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The World's Watching Soccer, But Basketball Is On The Barbershop's Brain


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, our writer Jimi Izrael with us from Cleveland. In our Washington, D.C. studios, we have Paul Butler. He is a law professor at Georgetown University. From NPR West, which is in Culver City, California, film writer, actor and producer Rick Najera. We hope to connect to Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of, in Chicago - having a little trouble connecting with him, but we hope he'll be joining us. That being said, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel. First, props for that nice piece on Cleveland's own, Ruby Dee. You know - she made her bones here. She made her bones here at Cleveland's Karamu Theatre, the oldest black American theater in America. May she rest with the angels. Everybody, welcome to the shop.


IZRAEL: How we doing?

PAUL BUTLER: What's up?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR, BYLINE: Good. Good. Good to be here.

IZRAEL: All right well, let's get things started. The San Antonio Spurs absolutely iced the heat last night in game four of the NBA finals. Even the king, Miami's LeBron James - by way of - seemed humbled by the 107 to 86 loss. Can we drop that tape, please?


LEBRON JAMES: I mean, they smashed us - two straight home games - got off to awful starts. You know, they came in, and you know, it was much better than us in these two games - just that simple.

IZRAEL: Yes, yes, it is LeBron. But you know, that puts the Miami Heat down 3 to 1 games in the series. No team has ever - and I mean with a capital E - come back from a deficit that far down in the finals. Paul Butler - Prince Paul. What are guys - what are the old guys doing right?

BUTLER: Let's hear it...

IZRAEL: For one things..

BUTLER: Let's hear it for the old heads on the...

IZRAEL: Yeah. Let's man.

BUTLER: ...San Antonio Spurs. This is..

IZRAEL: All right.

BUTLER: ...Generational. This is epic. Is gritty versus with (unintelligible). I don't like dynasties in professional sports. So it's just enjoyable to see this dynasty fail. And my mom says I look like Tim Duncan.

MARTIN: Oh, wow. OK.

IZRAEL: (Laughing) Well, and Mom's always right.

MARTIN: I - I think you're much more handsome than Tim Duncan.

BUTLER: Well thank you, Michel.

IZRAEL: Hey now.

MARTIN: Enough with the haterade. Rick, go ahead.


MARTIN: That being said, enough with the haterade.

NAJERA: Yeah, enough of the haterade. No.


NAJERA: I think it's pretty much a done deal. It's a done deal. They can't come back after that.

MARTIN: Don't agree.

IZRAEL: Well, can...

MARTIN: Don't agree. Well, Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: I think that if anybody can bring it back, it is LeBron. But I don't think LeBron is about that life. I think he's - he might be a natural born loser. I mean...


MARTIN: He's got two rings. Yeah, how many you got?


IZRAEL: Well, I - hey.

MARTIN: Excuse me.

IZRAEL: I got the one that matters, but what I'm suggesting to you is that he chokes at the point. And you had to be a finisher in life, in this game - that's just the way of it. And I don't know if he's about that life. I just think he doesn't like the pressure. He likes the glam. He likes to pop bottles. He likes to win, but he doesn't like the pressure that can come with the win. So I don't know. I don't know.

MARTIN: Well...

IFTIKHAR: Come on, man.

MARTIN: Thank you, Arsalan.


MARTIN: Step up. Step up.

IZRAEL: A-Train.

MARTIN: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Listen...

IZRAEL: Say what you got to say, bro.

IFTIKHAR: Listen, I am rooting for the San Antonio Spurs, but as long as LeBron James is in any playoff series - this ain't over until the Spurs seal the deal. It's has been an incredible series so far - the fact that the Spurs were able to spank the Heat twice at home in Miami. They need to go back to San Antonio. The need to finish it off right now and, you know, if they're able to finish off the Heat, the NBA finals MVP is going be none other than who, what, where, when? Kawhi Leonard. That man has been balling like a grown man. It's been a pleasure to watch.

IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: You know, it's been interesting to me, though, is that - I think people celebrate LeBron for his physicality. But I've been really interested in how he's analyzed each game. I've really enjoy listening to how he analyzed each game. And he talked about how you have to keep your eyes on every man up and until 24th second. You can't play for 20 seconds. It's got to be the 24 - I've learned a lot from listening to him kind of analyze the game. But it is interesting to me, like, how it is that - you can't - that they haven't been able to execute. I just find that - I don't really understand that. Paul, do you?

