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Brent Musburger’s praise of Joe Mixon exposes issues society must learn from

Musburger’s comments on the Joe Mixon incident last night during the Allstate Sugar Bowl was not the first time a broadcaster has missed an opportunity to talk about an important issue.

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By now, most if not all readers here have heard about what Brent Musburger said on-air last night in reference to standout Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon.

For those that don’t have access to headphones at work, a brief rundown:

Mixon got into a physical altercation back in 2014 with a female, Amelia Molitor, and there was surveillance video evidence to prove it. He was suspended for the remainder of that season and apologized profusely about how wrong he was. Musburger decided to bring it up during last night’s broadcast. Instead of focusing on the incident, though, Brent told the millions of folks watching that he wished Mixon well and later defended himself by saying that he always roots for people to be awarded a second chance.

He was also happy to report that Mixon was doing “fine.” Which, of course he was. He wasn’t the woman who was punched.

There’s a lot to unpack about the issues Musberger’s conduct brings to light. I’ve spelled out some of the headlines below.

Lifting Up Athletes Who Are in the Wrong

Musburger’s gaffe is not the first time a broadcaster or news anchor has addressed a controversial topic in the wrong manner

Brent himself is no stranger to these types of broadcasting missteps — sexualizing former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, as well as fellow ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, just to name some others — and “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” has had to apologize several times on his behalf.

I understand that these journalists want to put a positive spin on a serious situation, but praising an athlete for their athletic ability without properly addressing their jaded past is not okay. I’ve heard too many telecasts in my lifetime where someone in the booth has approached these situations in a similar manner to how Musburger did last night.

For instance, the praise that Penn State received throughout the Rose Bowl yesterday was astounding. The fact that the Nittany Lions celebrated Joe Paterno’s legacy during their game against Kent State on September 17 is still mind-boggling. No, none of the athletes from that era are on the team, and almost all of the athletics department are gone, but the past should never be excluded -- especially considering the community and culture that created the “football-first” mentality of the Paterno regime is all well in place.

Baylor obviously had its own issues with program-wide misconduct this year, and it’s one that the media tiptoed around as much as it could. We can’t forget the wrongs of that program under Art Briles, and broadcast teams shouldn’t let us. Until a program exhibits a clear departure from the problematic behaviors, it should be front and center when discussing them. The Baylor football community, like Penn State, has yet to display much of an about-face from the previous regime’s troubling priorities of football over the well-being of women on campus.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Stoops Said Mixon Would be Gone if it Had Happened This Year

After the surveillance video was released by Mixon’s attorney on December 16, Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops addressed the media at a press conference. One of the main points that he made was that if Joe had punched Ms. Molitor this fall, he would’ve been immediately dismissed from the program. This is because of the “zero-tolerance” policy many programs across the country have enforced since 2014.

Stoops seems to forget that he was still the coach of the team when the incident occurred, and had a moral obligation to do more. It also exposes some of the issues with zero-tolerance policies, as they heighten the stakes for victims to overcome in order to come forward about an incident.

Despite this, Stoops not only started Mixon but made him an integral part of the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl victory last night. It’s yet another example of putting the team’s success above moral standards.

Going Forward

So, what is the solution to these actions and reactions by athletic programs and the media that cover them?

First, “zero-tolerance” policies look good on paper and sound great in theory, but what does that mean for the victim?

Second, what does that really teach the perpetrator? Are we helping them by kicking them off their respective teams without investing in some form of guidance or help for them to correct their issues -- which could be rooted in much more than just a one-time incident?

Lastly, what is the right way to go about addressing these issues through a game broadcast or news spotlight that’s fair to both parties -- especially when investigations are still ongoing?

“Zero-tolerance” basically means if you do something against the policies of your team, you’re as good as gone, no excuses. Well, that’s all well and good for the person causing the problem, but doesn’t solve the victim’s side. It actually makes it more difficult for them to come forward because careers are on the line.

This policy virtually does nothing to educate the culprit. All it tells them is that it’s wrong to do whatever they did. Instead of just dismissing these athletes, they should take a portion of their scholarship for that year — that would’ve otherwise gone to waste — and put it toward helping them to better their mental health. That could mean investing in a trained therapist or other appropriate avenues.

It’s shameful the way these dense topics are handled by sports media. My philosophy is that if you have a platform, don’t be afraid to use it for the greater good — the driving force behind writing this piece in the first place. There’s a way to talk about these issues that highlight the wrongdoings while not brushing the victims to the side. The first step is to stay as far away as humanly possible from well-wishing the offender, as Musberger did.