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Gearing Up For Football Season


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael with us from Cleveland. Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant and and contributor to National Review magazine with us from Boston. From Chicago, Arsalan Iftikhar. He's founder of themuslimguy.com. And here in Washington, D.C., Kevin Blackistone. He's a sports writer and journalism professor. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas.


IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

NEIL MINKOFF: Hey, hey, hey.


ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey what's crackin'?

IZRAEL: I'm making it work, bro. KB, what's up, man? You took some time off ESPN to come slumin' with us.

MARTIN: Oh, no.

IZRAEL: We appreciate it.

MARTIN: Oh, no you did not.

BLACKISTONE: Please, don't say that.

MARTIN: Oh, no. Never that.

IZRAEL: OK. We are - are you ready for some football? 'Cause we all know Denver was last night.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: That's seven touchdown passes for Peyton Manning to tie an NFL record. The Broncos absolutely torched the Ravens 49-27. Remember, no Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed for that Raven's defense. And the 49 points, the most they've ever given up...

IZRAEL: Holy mackerel.

MARTIN: Don't you love how they always have to come up with a new verb for a big score. Torched. Blanked. Destroyed.

IZRAEL: I totally...

MARTIN: Decimated.


IZRAEL: ...I think they have an intern...

MARTIN: I hope they do.

IZRAEL: ...I think they have an intern on staff whose job is just to sit down and come up with all these adjectives.

MARTIN: I hope so.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. Neil Minkoff. Dr. Neil, the game is the big story today, but some fans are still talking about players suffering from concussions. What about you? Is that on your...


IZRAEL: ...Mind this season?

MINKOFF: ...Yeah, I'm really glad you brought that up because, you know...


MINKOFF: ...I found - you know, last week, the NFL paid over a half a billion dollars in a settlement, and judging by everything I've read, that settlement is so that nobody from the NFL has to say what they know about player safety and when they knew it. I follow the concussion issue and the dementia issue. I've written about it on a couple of occasions. I think what the NFL did is reprehensible. And yet, I'm still watching on Sunday. So I don't know...

IZRAEL: Right.

MINKOFF: ...What to do about that.

IZRAEL: Having said all of that, you know the evils of what's happening in the NFL, you will be there with beer and/or corn chips in hand. Thank you, Dr. Neal, for your candor. Arsalan Iftikar. A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir?

IZRAEL: What's on your mind about football, bro?

IFTIKHAR: Fantasy football. You know...


IFTIKHAR: ...For millions of dudes and dudettes around the country, you know, this is not only, you know, the 17 weeks of the NFL season, but it's also fantasy football league. And, you know, for me, we have 12 players in our fantasy football league, which has been called Impeach Bush for many years. And I got the...

MARTIN: Just to put that out there.

IFTIKHAR: Well, the funny thing is, I got the 12th pick in the draft for the second straight year. And the only thing that I did good was the fact that I drafted Peyton Manning in my first round. In the game versus the Ravens, he had 452 yards, seven touchdowns. The first quarterback to throw for seven touchdowns in a game since 1969. He had almost 60 fantasy points. You know, for me, it's going to be interesting to see whether people like Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, are going to be the fantasy beasts that they have been. And, you know, for many of us out there, we've been waiting for NFL season to start.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, KB. Kevin Blackistone.


IZRAEL: You know, we don't - look, look, man. We don't have to talk about the beating that your Ravens took. But, you know what I'd rather talk about? I'd rather talk about Philadelphia Eagle Riley Cooper. Now you might remember him. He's the guy got caught on tape...


IZRAEL: ...Using a racial slur at the Kenny Chesney concert, which is so strange. But, you know, he - as it turns out, he got into it with fellow Eagle, Cary Williams yesterday. Tell us about that.

BLACKISTONE: Well, it was a heated practice going into the opening week, which is very odd 'cause usually this kind of thing happens during training camp, and Cary Williams, who's known around the league to be a little bit of a hothead, threw the N-word back at Riley Cooper. They had to be separated, most notably, by Michael Vick. Cary Williams then went after Michael Vick a little bit, verbally, and Michael Vick didn't much care for that. And, you know, the bottom line to this whole story is that, had Riley Cooper not been a part of this scuffle, we wouldn't hear about it.

