MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our special St. Louis 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. He's with us from Cleveland, his home base. But here in St. Louis Public Radio, we have Christopher Ave, political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Showing his love for his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, we have regular contributor Arsalan Iftikhar. He's senior editor of the Islamic Monthly. And also traveling out with us from Washington, D.C., TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar. Thanks, everybody, for coming.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thank you.
CHRISTOPHER AVE: Thank you.
AMMAD OMAR: Thank you.
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: How's it going?
MARTIN: And, Jimi, before I turn it over to you, I have just a couple little bits of business. First of all, Christopher Ave, now I think you might remember the last time we spoke with you back in October, you did a little trash talking. Remember this?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AVE: I am supremely confident in the St. Louis Cardinals.
MARTIN: Well, it's not that they lost. They just didn't win. I don't know why I'm talking trash when I have a whole live audience here of people who are ready to, like, throw pens at me. But are you ready to eat a little slice of humble. What happened there? What happened?
AVE: No, no, no. They were only the National League champions. I mean, come on now. They only had more rookies contribute more good innings than any team in baseball. I think they did OK. The bats went a little silent in the World Series. That's true. But I bet those boys are back there practicing right now.
MARTIN: I'm sure they are.
MARTIN: Well, good. And you're a true fan. OK. We're glad that you met the challenge of being a true fan. On a happier note, happy birthday, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Oh, Michel, thank you. Thank you so much. Thirty-three feels so good. Hey fellas, Michel...
MARTIN: OK, now take it away. OK.
IZRAEL: Thank you.
IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. St. Louis how you doing?
IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey, what's happening?
AVE: Doing great.
IZRAEL: Everybody's flying quiet.
OMAR: You missed your flight, man. What happened?
IZRAEL: OK, you know what? So let's get it on. Guess what...
MARTIN: And this is a little bit...
IZRAEL: ...There's another...
MARTIN: I mean, this first topic is a little sad. But so...
IZRAEL: It is. It is.
MARTIN: That being said.
IZRAEL: As it happens, there's another - yet another scandal in the NFL. Oh, my. Clutch the pearls. It involves Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito and teammate Jonathan Martin. Incognito, he's been accused of racist and threatening trash talking, what some call bullying. Isn't that right, Michel?
MARTIN: That is true, and we can't even play the clip of the e-mail or the voicemail that was - has been entered into evidence in this case, and what's been - being discussed, because it's so profane. But it's interesting that Richie Incognito is getting a lot of support from teammates. I mean, here's Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
RYAN TANNEHILL: I think if you would've asked John Martin a week before, you know, who his best friend on the team was, he would've said Richie Incognito. The first guy to stand up for Jonathan when anything went down on the field, any kind of tussle, Richie was the first guy there.
MARTIN: So I should add that, you know, Martin has counsel now - Jonathan Martin - who's no relation to me, by the way, in case you were wondering - did not specifically name Richie Incognito in a statement released yesterday. In fact, the statement alleged that multiple people harassed Jonathan Martin. And he said that Martin tried to befriend the teammates who were abusing him, hoping that it would end the harassment or kind of ameliorate the harassment. So Jimi, back to you.
IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. You know what? Some NFL players say Martin shouldn't have left the team, and I'm with those people. This is not a popular opinion. But the way I see it, Martin should have taken dude outside and put his lights out. I do not - I absolutely do not believe in a society where we run to the principal's office every time these petty tyrants make a threat. Rhetoric and admonition does not dispatch bullies. Only power dispatches bullies. You know, man up, my dude. A-train.
IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.
IZRAEL: Arsalan Iftikhar, I know you're going to feel differently on this, so weigh in.
IFTIKHAR: Of course, you know, for me, this whole Miami Dolphins fiasco, you know, it started with bullying, and then it sort of went to hazing. And now, it's gotten to the point where it seems as though Richie Incognito was being given orders to, quote-unquote, toughen up Jonathan Martin. And it really reminds me of the movie "A Few Good Men," with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson; where, you know, Coach Philbin - of the Dolphins - you know, is Col. Jessup, in this case. And I'm literally waiting for somebody to ask, Coach Philbin, did you order the code red? And I can't even imagine what - you know, if he says, you're G-D right I did. I don't know what's going to happen then. And so - you know, this is not - this, first of all, shows that bullying is not isolated to schoolyard incidents; that it does happen in the workplace. You know, to your point, Jimi, Jonathan Martin is a Stanford University graduate. Not everybody resorts to violence in response to bullying, and I applaud him for that. But I think that this is much more pandemic. I think it goes way up. It goes much higher in the chain. And it really does remind me of "A Few Good Men."
