ESPN announcers drool over quarterback’s girlfriend, illustrate football’s culture of entitlement

So there was a big football game yesterday. And while I boycotted it, apparently ESPN announcers Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger had some time between plays to devote to ogling the Alabama quarterback’s girlfriend. Some real classy stuff:

“When you’re a quarterback at Alabama, you see that lovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I’ll admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama, and that’s A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend. Wow, I’m telling ya, you quarterbacks, you get all the good looking women. What a beautiful woman! Whoa! So if you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pops.”

This is some pretty standard objectification. So common–especially in the sports world–it’s almost not worth commenting on. Except that we’ve had occasion to illustrate posts with a photo of a girl holding a sign saying “I am more important than football” not once but twice this week.

So, now seems like a good time to point out that this bullshit is part of the rape culture that directly enables assaults like those in Steubenville and Notre DameAs Travis Waldron writes, “It’s a culture that views women as nothing more than chattel, a commodity to be won by the best player even if she isn’t a willing participant. It fosters a sense of entitlement to women and their bodies that only ingrains the rape and violence culture deeper into the game.” 

This is why we are not surprised when football players–or other high-profile male athletes–are accused of rape. And I think it’s also the reason that the response from the broader sports community–from coaches, administrators, fans–is so often to rush to defense of their players.

Because, in some ways, it’s their fault too. This sense of entitlement is learned–after all, football players are not born believing that because “we like watching them run a ball down a field” they can do whatever they want–and then it is reinforced over and over again. One of the most infuriating articles I’ve read recently is this 2008 piece about the rape accusation against Jerramy Stevens and the University of Washington’s response. Stevens comes across as awful, obviously, but the people–the entire institutions–that enabled his behavior for years are arguably even worse.

If football players think they’re entitled to women’s bodies, it’s because we’ve made it pretty clear that we agree. It starts with teaching boys that being a QB means “you get all the good looking women” and, through a seemingly endless supply of “second chances,” just never stops.

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26 Comments

  1. Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Maya,

    A little over the top, no? OK, drooling in public is never nice to watch, but suggesting that a remark ‘oh, what a beautiful woman’ is condoning rape is rather over-egging the pudding.

    Now, let’s examine the facts.

    Do top athletes date beautiful women? (‘Beautiful’ in the plastic, superficial way.) From the evidence, I would say that they do, yes. So? What can we conclude?

    That top athletes go out in hunting packs and drag home the most beautiful women? Very unlikely.

    That top athletes are above average in sensitivity? Or intelligence? Or charm? Unlikely too – no reason to believe that.

    What’s left then?

    Maybe beautiful women actualy like top athletes? That seems to me to be the most reasonable explanation. That being so, I find it unfair in the extreme to blame the QB, superjock, star runner, or whatever, for his being able to attract such a woman. What is the accusation? That he walked into a bar and the women flocked to him? Well, tough, that’s the way it is.

    Or these women find such men irresistible, and the men are taking advantage of that? Well, unlikely too. But arguable, I’ll grant you that.

    As Simon Le Bon once said, when asked why pop stars married models: ‘because we can’.

    (Oh, and th same argument applies to rich men. Life is unfair, yes.)

    • Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      I’m super surprised to see such pushback to this post (here and on Twitter too). I assumed regular Feministing readers at least would not see it as a leap at all to connect a comment like this to rape culture. A reminder, since there seems to be some confusion: rape culture is not just about “condoning rape.” It’s, to take the broadest definition, “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women.” I think Travis Waldron, in the quoted and linked piece, does a pretty fine job of laying out the connection. It’s not even really about the objectification–the drooling over a “beautiful woman”–it’s about the implication that such beautiful women are a prize that aspiring football stars can expect. I do not think it is a huge leap from there to the “culture of entitlement” that Waldron describes–and which I think we can agree is part of rape culture? Certainly, most football players don’t take that sense of entitlement to mean that they can “take” beautiful women without their consent. But clearly a disturbing number of them do. (And, incidentally, when they do, the belief that top athletes should be able to “get” beautiful women all on their own and so don’t “need” to rape is often used as a reason to doubt that the victim is telling the truth.) And my point is just that comments like this–that treat women as commodities to be won–are contributing to that reality. You really think that’s a stretch?

