MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
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, Pablo Torre, a senior writer with ESPN joins us from New York City. Joining us from Boston, health care consultant, contributor to the conservative magazine The National Review is Neil Minkoff. And Corey Dade is in our Washington, D.C. studios. He's a contributing editor for The Root. That's an online publication that focuses on issues of particular interest to African-Americans. I just feel like I should point that out from time to time in case people don't know. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. (Imitates "Monday Night Football" theme). Yo, fellas, welcome, welcome, welcome to the shop.
COREY DADE: What's up?
IZRAEL: How are we doing?
MARTIN: Did somebody just step on your foot? Like, what happened?
IZRAEL: That was the Super Bowl theme.
MARTIN: Oh, sorry. Oh, wow. OK, sorry.
IZRAEL: Nobody else got that, really?
PABLO TORRE: I did.
DADE: I did.
NEIL MINKOFF: No, I got it.
DADE: Actually, it was "Monday Night Football," but you're right.
MARTIN: Yeah, exactly.
DADE: Same difference, though.
MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you.
IZRAEL: Tomato, tomahto (ph).
TORRE: I thought someone was going to reference frozen tundra...
TORRE: ...'Cause that's what it is.
IZRAEL: As it happens, it is Super Bowl time, and I'm down with Bruno Mars for halftime. But also, me and the cat, you know, we chose to watch the "Puppy Bowl" on the Animal Planet. What? Last year, 2-point - I think 2.6 million viewers last year. So me and the cat, we're all about the "Puppy Bowl" with the...
TORRE: "Puppy Bowl" hipster.
IZRAEL: ...Kitten halftime. That's what I'm talking about. You know, but Bruno Mars, that's going to be pretty hot, too, this weekend. Corey Dade...
DADE: Yes, sir.
IZRAEL: ...You love football. What are you looking forward to on Sunday?
DADE: Man, you know, the - I like the fact that it's become a spectacle and a party and all that and the commercials are interesting. But I'm a purist, man - former football player. I'm all about the game. And, you know, I hate the fact that this has been sort of portrayed by some as sort of the, you know, Peyton Manning and the Broncos and the white hats against Seattle Seahawks and Richard Sherman as the villains. You know, at the end of the day, you know, just because - maybe because simply, you know, Senator John McCain sided with the Broncos, I'm going with the villains. Go Seahawks.
IZRAEL: This sounds just like the "Puppy Bowl."
MARTIN: I love how a guy - I love how a guy who graduated from Stanford and has pulled all these other guys along with him, everybody knows kind of stood up for academic excellence and was the valedictorian of his high school all of a sudden became...
DADE: A thug.
MARTIN: ...A thug because he was woofing at the end of the game that he helped win. How did that happen?
IZRAEL: What's the guy's problem?
MARTIN: All right, problem.
TORRE: Well, I mean, that's - gosh, I mean, that's a whole...
MARTIN: So much there.
TORRE: We have an hour to talk about this?
MARTIN: An hour? Right, right. Tell us what's up.
TORRE: I will be paying attention to Richard Sherman, of course. I want to see how he does conduct himself, should he be victorious. I'm on Team Sherman just because seeing people basically get irreparably harmed for three hours and then seeing someone screaming about somebody else seems like a very small, small sin. But what I'm paying attention to in this game, number one - I mean, the spectacle, the atmospherics - literal atmospherics insofar as - guess what? The forecast for Sunday is 40 degrees in New York. Everyone was talking about snowpocalypse. That looks a lot like the Y2K bug. I don't think it's going to be a big deal. It's actually pretty nice in New York right now. I agree that Bruno Mars is going to be great. He's very talented.
IZRAEL: Yes, he is.
TORRE: But on the game itself, unstoppable force against immovable object, number one offense versus number one defense. I think it's going to be very close, but I'm also picking the Seahawks. I think that that defense is going to do things to Peyton Manning that have not been done before in the last two years.
DADE: They're ballers.
MARTIN: Oh. Oh.
IZRAEL: Neil Minkoff. Neil...
MARTIN: That sounds sexy, too.
IZRAEL: Listen, Neil, I know you're still sore about the Patriots, bro...
MINKOFF: So, so sore.
IZRAEL: ...But ever since New Jersey was picked, people have been worried about the weather. I guess, you know, I don't know - I mean, all things considered - I mean, I know what Pablo's saying. But was it a bad choice, maybe?