IZRAEL: Oh, man. I guess I have a problem. Thank you for that, A-Train, because, you know, Jonathan Martin is a grown man. You can't bully a grown man. Since when? Christopher Ave, you know, Incognito - let's talk about him. He's a former St. Louis Ram, as it happens. Would you welcome him back right about now?
AVE: No. First of all, let me say, as a rookie in the shop, don't haze me, bro.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Would never happen.
AVE: All right. Thanks
MARTIN: We would never let that happen.
MARTIN: I may not be 6-foot-4 and 320, but I think my words would be attended to. I think you're OK.
AVE: Indeed, they would, Michel. Now here's the deal. Yes, Incognito spent some time in St. Louis - where he, I believe, was the most penalized offensive linemen, if not the most penalized player in the NFL; also voted the dirtiest player in the NFL. And he was drummed out of here. Now, my deal is this: I don't care if a coach told him, hey, toughen this guy up. I mean, racial slurs, talking about his mama, talking about his sister - this is not being a good teammate. I mean, what does a good team do? A good team sacrifices individuals for the benefit of the team. This is selfish, pigheaded, awful behavior that has no place in team sports, in my opinion. So I'd kick him out again.
IZRAEL: You know what? Yeah. I don't play...
MARTIN: Let's hear from Ammad. We got to roll along.
IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ammad.
OMAR: Yeah, the interesting thing to me is, we're talking about Richie Incognito and what might happen to him. But I think the thing that's really to be seen is what's going to happen to Jonathan Martin - because Richie Incognito's teammates have rallied around him, the black teammates and the white teammates. They all say, hey, this is our guy; he's not racist, you know. And I spoke to a friend of mine who's spent some time in NFL locker rooms and college locker rooms, and he said this kind of language, it's shocking to us working in regular office jobs. If I sent a voicemail like that to any of my colleagues, there would be no question about it.
But if you're in an NFL locker room, the entire culture is different. And the interesting thing about an NFL locker room now is that anyone that shakes up that culture, they become the target. And the question is whether he will get another chance. We talked a little bit last year about Chris Kluwe. He was a punter on the Minnesota Vikings. He spoke out about gay rights in the NFL. He's never gotten a sniff from another team again, just for speaking out about that.
Another player, Kerry Rhodes, rumors surfaced that he might be gay. And he's a pretty decent player, but no team is going to give him another chance this year, a lot of people say, based on those rumors. So shaking up the culture and exposing that thing to the kind of outside world, is really what's held to a bad standard in the NFL. And that's what's not allowed.
MARTIN: OK. So let me ask you this, where's the fan responsibility in all this? Where is the fan responsibility in this? I mean, I think a lot of people saw the movie "42" about Jackie Robinson's, you know, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. And one of the points that the film makes abundantly clear is how much racist abuse he had to endure from fans, but from teammates too. And you're supposed to go out there and defend this guy, and throw your body in front of the guy for this - it's all in. I mean, so where's the fan responsibility in here, guys?
IFTIKHAR: Well, I can tell you - this is Arsalan - my brother is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan. And he has texted me numerous times over the last few weeks, saying how ashamed he is to be a Miami Dolphins fan right now. And I think that that's something that is transcendent. And I think many football fans - I mean, all of us here are NFL fans, and I think that this goes beyond the pale. And I think all fans are abhorred at what's going on.
MARTIN: I do have to say one thing, though, about the argument that maybe the coach encouraged Richie Incognito to behave in - those are unconfirmed reports. I do think it's important to point that out...
MARTIN: ...In the interest of fairness. We don't know that. But, Ammad...
OMAR: But in the NFL, you know, you know that it's about physically beating up your opponent for 60 minutes. But part of it, as well, is mentally beating up your opponent. You have to make sure that they don't have the will to compete anymore at the end of a long game. And mental toughness is a big part of the game, some would say even bigger than physical toughness. So, you know, being said that it's not confirmed, would it be surprising if the coaches or people told them to toughen this guy up? Not at all.
MARTIN: So that you could tune out that kind of level of garbage?
OMAR: Sure, because everyone's a physical specimen. Everyone's training their entire life, and the difference between the winning teams and the losing teams is who has the mental toughness. And again, that's something that's going to be a big question mark for Jonathan Martin moving forward.
MARTIN: You know, here's something I do want to say, though, about Jimi - Jimi saying he should take the guy outside. I understand that that is a view that a lot of people have. But, I mean, isn't that what they've been saying about football all along? That it's controlled violence. That the whole point is the kind of player you want is a person who can leave it on the field, who can master his or her emotions, who doesn't - you know, they're trying to tell us this is not a gladiator sport.