      • Posted January 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        I agree with you 100% Maya. The sports culture in this country is far too vehement and strong. As a young boy with no interest in sports or physical activities, I was constantly berated and bullied by peers, P.E male teachers and my own father. It is almost becoming a sickness. I don’t find it hard to connect the dots here between depicting a beautiful woman as the trophy of “worthy real men” and the whole disgusting justified rape concept that has been rearing it’s ugly head. It’s a sad thing when men are judged by how forceful we are and how hard we fight to achieve what we want, even including human beings which become mere trophies and possessions which dehumanizes woman.

      • Posted January 8, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        What ridiculous hyperbole.

        How on earth does pointing out that elite male athletes tend to attract beautiful women (however boorishly) encourage “male sexual aggression and supports violence against women?” Would saying that men with Ph.D.’s from MIT tend to attract smart women also contribute to “entitlement” and “rape culture?”

        Yes, that’s a HUGE stretch.

      • Posted January 9, 2013 at 1:55 am | Permalink

        “it’s about the implication that such beautiful women are a prize that aspiring football stars can expect. I do not think it is a huge leap from there to the “culture of entitlement”

        Aren’t male athletes on the whole physically fit? Who’s to say that beautiful women are not attracted to them because they are sexually attracted to them because they’re physically fit. If we look at it is denying women’s sexual agency, then suggesting that athletics (being fit) doesn’t attract women (beautiful or not) is supporting rape culture.

        That’s really where the tires meet the road. If I say that if you do this and this and this, you’ll be more attractive to women. If you’re more attractive to women, you can be more selective in the women that you date. Is that really entitlement? If I say scoring a 90 or higher on a test is an A and you score a 95, is it really entitlement when I give you an A? If a guy does this, this, and this and attracts beautiful women is that entitlement?

        • Posted January 9, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

          +2

          +1 for comparing women to letter grades
          +1 for using an analogy involving “scoring” to buttress your argument within the context of a discussion on rape culture

          Maya, I appreciated your post. It is not over the top in the least. The pushback evinces how indefatigably people subscribe to these notions of entitlement. If there is no Helen to be won for the men at the top ranks of power and wealth, no perfect goddess hard-wired to be besotted with them, what drives their carnal will? We take for granted too much of this argument, and everyone- women and men- lose because of it.

          • Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

            You think people never do anything to attract someone’s interest. You don’t think anyone does anything to achieve a goal or is the problem just because the goal is carnal? You may never have gone to a night club before, but I have. I can say that (usually) my purpose was to meet women. It’s been my experience that many women go there to meet men. When we go, we tend to get dressed up, wear cologne / perfume, fix our hair, etc. to make ourselves attractive to others.

            Are we entitled to find a date? Are we entitled to find a particular date? I wish that were true, but it didn’t always turn out that way. I might get some push back for this, but there were times I was just interested in sex There were a few times where I was sure that’s all she wanted. There is nothing wrong with wanting sex.

      • Posted January 9, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Maya,

        You make your point well. But I’ll stick to my argument!

        Others have commented on your stretching, so I won’t add to their (very good) points.

        I am a little baffled by your use of ‘expect’, and your implication that there is something wrong with expectation.

        Expectation does not necessarily mean ‘entitlement’. It means ‘in all likelihood’; if I work hard, I expect to get better grades than if I didn’t. It is the link between cause and effect. In fact it the reason most people go to college.

        And what is wrong with prizes? Call it reward if you like. And what is wrong with an action being rewarded with a beautiful woman? If someone reckons (expects!) that fluency in Old Norse and a knowledge of poetry will catch (sorry, ‘charm’) the cutest girl on campus, is he to be lambasted for ‘expecting’ a positive result? I think he should not, no.

        Since Old Norse is probably a tough gig, and beautiful women like athletes more than than they do poets, then, yes,it is perfectly reasonable for someone to suggest that – if the aim is to date beautiful women – the young lad should pull out the weights and start taking those push-ups seriously. ((I would suggest he start also saving up for the orthodontics.)

        • Posted January 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

          Ha, ok, I will stop sidestepping your argument and directly address it–since it’s one that I’ve seen on other comment threads as well. And I find this reaction really fascinating. I can sorta understand if people feel like there are too many degrees of separation between the “expectation” that’s implicit his comment and the broader “culture of entitlement” I’m pointing to. (Though I disagree obviously and hope that I’ve convinced at least a few people of the link.) But I am so saddened/baffled by this reaction of, “He’s just saying top athletes are rewarded by getting beautiful women and that’s a fact.”

