regret for him to read on the air. Newscasters like Musburger read canned copy all the time to promote upcoming games and thank their advertisers. This would have been an easy fix.
Musburger came out with guns blazing.
“Apparently, some people were very upset when I wished this young man well at the next level,” he said. “Let me make something perfectly clear. What he did with that young lady was cruel, uncalled-for. He’s apologized. He was tearful. He got a second chance. He got a second chance from Bob Stoops. I happen to pull for people with second chances, OK? Let me make it absolutely clear that I hope he has a wonderful career and he teaches people with that brutal, violent video. OK? Second down and 9.”
Musburger’s combative tone was stunning. He made it crystal clear: this was all about defensive the young man, not the young lady. Musburger had no time for you people out there who care about violence against women. Second down and 9.
There’s a pattern here that should concern ESPN far more than it apparently has so far. During the national college football championship game in January 2013, Musburger couldn’t stop himself from praising the looks of Katherine Webb, the then-girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. The comments were uncomfortable and totally out of place, and ESPN later apologized.
Just a week later, Musburger was at it again, saying that a fellow ESPN staffer, reporter Holly Rowe, was “really smoking.”
This is a sad column for me to write. I emceed Musburger’s induction into our Medill School of Journalism Hall of Achievement several years ago. I like him and care about him. I tried to reach him for this column through ESPN’s PR people, but never heard back from him.
If he can’t make this decision himself, then ESPN needs to make it for him. It’s time