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 shapeup this week, our writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant, a contributor to National Review Online, with us from Boston. Sportswriter and journalism professor Kevin Blackistone is here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios along with Corey Dade, contributing editor for The Root. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL, BYLINE: Thanks Michel. Hey fellas.
COREY DADE: What's happening?
NEIL MINKOFF: Hey, Jimi.
IZRAEL: One, two, one, two - and welcome to the shop. How we doing?
MARTIN: (Laughing) Great.
DADE: What up, though?
IZRAEL: #Bizmarkiereference. Alright. Well, let's get things started. You know, the San Antonio Spurs put the Miami Heat on a low simmer last night. They took game one of the finals 110 to 95. It was kind of like playing in your old high school gym. An air-conditioning failure kind of led to 90 degree temperatures inside the AT&T Center. Doctor Neil, LeBron couldn't take the heat - he cramped out. Poor baby. What's up with that, though?
MINKOFF: So I mean, cramps are actually really serious. And I think...
IZRAEL: Sure they are.
MINKOFF: I think the problem with LeBron and these things isn't that he cramped up or he had a problem. It's those incredibly exaggerated face - facial distress signals that he sends, whether it's a cramp or a call he disagrees with, there's always something. But the game reminded me, yesterday, of growing up and the old Boston Garden, and the Lakers and the Celtics back in the day. And, you know, I want to thank the ghost of Red Auerbach for cutting the air-conditioning and reminding us what basketball was like back then.
MARTIN: Oh, that is such...
MARTIN: Well, that's what just kills me - that people were talking about - that that's part of the game. Like, Corey, what is up with that? What is that?
DADE: Yeah. Mark Jackson, who was, you know, the color commentary commentator during the game, said, this is part of the game. I was like, no it's not. Not it's not - it's indoors - that's football. You know, football - the climate is not part of the game in basketball. OK, let's just get that clear.
IZRAEL: I don't know.
DADE: It's not. It's not. But it was last night. But that's the only - that's the only way you're going to be able to stop LeBron.
IZRAEL: Well can - can we hear what the Miami Heat head coach, Erik Spoelstra, had to say about the whole situation? Can - anybody want to hear that?
MARTIN: Yeah, sure. Why not?
IZRAEL: I want to hear. Yeah, let's drop that, please.
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ERIK SPOELSTRA: I think it felt like a punch in the gut - when you see your leader limping like that back to the bench. But at the same time, we still had an opportunity to make plays going down the stretch. And they made, obviously, the biggest plays in the last five minutes.
IZRAEL: Just like a punch in the gut, ladies and gentlemen.
MINKOFF: Of course. Of course.
DADE: Are you talking about LeBron leaving Cleveland, or you talking about last night?
MARTIN: I think a little Cleveland hater-ade is coming out. Check it, Corey.
IZRAEL: I don't even remember that LeBron was even in Cleveland. He was actually in Akron. Get your maps out, ladies and gentlemen. Get your maps out.
MARTIN: You dream about him.
IZRAEL: Kevin Blackistone, you got something for us? Come on, K.B..
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Look, I mean, what a bazaar end to that game. You know, and LeBron left - they had a lead. He's such a good player in the last few minutes of a game. I think that clearly turned the game. And now, so you've got all this drama. All I know is, if I'm running the San Antonio Spurs arena, I don't call the air-conditioning man just yet. That's all I'm saying.
BLACKISTONE: Don't call him just yet.
IZRAEL: Well, OK. Well, look, you guys - you know I don't care much for hockey. I don't understand why you could even play hockey in June. I mean, next thing you'll...
MARTIN: 'Cause it's an indoor sport, Jimi. Just thought we'd mentioned it. Like - oh, right - basketball. Just thought I'd mention it.
BLACKISTONE: Baseball in October?
IZRAEL: Michel, next thing you'll be telling me there's a Jamaican bobsled team.
IZRAEL: You're excited about the Stanley Cup, man. So jump in here, K.B..