MINKOFF: So here's the thing for me is that the NFL has become like the league of hubris and that everything is about this willful pride of the NFL that nobody can stand in their way when they move games around and they flex games and how they treat patient - player safety and so on. And this almost felt like the ultimate of that. Like, Mother Nature wouldn't dare mess with us. We're the NFL, and this is America's secular national holiday. And what really scares me is if they get away with it, they might keep tempting fate again and again and again. And it just reinforces this idea that the NFL is this unstoppable force.
MARTIN: You know, I got to tell you, though, I was one of - even though I'm from New York and, you know, like, you know - I've always said that people from New York and people from Texas should get married because we all think that, you know, we're the center of the universe and it's the best place on earth and nobody should ever want to live or be from anywhere else. And if you are, you should feel inferior. But I really thought this was such a bad idea. But, you know, again, here's where I got to ask Corey about this. You know, we were all - those of us who were kind of hating on the whole idea of the Northeast Super Bowl were saying it should be in the South.
Well, you know, this week, you know, particularly in the Georgia area, in the Atlanta metro area, students had to sleep in schools, the highways were like a massive parking lot, thousands of people stranded in their cars for hours until the governor called in the National Guard. It's also true, like, in the New Orleans area. People were really hard-hit there with the ice and had a really tough time. People aren't getting - it's not getting as much attention. But, like, all these kind of southeastern areas where you would think would be more logical were really slammed. So I guess the first thing I wanted to ask Corey, since you lived in - worked in Atlanta for a while...
MARTIN: ...What do you make of all of this? Is the criticism justified? What do you think?
DADE: I think the criticism is justified overall but is misplaced. I mean, first of all, Georgia has no clue how to mobilize a response to snow. I mean, let's just put that out there. They rarely have it, and when they have it, they freak out. It's almost like D.C. in that they freak out every time, even though D.C. gets snow every year. Go figure. But with Atlanta, you know, I think Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has taken actually too much heat for this.
You know, this is a region made up of 10 to 12 different counties, all different jurisdictions. When we see on TV the footage of gridlock on the interstate, those are state roads, roads maintained by the state. That's where the state, Governor Deal, actually fell down in not bringing the right resources. But in the city - the city roads - the majority of the city roads were cleared within 24 hours. And yet, the Atlanta Mayor is getting most of the heat.
MARTIN: Why doesn't he say that then? Why doesn't he say, hey, folks, number one, the city was clear, the state roads, you know - look over there at that guy, number one. And oh, number two, you suburbanites who didn't want public transportation, holler at me.
DADE: Well, he's saying the first...
MARTIN: Why doesn't he say that?
DADE: He's saying the first part of it about the fact that he doesn't control the interstates. But it is a reality that in metro Atlanta, the - this was the ultimate example of why metro Atlanta needs expanded public transit. But people in the suburbs - particularly conservatives, particularly whites - have fought against expanding transit because they don't want minorities into their neighborhoods. They don't want their property values to go down. And this was, in some ways, the chickens coming home to roost for them.
MARTIN: Well, aren't the suburbs more integrated now than that? The suburbs aren't all white now, are they?
DADE: No, the suburbs are more integrated than they have been. But they don't - but public transit doesn't push deeply into the suburban counties where many of the jobs are, particularly north of the city. That's where the jobs are. That's where people need to get to the jobs. But there's not enough public transit to get there. And often, what it involves is taking people of color - lower-wage workers - and moving them into those 'burbs to get those jobs.
MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?
IZRAEL: I think - I don't know how - I certainly appreciate Corey's point. But I just don't know how you - as a mayor, how do you apologize for the weather? I mean, you prepare for the weather, but at best, it's like a guesstimate. You know, so I mean - I mean stuff happens and you just kind of say, hey, I did the best I could. And you...
DADE: But they knew it was coming though. They know it was coming. The National Weather Service was very clear.
IZRAEL: Well, when you live in Atlanta, I mean, you take it with a grain of salt. I mean, I used to live in Florida. They used to say, oh, it's going to be a frosty night. And a frosty night in Florida's like 63.
IZRAEL: You know what I mean?
DADE: ...The station had given them - the station had given them more than a grain of salt. But that's all they had.
MARTIN: OK. Let me just...
IZRAEL: Nice, nice.
MARTIN: Can I just quickly ask Pablo before we move on, Pablo, what's your take on the whole...
TORRE: Yeah, I mean...
MARTIN: New York-New Jersey Super Bowl versus Southern Super Bowl?
MARTIN: What do you think?
TORRE: ...I mean, that was the irony that first hit me when I saw how three inches of snow sort of plunged, you know, Atlanta into chaos. And the irony also is that The Weather Channel, of course, is based out of the city of Atlanta.