You know, that it's contained within rules and that you leave it on the field and you go and do something else and you're different person. So why isn't Jonathan Martin the epitome of that standard? And why isn't he the guy that's being rallied around and being supported as the standard for what football should be, as opposed to a guy who's been considered the dirtiest player? Can somebody help me with that?
IFTIKHAR: Because he's airing dirty laundry. You know, like Ammad said, you know, he is shaking up this sort of, you know, uber-macho, you know, environment that has pervaded NFL locker rooms for a long time, and I'm glad that he has. And I think that at the end of the day, he's the one that's going to be vindicated.
MARTIN: You think? OK.
AVE: It's important to note, I think, quickly, that we haven't heard from Jonathan Martin.
AVE: We don't know what he's been through, and we don't know where he's at mentally.
OMAR: And just...
AVE: So I'd like to see that.
OMAR: And just very quickly, Riley Cooper who was a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, he got caught on video dropping the N-word to a bunch of people. His teammates did not rally around him. They hated him. But he's back on the field. He caught three touchdowns last week. He's, you know - he went to rehab, and he's better now they say. So I think, again, the question is whether Jonathan Martin will be accepted, not whether Richie Incognito will be.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're visiting the Barbershop in St. Louis this week. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, commentator Arsalan Iftikhar, journalist Christopher Ave and Ammad Omar. Back to you Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. OK, now the PC police have a new target, and I don't blame them. Now the sports team at Coachella Valley High School in Southern California is called the Arabs. And not only does the mascot look cartoonish with a big nose and head covering, but - now check this out - at half time, a belly dancing cheerleader comes out and dances for him. Oh, Michel, really?
MARTIN: Yeah, this is - well. Well, the president of the school's Alumni Association says that the Arab is paying homage to the region's agriculture, date orchards and its Lebanese heritage. So I'm just dying to know what you all think about that. If I...
IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan.
MARTIN: Arsalan's head is about to spin off his neck.
IFTIKHAR: It is. This is definitely the whiskey tango foxtrot moment of the week for me.
OMAR: What does that mean?
IFTIKHAR: You know, I think by itself, I think the name Arabs is not offensive on its face. But when you look at the mascot, you know, you essentially have this cartoonish camel jockey who looks like the opening narrator and merchant of Agrabah from the Disney movie "Aladdin." And, you know, to have belly dancers come - I'm just waiting for the dancing camels, you know, to march on the 50-yard line.
MARTIN: So, I mean, let me just ask you that...
MARTIN: ...So absent the mascot, the cartoonish mascot, you'd be OK with the Arabs?
IFTIKHAR: I'm not OK with it, but I'm saying that it's patently offensive once you see the mascot and the belly dancer. And I think it's very germane and relevant in today's zeitgeist because of the whole debate behind, you know, the Washington professional football team that I will not name and the movement to have that name changed. And I think that any sports team, whether it's at the high school, college or professional level that has a team name that can be viewed as racist or offensive by people who are part of that demographic group, should be changed.
AVE: Agreed. I agree with that, but just the word Arabs is not offensive on its face. I don't - if you just look at the name, I don't personally have a problem with it. However, you add in that mascot and the dancing, and, I mean, give me a break. And it's California.
AVE: I mean, this is not, you know, the deep South in some - this is California. I'm shocked.
OMAR: But what if it was the Mexicans...
OMAR: ...And the mascot was, you know, a mariachi player with a sombrero. I mean, that would be patently offensive, but would you be OK with, you know, Rancho Cucamonga Mexicans as a team name?
MARTIN: Well, what about the Fighting Irish?
AVE: Well, I was about to say. And now...
MARTIN: I mean...
AVE: ...If the Fighting Irish is - if the mascot is, you know, got a bottle of, you know...
AVE: Whiskey in his hand, I mean, of course that would be offensive. So...
MARTIN: And what about Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians? Is he still getting love, Jimi? I mean, what's the deal with that?
IZRAEL: He gets OK love here. I just got back from Hollywood, and I saw more Chief Wahoo out there than I have in Cleveland. So I don't know what that says exactly. But, you know, there's some debate here, but the debate ebbs and flows with the weather. So they've got other things to worry about in Cleveland, like keeping the lights on.
OMAR: Just full disclosure, we have the rare two Pakistanis on the Barbershop, rare but not unprecedented. We are not Arab - separate, distinct race. But I think, you know, this mascot is back from the 1920s and something that might have been OK back then. Times change. It's clearly not OK now.