BLACKISTONE: Well, I mean, yeah. I mean, if you loved the East Coast rap-West Coast rap feud, back in the '80s and '90s, then you've got to love this 'cause it's New York-LA. Come on. And they put on a great performance in game one - went into overtime. It was decided by a turnover and a great goal. You've got two great goaltenders...
BLACKISTONE: Quick with LA and Lundqvist with New York. And I think it's something that people can embrace. It's a lot of fun, and the LA Kings are one of these resilient teams that have won - they won three consecutive game sevens, on the road, to advance to the Stanley Cup. So I think it's pretty exciting stuff. Come on over. Come on.
IZRAEL: Hey, bro.
IZRAEL: Neil Minkoff, you like hockey. Who are you rooting for, man?
MINKOFF: So I'm rooting for the Rangers. I love that they have some great back stories. You know, a couple of players who've gotten the team to dedicate the season, or at least the playoff run, to some unfortunate family deaths. They have a fantastic goalie in King Henrik. They're a fun team to watch. I'm incredibly disappointed that the Bruins didn't make it there. But the Rangers are really - you know, they've really reignited hockey in New York. And that could be the key to making hockey a little more mainstream, nationwide.
MARTIN: I just think it's so stand up of a Boston guy to root for any New York team. Neil, I salute you.
DADE: It is impressive - very impressive.
IZRAEL: Wait, I hear Corey - I hear Corey Dade over there - yeah, yeah. Again, Corey, can you name one player on either team?
DADE: Well, Quick - the goalie. I was just...
MARTIN: What's his name?
DADE: Quick. His name is Quick.
MARTIN: Oh, OK.
IZRAEL: Wait, wait. Is that what his mama calls him? Does his mama call him Quick?
DADE: If his mama call him Quick, I'm going to call him Quick.
DADE: No, I like the fact that you have two big major markets - U.S. markets - usually there's a Canadian team against an American team. But I like that you have two big markets 'cause it's the sport on the U.S.. And I will tell you, Jimi, if you ever go to a hockey game live, you will become a believer. You've got to see it live.
IZRAEL: Alright, man. Well, hit them up. #Tupacreference.
MARTIN: If you've just joined us, we are having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, sportswriter Kevin Blackistone, journalist Corey Dade, and healthcare consultant Neil Minkoff. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. Alright...
MARTIN: So different topic here, obviously. This is a much different topic - you know, switching gears, here.
IZRAEL: Of course. You know, the Obama administration is explaining why they traded five Taliban members for service member Bowe Bergdahl, who had to be - who had been held in Afghanistan since 2009. But not everyone is welcoming him home, Michel.
MARTIN: It's been interesting because I have to confess that this is not a story that I had, you know, followed closely. And I didn't realize that there was so much resentment about this among the people with whom he served. Other soldiers, for example, are very angry. There's a quote from a retired Army specialist, Sam Masamitsu, talking about this - his former soldier with whom he served. So...
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SAM MASAMITSU: I think that he should be tried as a deserter and court-martialed. I would personally like to see him in Leavenworth for the remainder of his days. I would like to see him give a formal apology to us, his unit, and the families of those lost.
MARTIN: The argument being that other soldiers have died trying to rescue him. But the fact is it is not clear what the circumstances are of how Bergdahl was separated from his unit. It suggests that he walked away. But he has not formally been declared a deserter. And so it's a very complicated story. So Jimi, I'm interested in all of your take on this because I'm wondering if there's kind of a gender piece to this, too because I hear - I haven't heard one - any women talk about how they don't think he should have been rescued. All the women that I've - and I recognize anecdotes are dangerous. But I'm just curious what your thoughts are about this.
IZRAEL: Well, first off, I want to give props to the men and women serving to protect our country because that's what's up. And the other thing is I'm - the whole trade thing was kind of weird to me. It's like, so - so he looks bad in the video. So he looks a little despondent and a little - and one white boy with the sniffles is worth five Taliban? That trade didn't work for me. I'm sorry. I mean, it just didn't work for me.