But this has become - this is going to be a narrative for the Philadelphia Eagles all season long. Now I'll tell you the most troubling thing about it for the Eagles and Eagles fans is the fact that Michael Vick also said that he didn't feel that some of the younger players on this team were respecting him. And so, you know, here's a guy who has matured, who is a leader of a team and if he feels like he's not getting respect from other players because of this whole Riley Cooper thing - Riley Cooper's not even the story anymore - but has become kind of a wedge in this team. That's going to be a real problem for the Eagles going forward.

IZRAEL: Yes, and the tears I have to wipe from my eyes, you know. He's not getting the R-E-S-P-E-C-T that he deserves. Oy.

MARTIN: But, you know, it raises an interesting question, though, about - 'cause we talked to Cris Carter earlier this year who has a new memoir about...


MARTIN: ...And one of the things he talked about is that people don't understand that - this league is 75 percent African-American...


MARTIN: ...In terms of the players. And if people find out that your a guy who's throwing the N-word around - and, you know, we can get into this whole debate about who gets to use it. Can, you know, black people use it to address each other. Does that mean white people get to? Well, you know, Cooper clearly did not mean that in a fraternal way.


MARTIN: He meant it as an insult. And so now Cris Carter says, how are you then expect to work with these people and think that they're going to see you in the same way. And I'm just - and you have to...


MARTIN: ...Wonder whether he called it right.

BLACKISTONE: Well, he did because this is - and I said this from day one -this is the jailhouse justice for Riley Cooper. He's going to face this the rest of his career, not only with his teammates, but around the league. And particularly being a wide receiver, going up against defensive backs, almost all of whom are black. It's going to make for a very interesting - and Cary Williams being a defensive back on his team - it's going to be a very interesting rest of the career for Riley Cooper.


MARTIN: Yeah. If you're just joining us, we're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar, sports writer Kevin Blackistone and healthcare consultant Neil Minkoff. Can I just ask one more question about this? Though, the concussions as - Dr. Neil - Neil is trained as a doctor. He's not...


MARTIN: ...Practicing at the moment. He's working as a healthcare consultant and a writer. But it raises the question of, does what we know - it's true that the settlement means that we're not going to know as much as we could know...


MARTIN: ...About what the NFL knows...


MARTIN: ...About these healthcare concerns. But the players who signed it did agree to it. So, Kevin, does this make you pause in some way? Does it change the way you see the game? I mean, does this - all this coming out about this issue - and it's not conclusive but it's a lot - change the way you see the game?

BLACKISTONE: It underscores how powerful the NFL is. You look at the off-season for this team. You have one of the - for this league - you had one of their superstar players get arrested, and he's now under investigation and being held in jail for three murders. You have the concussion issue. You also have the fact that they were able to define the PBS Frontline investigation about concussions by getting ESPN, a rights holder in the NFL, to back out. And they paid 8.5 percent of revenues to make the concussions lawsuits basically go away. And as you pointed out...


BLACKISTONE: ...they get to hold onto the information and don't have to say that you know what, football caused these injuries. It's very much like - it's very much like the tobacco case.

MARTIN: OK. But where are you in this as a fan? That's the question 'cause you don't have to smoke.

BLACKISTONE: Because you get...

MARTIN: And you don't really have to - you don't have to watch football, but it is the most watched sport in country. So I'm asking you, where are you in this?

BLACKISTONE: I am like Dr. Neil. I tune back in. I soak it in, and you know what? I cringe at every hit that I see and hope that the people get up.


MINKOFF: I feel guilty for watching. I feel like a Roman sometimes in the Colosseum.


MINKOFF: I feel guilty for watching, and yet, you know, it's so ingrained in the culture that I can't pull myself away.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what about you?

IFTIKHAR: Same here. I remember during the Ravens-Broncos game, every time there was a good hit, I'd be like, oh, that's a good hit and I hope that the guy is going to be able stand up.