MARTIN: It's interesting that these issues are coming to the fore now. That people - what do you think that is? Why do you think that is, Ammad? It's almost like people had lived with it, and it's almost like it was part of the wallpaper. Why do you think it is that people are starting to talk about it?
OMAR: I just...
MARTIN: Do you think people were bothered all along, they didn't feel like they could say anything, or what?
OMAR: The country's changing, and the culture's changing. You know, back in 1920, there probably, you know, weren't two Asian-Americans on the Barbershop, and there weren't Native Americans talking about how this Chief Wahoo is clearly a ridiculous caricature. You know, you got to change with the times.
MARTIN: Speaking of changing with the times, though, I understand we have some tweets coming in. Do we have that right?
OMAR: We do.
MARTIN: We've been asking for them. Anybody answering up, Ammad? You know, we love hearing from listeners. We love hearing from - people have been live-tweeting throughout the show. What do you have for us?
MARTIN: What do you got?
OMAR: Well, I want to give it a little local flavor because we're asking people what St. Louis means to them. And I was a little bit surprised by the tame response to the opening with Christopher because for the people who weren't here, there was just a brief mention of the St. Louis Cardinals earlier. And there were just loud groans, like how dare you bring that? So thank you, audience, for keeping it easy.
MARTIN: Nothing but love here. Nothing but love.
OMAR: So we asked people what St. Louis means to them. And we heard this from Laura Swinford (ph). She said, St. Louis equals home, family and history, patchwork of neighborhoods and cultural attractions held together by great food and baseball. NL champion baseball team, might I add. Let's not forget that.
AVE: Thank you. Thank you, Ammad. I appreciate that.
OMAR: And then we got another tweet. And this was actually directed to Christopher Ave. And Vaud Knocker (ph) said that: To me St. Louis means great neighborhoods, architecture, food and friends. How about you? So maybe we can throw it to Christopher Ave.
AVE: Well, actually...
MARTIN: Christopher, what does it mean to you?
AVE: Actually, that was my tweet. I think he was retweeting my tweet.
OMAR: Retweeting your tweet.
OMAR: I'm a radio guy. FM radio people - forget about the Internet. It's all about the radio.
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, as somebody who's spent seven years of my life here for both undergrad and law school at Washington University - I flash my t-shirt for everyone here - St. Louis means toasted ravioli and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, which I took Michel to last night.
AVE: Good call.
MARTIN: So awesome.
AVE: Good call.
MARTIN: I'm in, like, a happiness stupor.
AVE: But wait, wait...
MARTIN: And I feel kind of bereft that I am only now being exposed to it. I'm in grief over the fact that this is the first time I'm having it.
AVE: Michel, I have three words for you.
AVE: Gooey butter cake.
AVE: You have not lived until you have this thing called gooey butter cake. Am I right?
MARTIN: Tell me about.
OMAR: Can we push back the flight?
MARTIN: And what about the great pumpkin? What about the great pumpkin?
IFTIKHAR: I had a great pumpkin at Ted Drewes last night.
MARTIN: I mean, that was, like, at a whole other level of awesome. A whole other level.
AVE: Oh, Ted Drewes you can't beat.
OMAR: Why did you not take me on this trip, Arsalan? What's going on?
IFTIKHAR: You were in the other car.
OMAR: I went back. I had a Snickers bar.
MARTIN: I wouldn't take it personally if I were you.
MARTIN: I think he just doesn't care about you.
AVE: Now you want to get controversy, talk about St. Louis pizza 'cause there is an Imo's faction, and then there is the rest of us who don't like Imo's, but anyway.
MARTIN: I'm not answering that mail. You answer that mail. Thank you for all of those thoughts. We are always listening. Please weigh in via Twitter at @TellMeMoreNPR. And that's our special broadcast from St. Louis. Ammad Omar is an NPR editor for TELL ME MORE. He joined us in St. Louis. No we did not take him to Ted Drewes. I'm sorry. We want to thank St. Louis Public Radio for hosting us.
Also, from the River City Barbershop today, Christopher Ave, political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of the MuslimGuy.com and senior editor for Islamic Monthly. Sorry Jimi didn't make the trip this time. Next time, we hope. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland, where he is a writer and professor of film and social media. Thank you all so much. Thanks again to St. Louis Public Radio for hosting us.
IFTIKHAR: Peace out, St. Louis
OMAR: All right.
MARTIN: All right. And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast in the iTunes Store. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tune in for more talk on Monday. We'll be back in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.