BUTLER: Yeah, I mean he - you know, LeBron is grown. He's growing into his grown man self. And what I like about him, is not just in basketball, but in life. I mean, he's one of the most political of all the NBA speakers. You know, he was one of the first to speak against Sterling. He was down with the Florida case. So mad props for that.

MARTIN: All right, we'll kick it over to the soccer field.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah


IZRAEL: A-Train - Arsalan, you have to be the only American-born dude I know who watches World Cup 24/7. What's up with that, bro?

IFTIKHAR: Come on, man.

IZRAEL: Seriously, seriously, seriously. Real talk. Real talk.

IFTIKHAR: The World Cup is - it's the unifying factor for the world. You know, it happens every four years. It has taken over for the Olympics as sort of the globalist Coca-Cola moment. And, you know, it started out great. You know, the first day you had Brazil and Croatia, which was a tight game until a very controversial penalty call, which resulted in a penalty kick. And Brazil was able to take the game against Croatia. It's going to be really interesting to see if they're going to be able to win being the host country. But, you know, you have teams like Spain and Germany and other powerhouses. It's going to be a fantastic, fantastic few weeks of the World Cup.

IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: Is it - can I ask, Arsalon, is it harshing your mellow at all that there have been so many street demonstrations? I mean, obviously...



MARTIN: ...There was a lot of talk up until the Olympics in Russia, the Sochi Winter Olympics, that there was a lot of unhappiness there with the way this whole thing proceeded. I mean, the expense, all of the people who had cleared out of their houses. But it seemed like once the games got started, people kind of rally to it - that does not seem to be the case here, at all. And I just wondered is it kind of diminishing your enjoyment of the whole experience - that people are so angry - that there's been so much violence?

IFTIKHAR: You're absolutely right, Michel.

And you know, it hits the nail on the head about these major world events like the World Cup or the Olympics, where, essentially, these host countries build these gigantic multibillion dollar stadiums which then become white elephants after these events are over and are essentially empty. And those multibillion dollars could be used for healthcare, education, employment programs for these host countries. And it shows - I mean, Brazil - the religion of Brazil is soccer. And the fact that they are willing to, you know, essentially, forsake their religion for the betterment of their own people on the streets really shows that they have their priorities straight as a society.

MARTIN: But you'll still watch.

IFTIKHAR: Of course.

MARTIN: Any on else? Paul doesn't care.


IZRAEL: Well, Rick, you down with CUP?

NAJERA: Yeah, I'm down on looking at this thing going - they spend 11 billion in Brazil for these soccer - that's like a ghetto father spending all his money on a big screen TV when they're evicting him. That's just wrong. So it's hard for me to enjoy the game the same way. Even though, I will enjoy the game, you know. I predict Brazil will win. They'll have to win. As there'll be really big riots - they'll be the double riots.

MARTIN: How about that? Interesting question.

IZRAEL: Double riots.

MARTIN: It kind of reminds me of the conversations we have about football because on one hand, you're a fan and you love the game, and then you start thinking about the impact that it has and how..

NAJERA: Right.

MARTIN: ...You know, how are you supposed to put all of that together? It's not a small question. So anyway...

BUTLER: And just to point out, by football, Michel, you meant real football. I hate when they call that game soccer, football. Football is 300 pound dudes trying to knock each other down.


NAJERA: They call it futbol. It's pronounced a little bit differently, but yeah - I think it is a world sport. I mean, this is four - every four years. This is amazing. And that's the unifying fact for the world. More people watch this than the Super Bowl and everything else combined. This is it.

MARTIN: It is kind of weird, though. It's the biggest youth sport, you know, in America, by far. You know, millions of kids play soccer, and somehow it just doesn't translate into the adult world. I don't know.

NAJERA: You know, it's going to translate because right now, that whole - all of those kids - there's a new generation. I'm watching - my own son, Julian, is a soccer star. It's - all he talks about is soccer. And he's wearing a Mexico jersey right now 'cause Mexico's playing.