MARTIN: What about you, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Well, you know, I'm not the biggest - you mean, you live in Cleveland all your life, you're not the biggest football fan. You know, but I compare it to boxing in terms that I am a huge boxing fan. I know these people are getting their brains beat in, but I am there. I am there, corn chips, beer. Even my son, very oftentimes, is there with me. And we're watching these people be beaten to a pulp. So I guess, you know, I can't throw any stones at Dr. Neil or anybody in the barbershop, you know, for all of us watching these people slowly losing their minds on the field of football battle.

MARTIN: You know, we were talking about the N-word earlier - speaking of a totally different context here - you know that there was a New York jury, brought the hammer down on a boss who used the N-word in the office. And the twist is that the boss and the employee were both black, and the jury awarded a $280,000 judgment against the supervisor for creating a hostile workplace. And there's a tape of one of the conversations in question. Do you mind if I play it a little?

IZRAEL: Yeah, drop it.

MARTIN: Well, I think you need to hear it, so you understand what it is we're talking about.


MARTIN: And I do have to tell you that I think many people will find it offensive. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Both of you, you know, what it is? Both of you are [bleep], and that's that. And I'm not using the term [bleep] derogatory. Sometimes it's good to know when to act like a [bleep]. But y'all act like [bleep] all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I am really offended by that. I don't think that I do.

MAN #2: You can be offended, but it's true.

IZRAEL: Wow. Holy mackerel.

IFTIKHAR: Ouch. Ouch.

MINKOFF: I can't believe it.


IZRAEL: When keeping it real goes wrong with barbershop talk. Comes out of the barbershop and into your HR office. Hello, you know. Thanks for that, Michel. You know, the boss has been described as a 61-year-old black man of Puerto Rican descent. Well, that clearly explains everything.

MARTIN: Everything.

IZRAEL: But the boss testified he was just using tough love. OK. Does he have an argument here, bro?

BLACKISTONE: Well, he has an argument but if he's going to lose it in the workplace.

IZRAEL: Well...

BLACKISTONE: You know, there's a court case that has precedent over this. I'm sure Arsalan can talk about Brandenburg versus Ohio, which says that this is a, you know, this is a fighting word. This is not protected speech. So in this case, you know, you have to be very careful about how you wield what is the most lethal word in English language and the American vocabulary.


BLACKISTONE: Vernacular. And in this case, it came back to bite this guy.

IZRAEL: Wow. Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir. Well, first of all, I'd like to know if the boss's name was Clayton Bigsby. What's important here is the fact that, you know, when you're looking at any sort of employment discrimination case, the standard becomes a quote, hostile work environment. It's the legal term of art where, you know, anything that - it's trying to find out whether words that were said by the boss create a hostile work environment. And in this case, it did.

And I don't think that context matters. Whether it was a white boss or a black boss, if an employee has a reasonable fear that it creates a hostile work environment, it's like saying that a female boss cannot be found guilty of sexual harassment in the workplace because women tend to be the victims predominately in sexual harassment cases. But women can, you know, sexually harass other employees in the workplace. And so I think it's important to keep in mind that anything that causes a hostile work environment is frowned upon and can be found, you know, in a civil lawsuit.


MARTIN: Let me just push one more thing out here. Sorry to jump in here 'cause there's one more thing I wanted to talk about before we let everybody go. Jimi, you were calling this the guy who just won't go away - Anthony Weiner. He was running last in the Democratic race for mayor of New York City, but he got into an argument at a New York bakery this week. It was the beginning of the High Holy Days. He went in there to get - Rosh Hashanah - and he went in to get some honey cookies I think it was. And this is what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You're a real scumbag, Anthony.

ANTHONY WEINER: Wow, very nice. Very nice. That's a charming guy right there.

MAN #3: You're married to an Arab.

WEINER: Very nice. In front of children.

MAN #3: Very nice. Very nice.

WEINER: That is charming.

MAN #3: You're disgusting. You're disgusting. You're disgusting.

WEINER: Charming. Yeah, it takes one to know one.

