100610 brent musburger
Brent Musburger talks to a class at the University of Montana School of Journalism on Tuesday. A network sports broadcaster for decades, the Billings native and part-time Hamilton resident is a commentator on ABC's Saturday Night Football. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian TOM BAUER/Missoulian

There's no dirtier word in sports lingo than "steroids," and a venerable television commentator from Montana blames reporters for that.

"I honestly have thought that the journalism youngsters out there covering sports got too deeply involved in something they didn't know too much about," Brent Musburger told a class of journalism students at the University of Montana on Tuesday.

While anabolic steroids have no place in high school athletics, "I think under the proper care and doctor's advice, they could be used at the professional level," he said.

Musburger, 71, grew up in Billings and attended military school in Minnesota before studying journalism at Northwestern University in Illinois. These days he lives in Hamilton during good-weather months and Florida the rest of the time.

He spent the morning addressing three senior-level Ethics and Trends classes and took part in a brown-bag luncheon discussion during the noon hour. Musburger gave tips to budding journalists and discussed topics ranging from ESPN's dominance, to his brief fling in "hard news" with Connie Chung, to the dangers reporters face by becoming too close to their subjects.

He explained that a comment he made in Bozeman in May, when he called a potential move by UM up to the Football Bowl Subdivision "economic suicide" was off the cuff.

It was the first time he'd heard about the issue, he said. "The truth is, I don't know all the specifics."

UM athletic director Jim O'Day made waves last week when a lengthy e-mail sent to an unidentified booster was published. In it, O'Day weighed the financial feasibility of moving out of the Big Sky Conference and into the Western Athletic Conference.

"As long as they think economically it's the best way to go, I'm all for it," Musburger said Tuesday.

He has covered two of third-ranked Boise State's games this season. The unbeaten Broncos are enjoying unprecedented success since leaving the Big Sky in 1996.

Musburger warned Grizzly football fans if a move up should occur, not to expect to compete on Boise State's level again, in part because of the corporate resources and facilities the Idaho city has to offer.

"And I don't think you'll be going to a bowl game any time soon," he said.

***

A veteran of the airwaves since the late 1960s, Musburger started in network sports broadcasting with CBS and the NFL in 1973. He traced the path of anabolic steroids in sports back to the days of the East German women's swimming team. Shot putters and discus throwers brought steroids back to America, and football, baseball and basketball players "wanted to experiment with them," he said. "Here's the truth about steroids: They work."

"Finally we get to Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France guys. (Armstrong) came through cancer treatment, and I think all of us have had somebody that has been touched by cancer. Steroids are a very valuable part of the treatment. But when it came to athletics, they had a very black mark around them," said Musburger.

The medical profession has shied away from the issue of steroids in sports, but Musburger said physicians may ultimately be the key to coming to grips with the uses and abuses of the drugs.

"I think it's going to be up to the medical profession to finally come out and say, now how much damage are we doing to these guys? I think the issue is more the high school kids than the professionals."

Musburger said he doesn't trust journalists when they talk about steroids.

"They come in with a negative view and they take it from there," he said, encouraging future reporters to exercise curiosity when searching out the truth behind steroids - or any other issue they address as reporters.

"I've had somebody say that, you know, steroids should be banned because they're not healthy for you," he said. "Let's go find out. What do the doctors actually think about anabolic steroids and the use by athletes? Don't have a preconceived notion that this is right or this is wrong."

***

Musburger is in his fifth fall as a commentator with Kirk Herbstreit on ABC's Saturday Night Football. ABC and ESPN are both owned by the Walt Disney Corp.

"The biggest cash cow for the Disney Corp. is not their theme parks, not their movies, not ABC. It's ESPN," he said. That's because ESPN has not only the traditional revenue stream from advertising, "but we get paid by every household."

Upward of $3 a month on your cable bill goes directly to Disney in payment for bringing you ESPN. That's because the sports network is everywhere.

"There are certain basics that everybody subscribes to and ESPN happens to be one of them" - along with CNN, Fox News, a weather channel and the like, Musburger said.

Now there's not only ESPN2, there's an ESPN3 on the Internet and ESPN3D, the industry's first 3-D network.

"They want more opportunities to kind of restrict competition, so to speak. They want to become the biggest players in the universe," he said.

They're doing a good job of it. ESPN employs some 6,000 people.

"It's huge," said Musburger. "It's so much larger than CBS Sports or ABC Sports ever was."

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