          To answer your question: “And what is wrong with an action being rewarded with a beautiful woman?”

          There are so many things implicit in this that make me sad…

          -The assumption that beauty is an objective thing. Contrary to what the media tells us, attraction is very subjective in the real world. One person’s “beautiful woman” is another’s “eh.”

          -The assumption that these objectively “beautiful women” are the ones that all the guys would want. “Beautiful women” are as variable in personality as any other group of human beings. Some of them are awful. Some of them are maybe just lovely but not compatible with you. Since they are, in fact, complete human beings and their looks are but one characteristic of them.

          -Which brings me to the main thing wrong with “being rewarded with a beautiful woman” which is, of course, that I’m quite sure that most, if not all, beautiful women probably want to be in relationship with someone who values them as full human beings and not rewards for doing lots of pushups.

          -And since “beautiful women” are, in fact, full human beings, I guarantee that there are plenty that prefer poets to athletes. Or, more precisely, they probably liked that one poet and that one football player, since people of all genders tend to be attracted to specific individuals and not activities. Just as their looks are not the defining thing about “beautiful women,” I doubt that a dude’s love of poetry or football is his defining characteristic when it comes to attracting a partner. And I’m sure the QB would be just as sad as the “beautiful woman” to think that their partner solely liked them because they were a football star.

          -This entire conversation is clearly based on a model of heterosexual relationships that imagines a sexual marketplace where women are valued primarily for their looks and men are valued for their power (which apparently means doing “manly” things like athletics, making money, etc.) and each gender is seeking the “highest status” partner. This system is inherently sexist and I hope I don’t need to further point out why. It is also outdated–while I’m sure that there are people who think and live their lives this way (and comments like these make me increasingly concerned there are more of them than I thought) most do not. Most people are attracted to the people they’re attracted to and while normative beauty ideals clearly play into it, it’s complicated and sometimes kinda inexplicable.

          -More importantly, people shouldn’t be approaching relationships this way. Not even because it’s sexist, though it is, but just because it is terrible and soulless and will not help anyone actually make genuine connections. I beg of anyone who sees nothing wrong with viewing a romantic partner (of either gender) as a “reward” or a way to validate yourself and your position in the world instead of as full human being to connect with and hang out with and maybe have sex with to seriously reevaluated how you are relating to other people. For your own sake.

          Ok, rant over. I just really think we can do better with how we talk about–and engage in–heterosexual relationships.

          • Posted January 10, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            Maya,

            Sorry to have saddened you! But, hey, surprise!, I actually can agree with you on many points.

            -The assumption that beauty is an objective thing. You are right. I did state that I said ‘Beautiful’ in the plastic, superficial way, though.

            The fact that we agree does not invalidate my argument that many (most?) men (and women?) would apply that term to Miss Alabama.

            It remains true – despite your statement – that athletes do date such women. And this truth might be depressing, or saddening, but it cannot be wished away by hoping that men will reform their ways.

            Do all men want Miss Alabama? No. No one said that. But more men will agree to a blind date with Miss Alabama than with Miss Fluent-in-Esperanto.

            Back to our points in common!

            1) “beautiful women” are, in fact, full human beings. True, true, true.

            The rest of your paragraph surprises me.

            ‘People are attracted to individuals and not activities’? Err..

            My argument cannot be valid at an individual level; it is based on ‘groups’, ‘large numbers’, ‘the norm’. I know full well that Miss A can fall for Mister X because of his love of philately, and Miss C turned down SuperAthlete because she thought he was uncouth.

            But look at the larger picture! Two groups throw a party at College; the Cheerleaders and the Women’s Knitting Club. Which party will attract most guests? I think it is obvious, no?

            (And the Basketball players will get more guests than the Astronomy Club.)

            I would not claim to know what the QB is thinking, but I suspect that he is very much aware that Miss Alabama would not have given him a second glance had he been the caretaker.

            And there is nothing sexist about all this!

            Athletes can date beautiful women; OK, you find that wrong (or sad).

            On the other hand, beautiful women date athletes. Do you find that wrong? If you say no, then you are not consistent.

            If you say yes, then you should also be laying into Miss Alabama for picking an athlete. (‘Seeing men as prizes? How disgusting.’)

