Troy Shockley is the sports editor for the Independent Record. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.
Montanans look after our own.
That’s why, week after week, the report of how players with Montana ties fared in the NFL is among the most read Monday morning stories across the 406.
This is one of the largest states in the nation, but it also is one of the smallest communities. That’s why, even after native sons and daughters leave the Treasure State, they remain in some small part ours.
Phil Jackson? He was born in Deer Lodge!
Gary Cooper? Yup. Born and raised on a ranch near Helena.
Dave McNally? He’s from Billings, all right.
We’re so accepting we’ll even lay partial claim to those with random ties. David Letterman? He once got popped for speeding through Darby, you know. (And he later bought a place near Glacier National Park.)
But we’ve also got to take the bad with the good. And, right now, leading that short list is sportscaster Brent Musburger.
A member of the Montana Broadcaster’s Association Hall of Fame, Musburger was born in Portland, Oregon, but raised in Billings. And he has again drawn some national ire.
His latest missteps came while running play-by-play for Monday night’s Sugar Bowl on ESPN.
The game featured Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon who, in July, 2014, assaulted female student Amelia Molitor. After Molitor shoved Mixon and slapped him, the 230-pound football player responded with a brutal punch that knocked her out and sent her to the floor of a Norman, Oklahoma, deli. The incident has now been seen hundreds of thousands of times after the video was released two weeks ago.
Molitor was hospitalized with four broken bones in her face. She required eight hours of surgery, for a time her jaw was wired shut, and she didn’t regain feeling in the left side of her face for six months.
Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season, but was back the following year, starring for the Sooners.
The running back made a tearful apology, but has otherwise avoided talking about the incident, thrust back into the spotlight with the release of that jarring video.
During Monday’s broadcast, ESPN, Musburger and color commentator Jesse Palmer had a national platform from which to address a serious issue in sports. Instead, Musburger said this:
“We’ve talked to the coaches, and they all swear that the young man is doing fine. Like I said, Oklahoma thought he might even transfer, but he sat out the suspension, reinstated, and 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.”
Uh … what’s that, now?
In a post-Ray Rice world that is finally beginning to acknowledge this kind of violence against women, Brent Musburger wants us to know that Mixon is doing fine, he’s a really good football player, and hopefully he makes millions in the NFL.
Not one real mention of the woman he sent to the hospital.
She’s probably fine now, too, though, right?
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Pair that with Mixon’s teammates pretending to punch him in the face to celebrate a touchdown and Auburn fans chanting “he hits women!” and the whole experience got really uncomfortable.
The in-game social media backlash against Musburger was swift and pointed.
When the 77-year-old broadcaster became aware of that fact in the third quarter, he doubled down on his earlier statement.
“Apparently, some people were very upset when I wished this young man well at the next level. Let me make something perfectly clear. What he did with that young lady was brutal. 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.”
More than the words, it was Musburger’s tone. It would best be described as irritated. Angry. Defiant.
As former ESPN writer Travis Haney pointed out on Twitter, if viewers were new to the situation, “this game would confuse you (as to) whom is the victim.”
This was more than a missed opportunity. This was, best-case, a broadcaster displaying how truly tone-deaf he is. Worst case, it was a man peddling a dismissive, boys-will-be-boys, locker-room talk culture that simply cannot be allowed to continue.
Mixon, yes, got his second chance. But he also wasn’t caught stealing crab legs here. This is something slightly bigger.
And this isn’t the only time Musburger has made viewers cringe. In the 2013 BCS national championship game, he wound up in headlines for seemingly ogling Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s then-girlfriend, Katherine Webb.
Starting out by calling Webb a “lovely lady,” he continued with “You quarterbacks, you get all the good looking women. What a beautiful woman. … Whoa!
“If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pop.”
ESPN quickly apologized, and Webb said it wasn’t a big deal. But then a week later, Musburger -- in his first game back -- signed off from a basketball game with this:
“Once again, your final score, Kansas 61, Baylor 44. … Coming up next, SportsCenter. For Fran Franschilla and Holly Rowe, who was really smokin' tonight, I want to say, ‘so long from Lawrence.’”
Again, tone-deaf or flippant dismissal?
Maybe it doesn’t really matter. Because there’s a pattern forming, and it’s not a flattering one for one of the great all-time sportscasters.
Montanans look after our own.
With that in mind, it has become apparent a fellow Montanan is in need of some help.
It’s time, Brent.
Vin’s done it. Dick and Verne have both hung it up. Your best decision now is to follow your fellow broadcasting legends into retirement. Come on home, relax on a few acres and take up fly fishing.
If you need some help finding a bigger place, try Michael Keaton or Tom Brokaw. They’ve both got nice spreads somewhere around Livingston.