It’s all about the game … or is it?

On Jan. 7, the University of Alabama faced off against the University of Notre Dame in the BCS championship game. In what effectively amounted to a blowout, the Crimson Tide dominated the Irish, 42-14, and secured their second straight national championship. While that should have been what everybody talked about Monday night, the real story involved Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron.

Webb, a former Miss Alabama, was in the stands supporting her boyfriend’s team as it chased the ultimate glory of college football. She attended the game as a fan of Alabama football, but she left it with virtually everybody knowing her name.

During the television broadcast, ESPN announcer Brent Musburger decided to bring an interesting storyline into the game. When the camera panned through the crowd and saw Webb sitting with McCarron’s family, Musburger called her “a lovely lady” and “beautiful.” He followed up by remarking, “Wow, I’m telling you quarterbacks: You get all the good-looking women.”

This surprise attention from the announcer brought Webb a plethora of new fans. The evidence? Before the game, Webb had roughly 2,000 followers on Twitter. But, on Jan. 8, she had 175,000, according to ESPN.

That day, ESPN released the following statement: “We have always tried to capture interesting storylines and the relationship between an Auburn grad who is Miss Alabama and the current Alabama quarterback certainly met the test.”

ESPN did acknowledge that Musburger’s comments might have gone a bit far and apologized. However, the funny thing is that it doesn’t seem like apologies were needed.

The battery of Webb’s iPhone had died during the game, but she laughed about the comments afterward. In fact, it seems that Webb was quite flattered by the comments, as she told the Associated Press that the attention “was kind of nice.”

Webb continued: “I didn’t look at it as creepy at all. For a woman to be called beautiful, I don’t see how that’s an issue.”

Others — like Jennifer Greer, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama — disagree. Greer argued that football is a male-dominated sport and that the roles women do have are supportive secondary roles. Actions like Musburger’s only make it more difficult for female athletes to be taken seriously, as attractive women are typified as being “the quarterback’s girlfriend.”

Personally, I’m hard-pressed to see a serious offense here. Sure, maybe Musburger’s joke about the quarterbacks always getting the good-looking girl was a little over the top, but I don’t think he genuinely tried to stereotype anyone. Webb even admitted to feeling flattered by the compliments, so Musburger surely did not offend her in any way.

At some level, I can understand arguments about the commentary, as the announcers did spend a tad too much of their time on the former Miss Alabama, but Musburger’s comments have been hijacked and made to be far more incriminating than he intended. We’ve all said something without thinking — and had that something become misconstrued; this very well could have been one of those situations. I just can’t agree that this is a case of perpetuating stereotypes of the roles of women.

Honestly, I think that stereotype is very quickly dissipating from our society anyway.

Plenty of female athletes take to the modeling stage to show off the natural beauty that accompanies their athletic prowess. Alex Morgan is one instance. Morgan played soccer for the University of California, Berkeley during her college days, and she’s now a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team. I don’t think anybody doubts her abilities on the soccer field, even though she’s modeled for Sports Illustrated.

In the end, I think this is all just a laughable moment in sports history and certainly one for Webb. I can respect the media for their willingness to apologize for the comments; in a situation like this, it is probably better to be safe rather than sorry.

I’d like to reiterate, though, that at the end of the day, the most important thing that happened on that Monday night is that college football crowned a champion: the Crimson Tide.

1 comments Jennifer Greer, University of Alabama Tue Jan 15 2013 23:38 David, you make some excellent points. This is a well-written, thoughtful column. My comments were mainly about research I’ve done on audience perceptions of women’s roles in hyper-masculine sports. What I noticed more than the commentary was the camera cutting to her over and over again. The commentators had to say something given what was on the screen, and some of their comments went too far for some viewers’ comfort. I do think you’re right that perceptions about female athletes and female sports journalists are changing. We’ve seen evidence of that in research done at UA. Again, congratulations on a well-constructed argument.

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