MARTIN: So in case you didn't catch it, the customer says something to Weiner about being married to an Arab. And in case you don't know, his wife is Huma Abedin. She's a longtime aide to former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The man who confronted Weiner described himself as Jewish, and said that their marriage bothered him. And so, you know, gee-whiz. Who do you like in this story. Neil, what about you? I mean, who do you like in this story?

MINKOFF: Can I vote none of the above? I mean, look...


MINKOFF: ...I'm a combative, argumentative Jewish guy who has spent many a High Holiday yelling at people while little bits of honey cake are flying out of my mouth. The problem I have here is that Weiner didn't defend his wife. He didn't go up to the guy and say, leave my wife out of it, or my wife has suffered enough, or any of those things, or my wife's not an Arab - get your facts straight. He went in and had this incredibly, extremely, narcissistic argument with this guy about who are you to judge me when I'm asking for your vote.

So, like, the whole thing just didn't add up. What bothered me about this is, look, the guy who heckled him, clearly has some of his own issues about that. But Weiner is, to be fair, the one in the public eye, the one asking for the vote, and he didn't stand up to the offensive comment. He turned it into, yet another, all about me Weiner-ism.

MARTIN: That's an interesting point.


MARTIN: An interesting point. Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Well, first of all, if I was Anthony Weiner, I would start every press conference by saying, it's actually pronounced whiner, but that's neither here nor there. You know, what did bother me the most was the fact that, you know, as Neil said, that this guy said that you're married to an Arab, whom Abedin is not an Arab. She's of Indo-Pakistani decent. She's a Muslim. And what the guy was essentially saying is, you're married to a Muslim. And instead of challenging sort of the racialist overtone of that, you know, it went back to him, you know, talking about, you know, you can't judge me. What Rabbi taught you that? I think that we will all be better once Anthony Weiner - whiner - rides off into the sunset.

MARTIN: Jimi, I want you to have the last word. Kevin, what do you think? Should voters be thinking about this as they're voting on this guy? I mean, do you think this should be part of the equation?

BLACKISTONE: First of all, the amazing thing is that he's still running. That's the amazing thing. The second thing is that it took him this long to crack. And someone says, like, spits something like that out of the side their mouth at you, you know - I listened to the tape, he didn't say anything offensive. He didn't hurl and slurs back at this guy. I don't - you know, he didn't punch him. I mean, I think a lot of people really would've lost it, especially when your wife is injected into the argument.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Yeah, no women, no kids. You know, I mean, I've been in the public eye for a minute, and people have been really smart about not trying to drag my people down with me in their criticisms 'cause, you know, I've let it be known that I'm that dude and I don't get down like that. You know, so I'm all about Tony Weiner. Tony Weiner, I've got your back, bro. But don't send me any pictures. We're good on that, bro. We're good, but I got your back. Somebody start talking about your wife - they clearly don't want their teeth very much longer. So yeah, you got to handle that any way you want.

MARTIN: What about Neil's point, though, that he kind of didn't really defend his wife. He kind of made it about himself? What do you think?

IZRAEL: I thought that was smart. I thought that was - he forced the guy to focus his argument because when you start getting - you start snapping on people with "your mama jokes" and "your daddy wears combat boots," then you move far afield from whatever your argument is. So if your argument is that I'm an immoral person, then let's deal with that, and that's what he tried to do. But if your argument is that my wife is an Arab, then we need to step outside, you know.

So what he really did is he let dude off. He let dude off the easy way because if the argument is my wife's an Arab, then we gonna have to step outside, B, honey cookies and all, you know. But if I'm - but if you believe I'm an immoral person, then let's focus that argument. That's what he did. So I thought it was smart.

MARTIN: Wow, it was an interesting week. It was an interesting week. Lots of slurs thrown around and lots of interesting things to talk about those slurs that were thrown around. So thanks everybody. And happy new year to those who celebrate. L'Shana Tova...

MINKOFF: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...To those who are celebrating, who are observing. Jimi Izrael's a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant and contributor to the National Review. He joined us from Boston. Arsalan Iftikhar's founder of themuslimguy.com, senior editor for Islamic Monthly, with us from NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. And Kevin Blackistone is a sports writer and professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thanks everybody.





MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast that's in the iTunes Store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.