MARTIN: What's the race - what's the race aspect of it? He's an American soldier serving in his uniform. So I don't know whether - so if it was a black guy and the sniffles that you shouldn't - do you see my point? I don't get the racial aspect of it. It's a question of - he's wearing the uniform of the United States, representing - serving.
IZRAEL: Well, when Shoshana and Jessica Lynch were over there, I mean, we sent people to get them but we didn't - we didn't offer up a trade. And they were hurt. They were verifiably shot. You know, so I don't know that there is a race aspect to it. It just - it just disturbed me to - that trade just doesn't work, you know, for me. And if he did something he wasn't supposed to do, then yes, he should be brought up on charge. That's how I feel.
MARTIN: Oh, OK.
IZRAEL: Corey Dade?
DADE: Well, first of all, prisoner swaps are standard fare in war. I mean, let's just be clear about that. The U.S. was going to have to release these detainees in Gitmo anyway because they were not prosecutable under civilian courts or military courts. And with the war winding down, that is what happens. So the Republicans make a false equivalency between sort of five, you know, Taliban detainees are not equivalent to, you know - are excessive for one U.S. soldier. I think - and also more than anything, though, if you believe in the ethic of - the American ethic of leave no soldier behind, which, up until recently, every Republican did and they accepted - then you have to accept that what Obama did was the right thing. Now, that ethic has nothing to do with whether or not Bergdahl was a deserter. Let the process figure that out. And what I thought was interesting is, over the last day or so, Republicans are starting to back up now. They were on it. They were criticized. Now they're backing up. And Raul Labrador, congressman - Tea Party congressman from Idaho - that is Bergdahl's home state. He would normally be one of the people clamoring to criticize the president. He's not. He's saying, the most important thing here is we need to be thankful he's back home on U.S. soil. So let's go with that and worry about the questions of his wandering off his post later. Let's deal with that, but not right now. And I think that's the right approach.
MARTIN: Neil, what do you think?
MINKOFF: So a couple things. First of all, allow me to be the 18 millionth person to say that this reminds me way too much of "Homeland." And I think that actually has affected the coverage and the discussion of what's going on. The press conference celebration in the Rose Garden was awfully odd and probably led to a lot of the questions and the brushback that's been occurring since, with a lot more questions about exactly how this young man fell into captivity. But I agree that the time - what I think we need is, if we're going to send five of these Gitmo detainees back into a theater where there's the potential for them to reengage, then I think we need an explanation as to how that decision was reached and why it was considered to be the proper decision. I'm not saying it wasn't the right decision, but I'm saying that I think we need more transparency.
MARTIN: Kevin, what do you think?
BLACKISTONE: Well, you know, I've tried to look beyond this. I mean, one thing we know for sure is that he was a prisoner of war. And I agree fully with Corey and those who say that you leave no soldier behind. I've just been interested in the politicization of all of this. And I'm also wondering, you know, so what is the administration up to, here? You're pulling out of Afghanistan. You know that the Afghanistan that's going to be there after you've left is going - is not going to be an Afghanistan you really wanted to be there. But you're going to have to deal with them as a player on the world stage. The Taliban, as repugnant as they may be, are people that you're going to have to deal with. And this was a - so I look at this as some sort of diplomatic effort. Some sort of - not necessarily an olive branch, but saying - but trying to deal with this government, or governing body, in some sort of diplomatic terms. And so I - and so that's kind of the way I'm looking at it and seeing what goes beyond that. And the other thing is it always strikes me, when we talk about Al Qaeda and the Taliban, is everyone that the U.S. kills and everyone that they capture - a high ranking Taliban or Al Qaeda official? Are there no privates in these organizations? That is amazing. Everyone, it seems, plays some incredibly important role in destroying the rest of the world. I'm just - I'm hard-pressed to believe that.
MARTIN: You don't buy it? Quick question for you, Corey, 'cause you've written before about how you feel that the - this administration - it's interesting how there's such a contrast between their skill at communicating during elections and their failure at it while governing - on issues of governance. I mean...