MINKOFF: That's correct.
TORRE: But I am - I mean, look, I - there's a fine line, I think, between sympathy for people stuck in their cars for 10 hours - which seems to be the case 'cause I complain when my plain is delayed 45 minutes. So I'm not above that. But, I mean, it does seem like, yeah, bureaucracy seems to be the key to successfully hosting a Super Bowl or to dealing with weather. And I personally am so much more appreciative of the streaks of salt that I track into my house every day because of what apparently our bureaucrats force us to do.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by sports writer Pablo Torre. That's who was speaking just now. Also with us, writer Jimi Izrael, journalist Corey Dade and health care consultant Dr. Neil Minkoff. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK, all right. Well, back to football. You may have heard that this week, players at Northwestern University took steps to form a union. And I come from a union family. I'm all about that, Michel - all about it.
MARTIN: Well, that's interesting. OK 'cause - well, so this week we talked with outgoing Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. He's a senior - just finished his senior year season - finishing up his senior coursework. Also, Ramogi Huma, he's the President of the National College Players Association. He's a former linebacker - played for UCLA. And he says that this is appropriate because college football players are treated more like employees than they are students. Let me just play a clip of that. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDING)
RAMOGI HUMA: When you're setting up your schedule, they tell you when you can and can't take classes. You have to wrap your academic schedule around your athletic schedule. Some guys can't even major in certain things they want to major in.
MARTIN: So what do you guys think of that?
DADE: As someone who played college football - this is Corey - played college football, I can tell you that - and I was at a competitive school at Grambling, but not big-time football like Northwestern. But, you know, I can tell you, you know, for those athletes, college sports, especially football, it's a job. It interferes with the academics, interferes with your ability to get part-time - prevents you from getting a part-time job. It generally kind of pimps them for their physical labor. The NCAA is the ultimate pimp, the ultimate exploiter. And, you know, this kind of activism is needed to force the NCAA to blow up this farce of amateur athletics and really devise a new structure that adequately compensates athletes for their sacrifices. Now all that said, there's no way that the NCAA is going to actually reclassify their students as employees. That's just not going to happen.
MARTIN: I don't know. Is it their decision?
DADE: Well, I think it will probably have to be.
MARTIN: ...I mean, that's the National Labor Relations Board's decision, isn't it?
DADE: It will, but they would have to make an enormously convincing case to change that structure.
IZRAEL: Pablo. P-dog, what do you think? NCAA as Willie Dynamite? What do you think about that?
TORRE: Well, look, I see this from the NCAA's perspective, and that building in Indianapolis where their headquarters is must be trembling a bit because the NCAA's greatest advantage in the discourse about whether or not to pay players has never been logical reason. It's been inertia. And it's been inertia that's been sustained by the fact that you have your revolving door of a workforce, where people stay there for a maximum of four to five years, depending if you redshirted. And nobody is sticking around long enough and is invested enough in the present tense to form a union and to argue and agitate for the rights...
DADE: That's right.
TORRE: ...That befall workers. Now it seems you have players with a sort of longitudinal sense of what it means to be a college athlete. That's new. And that's scary if you're the NCAA because you look at the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit, you look at what's happening here. The public conversation, you know, sharpens every time you have college athletes who are right now college athletes speaking out because that's who we've been arguing about, and that's who finally is actually speaking out about this.
MARTIN: What did - you know, Neil, I'm curious what of you think because you're a mad football fan, but you're also trained as a doctor. And you are very well-acquainted with the literature around, you know, head trauma and so forth. What do you think about this?
MINKOFF: So I am really on board with this idea of a union. I really think it's a great idea. I think that it really forces the powers that be at the NCAA to think about the fact that not only are these people - the athletes themselves - do they have really - these are their jobs. They're dangerous jobs. These are, in many ways, potentially very highly-exploited workers, and what they're being given is not necessarily of appropriate value.
DADE: That's right.
MINKOFF: So the NCAA fall back is always, well, they're getting scholarships. They get an education out of this. But, A, not everybody gets a scholarship. And, B, we don't know how well-educated a lot of these athletes are when they come out. And, C, a lot of them don't actually finish and graduate. So the fallback position from the NCAA looks more unsustainable every day to me.
MARTIN: Jimi, what you think?
IZRAEL: Hey, I - like I said, I think you got to get it. I think they got to do what they got to do. And these kids deserve protection for their bodies long-term. And if - that's what I think.