            I could go on and on, you know! (For a start I don’t think there is anything particularly heterosexual about the way the game is played; I am pretty sure the handsome gay will get more dates than the other, ‘plain’, guy.)

            (I had a thought: if the comment had been about the handsome boyfriend of the star (woman) basketball player, would you have reacted in the same way?)

            Enough for now; I have all those pushups to attend to.

          • Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

            I don’t actually see anywhere where the poster defines “beautiful” or says it must refer to universally accepted / conventially beautiful women. It seems to me the reference is to a woman that that particular person finds beautiful – which obviously varies from person to person. It doesn’t even necessarily mean physically beautiful but just someone you find beautiful.

            I don’t see what’s so wrong with the idea that if you work hard and do something that many of the opposite sex are attracted to your chances of meeting the right person from your target group go up. I mean let’s face it, alot of decisions that people make are at least in-part done to attract a partner. You can’t expect to meet someone if you don’t work on yourself first.

          • Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            Ok I somewhat take my comment back now that I see the reply.

            However if you change his comments into mine I think the core idea is still valid.

        • Posted January 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

          There are so many layers to this but I will comment on two things.

          1. This is not a stretch. This is a spectrum. Women as “rewards” is an example of the kind of thinking/belief/action that rape culture not only engenders, but becomes normalized and commonplace. The problem with a human being serving as a prize or a “reward” for an “action”, as you asked, is that it is objectifying, dehumanizing, and exactly the type of belief about women that allows rapists to rape, and the rest of us to deny the severity of the problem and blame women (and feminists of course) for what we will acknowledge. This is why it is dangerous, to say the least, to perform an action with the expectation of a human being as your “reward”. It might not be an actual physical rape, but it is the same mentality of a rapist. This is why it is not a stretch to note it as an effect of rape culture.

          2. The definition of the word “expect” in this context is not “in all likelihood”, as you wrote. The definition in this context is believing you are rightfully due something; it is, actually, an entitlement. That you don’t see the problem with using beautiful women as “rewards” speaks volumes, and is evidence of rape culture itself.

          • Posted January 10, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

            Elot,

            Interesting points.

            1) Is it simply a matter of terminology? Is ‘prize’ too cold and calculating? ‘Reward’ also, I guess.

            I can’t think of an accurate word. Imagine. Someone sets out on the dating scene, gets nowhere and decides to do something about it. He takes elocution lessons. Get his teeth straightened and whitened. Learns a little poetry! Learns to converse, on many subjects. Gets a new wardrobe, new shoes. And so on. Self-improvement?

            Is his quest/campaign/determination to be dismissed or discouraged because his aim (quite clearly stated) is to ‘meet someone’? Really? You do think that one should not be allowed to do anything to improve one’s chances? Why is a smattering of Mediaval Spanish more prized than enhanced biceps?

            Is not ‘expectation’ perfectly appropriate in this case? Or maybe ‘hope’? Maybe that is the term I was seeking!

            (My rhetorical question applies to women seeking a man, of course!)

  2. Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m not surprised people took offense to the sports commentators reducing a woman to one dimension during a game where it was nationally known that a rape victim committed suicide, and the players were still on the field. Dare I say that we are starting to understand that the price of turning people into gods? This is rape culture made visible.

  3. Posted January 9, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Interesting to see the interview with the woman in question where she says the storm over this is odd and no apology is necessary and that any woman would be flattered to be called beautiful. I feel better knowing she is comfortable with all of this.

  4. Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Or to simplify: a beautiful woman is not a sports car to be awarded to the top player. Women are not commodities and should not be discussed as if they were.

    • Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      ” a beautiful woman is not a sports car to be awarded to the top player. ”
      Nobody but Maya said that,

  5. Posted January 10, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I think one of the problems people are having is that they are assuming that get a beautiful woman means get any particular beautiful woman. If this were his intent, I could see an argument for it being entitlement. I don’t think that was what he meant.

    Let’s say I teach my child that if you get good grades, you can get a high paying job. If you get a high paying job, you can buy a big house. Let’s say this comes to pass. Is the person required to buy a big house; no, not if they don’t want one. Does that entitle a person to buy any specific house; no, not if it’s not for sale. If they wanted a big house, would one eventually come up for sale? Probably, will it be something they like? Eventually I’m sure they’d find something they like.

