Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Brent Musberger: "You were looking live" at a great career.

News coming out today that Brent Musberger will be retiring to Las Vegas January 31st prompted me to spend just a minute thinking back on both his career and what it means for us going forward as sports fans.

Most young folks will only remember Mr. Musberger for two things. his tone-deaf comments regarding OU running back Joe Mixon and his hilarious comments about Katherine Webb, girlfriend of then-Alabama QB A.J. McCarron.  And that's too bad.  Because for those of us with considerably more gray hair, Musberger WAS sports in an era where we didn't have near the access and outlets we enjoy today.

Back in the old days, major college sports on TV was limited to ABC, CBS and NBC period. Whereas today we have ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, WatchESPN, ESPN Classic, Fox, Fox Sports1 & 2, NBCSportsNetwork, CBSSportsNetwork, the regional Fox sport's networks, B1G TV, PAC-12 TV, the SEC Network, the soon-to-be ACC Network, CSN, Root Sports, BeIN sports, the WB and a host of other channels that carry live games, all available through your cable box, dish network, U-verse service or, increasingly, streaming online. And that doesn't include NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB networks, TNT and other outlets for professional sports. There are a bunch more sports available for live viewing today than there has ever been in the past. This is a good thing.

It also means that the audience for live sports is bigger than it's ever been. This is a good thing as well.

A bad thing from this is that the old guard, those that are used to the 'old' way seem to be having a tough time adapting to the new reality of things. As such, it's probably time for them to go. I knew an older gentleman once who had spent his entire life working as a school superintendent where he presided over racial integration efforts and advocated for them. As he got older he never did stop calling Black people "colored". He meant no malice by this and, in fact, when he was much younger this was considered a non-offensive term. But he wasn't on social media, he wasn't trendy and he wasn't up with the politically correct movement. In short, time had passed him by.

Mr. Musberger's comments about Katherine Webb remind me a lot of that man. In that I don't think he meant them to be disparaging but he also didn't really understand the cultural zeitgeist at all. We now live in an age where even compliments toward attractive women are frowned upon, especially coming from men who are old enough to be their grandfathers. We also live in a society where looks are (supposedly) not something that should be taken into account when judging someone. This works better in theory than in practice, but it's there nevertheless.

I think his Mixon comments spring from the same ignorance, although many people have taken it upon themselves to proclaim him a "bad man" without giving it a second thought. The fact is that society has a much healthier attitude towards women, and women's issues, than it has in any time in history. But there are still pockets of resistance on both sides of the aisle. Some of that resistance springs from hate, some from ignorance, and some from just wanting to tear everything down for the spite of it. And those people are sucking up the oxygen in many areas of the discussion.

Sports is one of those areas, where the lynch mob mentality has lead to travesties like the Duke Lacrosse Team, and the win at all costs crowd gave us the tragedy in Baylor and Joe Mixon doing bad things resulting in only token punishment. In both of those cases there were extreme opinions. You would like to think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Sadly, as with most things in society these days, it doesn't.

Brent was, ultimately a victim of a society changing (for the better) and him not changing alongside it. ESPN is pinky-swearing that the Mixon backlash has nothing to do with this, but I think we all know better. Musberger's Mixon views meant that he had to go, that he was a man out of time and out of step with popular thought regarding 2nd chances and who should receive them. Fooball, and the people who cover it, still have a long way to go when it comes to women's issues, and it will be the next generation of commentators who are going to have to do a better job negotiating that mine field than the last generation has done.

From a "fan of sports" perspective however I can tell you that I'm bummed . Not because I agree with Musberger on Mixon (I don't, not entirely but that's a different post that I'll probably never write) or because I think hitting a woman is not wrong (I do, in polite society hitting in general is unacceptable) but because I'm going to miss his calls, I'm going to miss "You are looking live" and "our friends in the desert", I'm going to miss his asides and even his awkward moments. I'm going to miss a play-by-play caller who is not so desperately corporate that not toeing the company line is as unthinkable as slandering Nick Saban.

In short, I'm going to miss the personality, and the individuality that Mr. Musberger brought to his calls. I'm going to lament being saddled with the current corporate group of announcers who never say a controversial thing, ever, and whose delivery is somewhat wooden, but solid. I'm going to miss the individuality and 'wow' moments that the great announcers of the past brought to the sports watching experience. I'm going to miss the fun.

So thank you Mr. Musberger, for a lifetime of memorable moments, and doing your best to explain them to me in the most colorful manner possible.  On my next trip to Vegas I'm going to look for you, I'm going to introduce myself and offer to buy you a drink.  I hope you'll be willing to talk sports and betting and tell Vegas stories to me for a while. Even if I have to buy you two drinks.

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