MARTIN: Well, I have a theory, and I'll just throw it out there, and then we'll move on, which is the - my theory is that the advent of the big screens earlier wreck I think the advent of the big screen - You mentioned big screens earlier, Rick - I think the advent of the big screen is going to enhance our appreciation of it, because you can see the whole field. And I just feel like it's - that's what you need. You need to see the whole field to really feel the game.


MARTIN: That's just my theory. I could be wrong.

NAJERA: No, I think you're right. It's a youth - it's the younger generation that's going to look at soccer in a whole different way than the older generation is. So I think it's just going to grow.

MARTIN: Mean like grouchy Paul?


NAJERA: It's grouchy Paul.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having our weekly barbershop round table with writer Jimi Izrael, Professor Arsalan Iftikhar, film and television writer and producer Rick Najera and a law professor Paul Butler. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks Michel. OK. Well, TMZ breaks a lot of big stories, but no one ever called ethical journalism. Still, some folks are petitioning the website to take down video of the crash scene involving media Tracy Morgan, Michel.

MARTIN: That's right. Many people will remember that Tracy Morgan and five others were heading back from a comedy gig last Saturday night when Walmart truck struck their limo bus. One person died. Morgan and a number of others were badly injured. The daughter of one of the injured, New Jersey comedian Ardie Fuqua has asked TMZ to take the video down and staying on Instagram, they don't understand how hurtful it is to see my father be dragged out of the wreckage along with all the other false information on his condition. I understand people want to know and people want to be updated, but enough is enough. So Jimi, I'm interested in your take on this because you're kind of a First Amendment absolutist. On the other hand, you're also a human being and feel that, you know - what about that?

IZRAEL: I think entertainment news is dicey, at best. But if you're going to do it, you have to do it right. And the Zapruder film is available, and that is a most unfortunate recording. So if that's available for us as the general public to check out and...

MARTIN: Wait a minute, but he's the president the United States. That's a little different. Isn't it? You don't think that's - I mean, that's...

IZRAEL: I think journalism is journalism. I think if you're going to do it, then you have to do it right - #wamreference.You know...


IZRAEL: I mean, that's just my feeling, you know.

MARTIN: All right well, Rick - Rick, what do you think as a person who's kind of in that - in the world, too, where celebrities are often - like that's the whole trick is to get celebrities into a...

NAJERA: Well, Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Position that's uncomfortable, or not flattering or whatever?

NAJERA: We live in a reality world. I mean, come on. I live the TMZ area. And, you know, I was just walking down Rodeo Drive and there's a little white kid next to me and a black man actually walked by and the kid looked and said, is that Seal? I mean. To me, that is all about celebrity. She assumed it's Seal. It was black man - just a regular black man, and she thought it was Seal. And I look at that and I go, it's a double-edged sword. I mean, when you look at journalism, like - when you see Robert Kennedy shot and a bus boy holding his head with the rosary. It's powerful journalism. That's a very powerful photograph. And in some ways, when you look at TMZ and they're like the National Enquirer of what journalism would be. So in some ways, I think you - it's a double-edged sword. If you're going to live by celebrity, you're going to die by celebrity, too. I mean, you are in an open field. And some people might look at - I look at the same footage of him being - a man being dragged out of that wreckage and thinking, oh good, he's getting medical aid. That made me feel better, actually. I didn't see it as exploitive, although, I'm sure it was.

MARTIN: Paul, what do you think.

BUTLER: This is getting a little too highbrow for me. People like looking at gross stuff. When I heard about this video, I rushed to the TMZ site and I peeped it. Now, I'm - there's this Andy Warhol series called "Car Wreck," and I saw it at an exhibit, and people were leaning in. They were like, is that blood over there? Is that a body part? There's something about inspecting the gruesome that's cathartic. It quenches base emotion that we have.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, we live in a completely voyeuristic society now. You know, with the ubiquitous-ness of smartphone videos, you know, we - sometimes, citizen journalists get stories and scoops before CNN is able to. And I think, here, you know, this is a double-edged sword of celebrity. You know, I think if Tracy Morgan wasn't a famous person, if it was a Jeffrey Morgan, who had gotten into this car wreck, I don't think anybody would be calling for this video to be removed. Let's not forget...

MARTIN: Well, they might though.

