I was compelled by the lure of being in the NYT to think critically about the comments play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger made about the girlfriend of Alabama QB AJ McCarron during the BCS Championship earlier this week. But since my comments didn't quite make the cut, I shall them--and more!--here.
I didn't watch the game, didn't hear about the comments until I got queried by a reporter. (And admittedly did not know Musbuger by name--I did recognize his voice though.)
I think the reporter wanted me to make some kind of direct link to the status of women's sports and female athletes. And I couldn't do that. Because there isn't really one that can be made. All I could say was the somewhat derivative "well, it's all the same patriarchy."
When Musbuger encouraged little boys in Alabama to be throwing the football around with dad so that they too could land a beauty queen like Katherine Webb, he wasn't saying anything new rather he was simply expressing a sentiment that undergirds not just football culture, but American culture. If a man gets status--in this case through football--he can have a good-looking woman by his side. And the message to women: if you're good-looking, you can get a man of status--and possibly your own position of status. Webb is, after all, Miss Alabama 2012. She has, as my wife noted, "made a career out of looking good; she probably didn't care." (Though her current position at Chick-Fil-A probably doesn't require such a coiffed look.) And according to reports--she didn't care. She got 90,000+ Twitter followers during the game, including from professional athletes, at least one of whom sent her his phone number.
This was the aspect of the story that I found most interesting. In the end, Musburger's comments are just kind of odd, reflective perhaps of his age, his race, his class, and of course his gender. But the reaction to Webb herself and Webb's response to this reaction is indicative of a sport--particularly football--culture that continually places women on the sidelines--literally: as the wives, girlfriends, and mothers, as sideline reporters, as cheerleaders. And if you want to get recognized on the sidelines, you have to be pretty. You can be an accessory, but you can never be the star. And the whole incident is indicative of a culture in which women are trained to both desire the attention of men of status and achieve it via their looks. That is why Webb was seemingly not bothered by the whole thing. What should bother her is that this actually isn't about her at all. Because she is not a player in the proverbial (and the literal) game. She is a pawn. She is something a commentator can talk about when the game isn't interesting. She is someone male athletes will jockey over not because they necessarily want her--but because getting her is a marker of their success. This situation was an excellent example of the male homosociality Michael Kimmel has written about: "that men prove their manhood in the eyes of other men is both a consequence of sexism and one of its chief props."