    That doesn’t entitle you to this individual woman. It doesn’t eliminate any other qualities that he might find attractive in a woman. Maya does have some good points about the comment. It values women only for their beauty. It assumes that a man’s worth is in what he accomplishes professionally. If you want to find sexism, look there, but it’s a stretch to call that entitlement. Sexism doesn’t always equal entitlement. That’s where I think people are getting confused.

    • Posted January 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      John,

      Good argument about the house.

  6. Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Of course she is a prize!

    But so is he.

    For the sake of argument, consider my chances of attracting Ms. Webb as a potential mate:

    I am about the same age, I am tall, and usually described as very good looking. I have a Master’s degree, speak three languages; I am well-travelled, empathetic and generally fun to be around. I can’t throw a ball as good as Mr. McCarron but I am pretty athletic and in good shape. All in all, I am quite the catch – and I am not flattering myself here. It’s what my wife says.

    Also, I live in a 700 sqf apartment in the burbs of a small town, drive an 8 year old Toyota. I am unemployed and the girth of my wallet does in no way compare with Mr. Carron’s.

    Now, do you think that Ms Webb would ditch her bf for me?

    And now turn the argument around. Let’s suppose that there is some poor but outstandingly handsome young woman looking to hook up with a professional athlete. Do you think she would stand a chance?

    Of course she would. It’s the oldest trade-off in the world. A woman can make up any lack in any category by an over-abundance of perceived beauty. A guy cannot do so. He on the other hand can make up lack in various departments with a huge bank account. As long as we find people willing to do this trade off, it will go on. Any view that suggests this trade-off is demeaning to only one involved party is biased.

    If we want to claim that their comments were demeaning then we have to realize that they were demeaning for Ms. Webb AND Mr. McCarron – to her for objectifying her because of her physical beauty and to him for commodifying him as a rich ball-throwing machine.

    The worst in this for me is that Kirk and Brent suggest to young boys that they need to be good at throwing a football for attracting a woman – something external to them.

    What about just being confident in themselves?

    • Posted January 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      Sepp,

      Your posted started out in a way that will upset a lot of people here!

      But you redeemed yourself at the end!

      PS Me too, I speak three languages, etc. I also have a sportscar! But Miss Alabama does not even know I exist.

  7. Posted January 12, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Maya, I agree with the views expressed in your original post. When the sportscaster referred to youngsters starting to practice playing football with dad in hopes of “getting a good looking woman” he wasn’t taking into account the youngsters intelligence, capacity for empathy, or aesthetic qualities… he was only taking into account that they might play football in the future. This is indeed a statement from a culture of entitlement. Growing up in a small town that had a big obsession with it’s football team, I found that the de-humanization of women was a byproduct of the football environment. It was so pervasive that girls would be congratulated by people throughout the town for dating a football player as if it insured their place in society. As 14 and 15 year olds, my friends and I learned (some tragically) that it wasn’t safe to be alone with football players. Women aren’t sporting rewards.. we never will be.. and a part of me screamed when the woman who the comments were directed at called them cute. In my small hometown we too were taught to call these types of comments “cute” when often they were another form of violence against us.

  8. Posted January 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    Girls don’t like boys. Girls like cars and money.

    - Good Charlotte

  9. Posted January 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    I know that I’m commenting on this a little late, but I find the commentary equally offensive to both males and females. While the announcer does state that pretty girls can be “won” by becoming good at sports, the flipside is that stereotypically attractive men (atheletes) can be “won” by girls by being pretty. Basically, if you want an attractive mate, try to be attractive yourself. To me, this is shallow, but not sexist since it applies regardless of gender.

    I don’t see how any of this leads to rape, though. Another way of looking at this is that the football players are literaly competing to win the approval of women. Depending on pov, the spectating women are powerless prizes or powerful judges. Also, I don’t see how from improving one’s chances with the opposite gender automatically makes one a rapist. Last I checked, both genders had a say in who they dated.

    Note: I am not trying to be a contrarion. If you feel I am misinformed, please reply. I love discussion.

  10. Posted January 15, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I’m glad this is on your radar. However, he hasn’t learned anything:

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1485289-brent-musburger-calls-holly-rowe-smokin-during-college-basketball-telecast?hpt=hp_c3

    Most disturbingly, check out the comments at the bottom.

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