IFTIKHAR: ...In 1994, when Tupac was shot, right, the autopsy photos of Tupac with the bullet holes, you know, - they made it into our zeitgeist, as well. You know, this is just an unintended consequence of our voyeuristic society now.

MARTIN: Well, you know that there's some people - speaking of which, this is the last thing I wanted to talk about today. And I want to save some time to talk about it. There are those who think that this kind of started in the modern era. I mean, gossip has always been among us- you know, passing rumors, wanting to know people's business - has been among the. But this idea that we should be able to look at this stuff 24/7 - a lot of people think that that started with the O.J. trial. There was nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial. That's 20 years ago. Even if you wanted to avoid it, you couldn't. So you know - I don't know. What do you all think about that? Do you think that this thing has a lasting impact? Do you credit that theory? I don't know. Jimi, do you want to start?

IZRAEL: I'm scared to talk about the O.J. trial only because I think what you're saying is true. And I think everything, both good and bad, we say about the O.J. trial is true. I think it was a moment in American history where you got to learn that your white neighbor wasn't as liberal as you thought he was and the white neighbor learned that there was something about black American justice and justice that he didn't know - that a lot - I mean, almost everybody black I know knows that O.J. did it. And it wasn't even - that wasn't even the point. The point was that for everybody that didn't do it that got set up, for the (unitelligible), for everybody - for the James Burrs, for the people that - James Burr doesn't count - but I'm just saying people that were robbed of justice, you know - O.J. bought himself justice. And for a moment, it was good to see a black man be able to have enough money in his pocket to buy the kind of justice he wanted. Whether he deserved it or not - certainly a different question.

MARTIN: Paul, what do you think?

BUTLER: And I think white people are listening to Jimi and asking, what planet does this man live on? So I think the case created this cynicism about race relations that's still very present in our culture and, in fact, part of what was so appealing about Barack Obama was the hope that he could bridge that gap, and we see how well that worked out.

MARTIN: What you think Rick? You're out there

NAJERA: Yeah, you know - I mean, I look at it this way. I guess I am in the middle brown side on this one 'cause, you know, as Latinos, we really felt that we knew that people of color didn't get the best justice, and normally, you needed the best legal team for it. The trial proved that to everyone beyond belief. And then, I think, for white people, was what you said - Is that they were surprised that, wow, justice is blind and can be influenced. It was without a doubt. And it was unfortunate because the moral thing was, most of us believed he was guilty, and I still do.

MARTIN: You know, what's interesting, though, people forget that the data showed - forgive me, I don't remember the Latino number. I remember that two thirds of African Americans thought he was innocent, and a third thought he was guilty. It was - reverse. It was two thirds of whites surveyed thought he was guilty and a third thought he was innocent. But that's a third thought he was innocent. And the number of white people who thought he was innocent, as a number, would exceed the number of black people who thought the same. Do you see what I'm saying? That's a lot of people, and somehow, those people are all disappeared in this conversation. There are a lot of different opinions about this and somehow, that seems to have been lost. Arsalan, you get the final thought here - briefly, if you would.

IFTIKHAR: You know, as a lawyer myself -I know Paul Butler is a lawyer, also - the O.J. Simpson trial was the first time in my life where it was sort of this watershed moment for me, where I realized that - what Jimi said. People who are rich in America, regardless of your color, can afford the legal team needed to get people off. If he was a poor white man, I think he would have been found guilty. If he was a poor black man, I think he would have been found guilty. If he was a poor brown man, I think he would have been found guilty. I think the O.J. Simpson trial showed America that if you're rich enough to afford the legal team, they can get you off.


MARTIN: Well, on a happier note.


MARTIN: Let me say happy Father's Day to the fathers.

NAJERA: Thank you.

MARTIN: Let's say happy 90th birthday to George H. W. Bush. Since he jumped out of a plane on his 90th birthday, I will be expecting no less for the rest of you who are yet achieved - who have not yet achieved that number. Jimi Izrael is a writer. You can find his blog at Rick Najera is a film and television writer and actor and producer. Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of the and an adjunct professor of religious studies at Depaul University. Paul Butler is a law officer at Georgetown University. Thank you all so much.


NAJERA: Thank you.


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 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 Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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