DADE: It's amazing.
MARTIN: You're saying that the optics - you think they mismanaged the conversation around it - and, like, how so?
DADE: Over and over and over.
MARTIN: Well, in this instance. In this instance, tell me how.
DADE: In this instance, they knew what was going on. So they know Bergdahl's record, OK? He didn't just wander off his post this time. He did it before in California. OK? That's something that they know. They can look at that and they can game plan, and they can say, there's that issue. There's the issue of the law requiring the president to notify Congress anytime Gitmo prisoners would be released. And then you look at sort of the optics of Bergdahl's father, and what he tweeted, and the fact that he learned the language of Afghans and he grew the beard. And so all their, you know, PR people, and the political people, can sit there and game-plan out and strategize - what are our talking points around that? And it wasn't good. And Susan Rice, on Sunday she came out, and she called Bergdahl a soldier who served with distinction and honor. Those two thing sent off red flags to the other side - to the adversaries. And to me, the White House could have easily come up with stronger messaging around that to at least come up with, to Neil's point, a little bit more transparency that would explain why they're doing this.
MARTIN: Or not invite the parents there and make this - make it an opportunity to elevate this.
DADE: That, too. Yeah, they got their arms around each other, and..
MARTIN: Yeah, so. That was an interesting - yeah, well, interesting. Well, interesting perspective. OK, one more topic. Just wanted to throw this out, that we only have a couple of minutes left. But it's been a week when a trio of celebrities have been on the sorry circuit. You know, Jonah Hill offered a public apology after being - after making a homophobic slur to a member of the paparazzi who were following him. Singer Pharrell donned this feather headdress on the UK cover of Elle Magazine. And then there was this video of 14-year-old Justin Bieber. Do I have time to play it? Could we just play it? Here it is.
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JUSTIN BIEBER: (Singing) If I kill you, I'll be part of the KKK. And there'll be one less lonely [bleep]. There's going to be one less lonely [bleep].
MARTIN: Alright, so he's 14, but, you know. So I just wanted to ask each of you which gets your ugh. And which ones just, you know, shrug. Kevin, do you want to start?
BLACKISTONE: Well, the ugh for me is Pharrell Williams because right now he's on top of the world. And, you know, sitting here in Washington, D.C., where we have the ongoing debate over mascoting of Native Americans, native peoples in this country, and how their images are used, misused, misappropriated - and for him to go on a cover wearing a headdress, which is a sacred garment, is disturbing to me. And it's disturbing to me that black folks, who should be racially sensitive, are, in fact, racially insensitive.
MARTIN: Corey, ugh or shrug? Which one gets yours?
DADE: I get a shrug for Justin Bieber. I mean, if my 9-year-old can figure out that he's not worth paying attention to - that he's whacked...
DADE: Then we all should - I mean, he broke the law, already. Why hasn't he been deported yet? What's going on?
MARTIN: Oh, stop it. OK. OK. Back to Canada. OK. Neil, what about you? Quick.
MINKOFF: For me the biggest ugh was the Jonah Hill one. And it wasn't so much the slur, it was the way the slur was used. To - where he basically used sexual imagery and the sexual act or describing the sexual act as a weapon, and made it a way of demeaning somebody and made it almost violent. And I found that to be the biggest ugh of them all.
MARTIN: Jimi, final word?
IZRAEL: Big shrug to Pharrell and the headdress. He's an artist. He gets to express himself with the tools has available. That's what art is. It's a commentary. It's provocative. Drink it in, love it, take a picture, move on.
MARTIN: Okay. Well, send the letters to Jimi Izrael. He is a writer...
MARTIN: Jimmiizrael.com. Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant and contributor to the National Review. He'll be treating Jimi after this. Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist and professor of journalism at the University of Maryland. Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root. He also runs their political blog, The Take. Thank you all, so much.
DADE: Yes, sir.
BLACKISTONE: See you.
MINKOFF: Hey, hey, hey.
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.