MARTIN: Pablo, what about this argument that - there's this professor - I think he was at Florida State - who made the argument that actually what should happen is that football players should be allowed to major in football in the same way that, say, theater students or musical students or, you know, like Yo-Yo Ma at, you know - at Harvard majored in music or music theory or something and get course credit so that there isn't this big - this big conflict between...
TORRE: Right, well...
MARTIN: What do you think about that?
TORRE: That to me actually - you know, I've thought about that. And that makes, to me, sense in the abstract. Like, I have no idea about the implementation of it. But in the sense that exactly - you get a kid who's really good in music. Why wouldn't sports be different? Because here's the - what it comes down to. The brass tacks of it is the educational system, when it comes to high-level Division I athletes, is broken. What Neil referenced in terms of not everybody getting degrees, and if you get degrees, what kind of degrees are there - look at the scandals at North Carolina across the board. I mean, everywhere you see new stories pop up about corruption in the academic departments that are dealing with athletes. And the question is, well, why? And to fix that problem, I think you do need to actually drastically re-imagine...
DADE: But I...
TORRE: ...What we want out of a college experience for a player who's trying to be a high-level athlete.
DADE: I'm going to throw - I got to throw a flag on that play. There's no way...
DADE: ...That they can academize football. That's what you're saying. There's no accreditation. There's no accreditation organization worth its salt that's going to give credence...
MARTIN: No, no. Don't you spend a lot of time - I mean, you...
DADE: ...To any university that's going to academize...
MARTIN: You were a quarterback, right? I mean...
MARTIN: Corner. You were a corner. Excuse me. Sorry. Corner.
TORRE: He's the Richard Sherman of the group.
MARTIN: Yes, he is.
DADE: I wish.
MARTIN: Who's talking about you? I mean, you study nutrition. Don't you study - you know - I don't know.
DADE: You don't study nutrition as part of football.
DADE: You study football for the sake of football.
MARTIN: All right. I'm just throwing it out there as a conversation. I'm just asking you.
TORRE: You could build something. I don't know what it is yet, but maybe something.
MARTIN: All right, well, before we let you know go, I only have - we only have about a minute left. I just have to ask you all about this. You know, President Obama delivered a State of the Union address this week. But one of the things that, you know - one of the other issues that stole the show was New York Congressman Michael Grimm. Right after the State of the Union, a reporter asked him to address some allegations about improper campaign financing. And after that, he threatened to throw the reporter off the bleeping balcony and told him, quote, I will break you in half like a boy. And I just have to ask you - I know Jimi was actually defending this. He was like, oh, well, you know, that's how people talk.
MARTIN: And I just - like, Corey, has anyone threatened to break you in half like a boy? What do you think?
DADE: No, you know, yeah - I wish I was that reporter in that position because it would have given me license...
MARTIN: I think he handled it really wrong.
DADE: ...Because as a reporter, we have to take all kinds of abuse from our subjects because they don't like our intrusiveness. And that's fair enough. And we can't react.
IZRAEL: That's right.
DADE: That would have been the ultimate license. If someone steps in my space and physically threatens me, to me, that's license to snap back. But the reality is, you know, that happens. You have...
MARTIN: You know, this is one of the points...
DADE: ...As a reporter, it happens all the time.
MARTIN: ...I wanted to make. I've had people threaten to push me down some stairs.
MARTIN: And, I mean, this has happened to me many more times than I would like. And I'm always so curious and - would anybody notice this? I'm like, really? People get in trouble for that?
DADE: Yeah, it happens all the time. Now what's interesting...
DADE: ...Is, considering we were talking about Richard Sherman, nobody's talking about Grimm as a thug. Why isn't anybody calling him a thug for that? I mean...
IZRAEL: Yeah, he definitely thugged up.
TORRE: He would fit that description.
DADE: ...He went way further than Richard Sherman went. I mean, let's be honest.
MINKOFF: Yes, I agree.
IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean, as a reporter, I've been on the other side of that type of stuff. And it's like, you know, what do you do? You know, but I'm on Team Grimm. Go Team Grimm.
MINKOFF: Well, at least he didn't do anything really...
MARTIN: Jimi, go get some wings.
MINKOFF: At least he didn't do anything really scandalous like reach for a bottle of water.
MARTIN: All right. Jimi Izrael is a writer. You can find him at JimiIzreal.com. He's an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He was with us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Neil Minkoff is a health care consultant, contributor to National Review, with us from WGBH in Boston. Pablo Torre's a senior editor for ESPN, with us from our NPR studios in New York. Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root, with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you all so much.
MINKOFF: Thank you.
DADE: Yes, sir.
TORRE: Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast in the iTunes store. I'm Michel Martin. 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.