CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. And it is time again for the weekly visit to the Barbershop. The guys are going to talk about what's in the news, what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, he's in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is senior editor of the Islamic Monthly and joins us from Chicago. In Pittsburgh, Lenny McAllister, host of "The McAllister Minute" on the American Urban Radio Network. He's also a Republican strategist. And here with me in the studio in D.C., sports writer and University of Maryland journalism professor Kevin Blackistone. Jimi, take it away.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Celeste. Hey fellas. What's up? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Great. It's good.
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.
LENNY MCALLISTER: How's it going now?
IFTIKHAR: What's crackin'?
IZRAEL: Well, you know, as it turns out, this is the week to thug up, America, 'cause it's - you know, it's almost been a week and Seattle Seahawks corner - quarterback - not quarterback, cornerback Richard Sherman, he's still taking heat for running his mouth. And in case you missed it, Sherman made a game-winning move against 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree last Sunday. And he made the mistake of being free and black and opening his mouth. He used his postgame airtime to send him - that is Michael Crabtree - a very special message. Drop that clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
RICHARD SHERMAN: Well, I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you going to get. Don't you ever talking about me.
ERIN ANDREWS: Who was talking about you?
SHERMAN: Crabtree. Don't you open your mouth about the best, or you know I'm going to shut it for you real quick. L.O.B.
ANDREWS: All right, before - and, Joe, back over to you.
IZRAEL: All right.
IZRAEL: As it happens...
IZRAEL: ...That didn't go over with - too well with Joe Public. Social media took Sherman to task for poor sportsmanship. And then some critics started calling Sherman a thug and even worse. K.B., Kevin Blackistone, Professor...
BLACKISTONE: Oh, my...
IZRAEL: ...What do you make of all of this, bro?
BLACKISTONE: Oh, my goodness. I just wrote a piece for American Journalism Review on that today. But it is unbelievable that that could've happened. I mean, here's a guy who basically was racially profiled by the media and by the public. And that's exactly what happened. He's a guy that breaks all stereotypes. He's from Compton, but he's not from a broken family. He's from a nuclear family who saw the - who saw the need to get him to educate himself. Just as he was growing into an athlete, tested into Stanford, was taking postgraduate studies as a senior when he was playing there. And just because he was loud in a very emotional moment, seconds after making one of the greatest plays in the history of any NFL championship game to propel his team to the Super Bowl, people reacted to kind of police his behavior. They turned him into a child. His coach even talked about him. Later said, you know, I have to talk to him as I would my son...
BLACKISTONE: ...Because players understand that better. What did he do? Did he do anything that was profane? No. It's amazing that this has taken on a life of its own this entire week when the backdrop to what Richard Sherman did was a hockey game in which a brawl was fomented by the two coaches. As soon as the puck hit the ground, everybody on the ice took off their gloves and started slugging each other. But instead, Richard Therman's the bad guy - Richard Sherman.
IZRAEL: Arsalan, All right. Yes, Sherman. A-train, Arsalan Iftikhar...
IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.
IZRAEL: ...Is - let me ask you, is Sherman a thug?
IFTIKHAR: Well, no. But I think it's first important to point out that the two teams in the Super Bowl, Seattle and Denver, both represent states where marijuana is legalized. I'm just saying. What's interesting...
HEADLEE: OK, non sequitur Iftikhar.
IFTIKHAR: What's interesting, he is not a thug, but he is a loudmouth. And I do agree with him that thug is a racial code word. You know, I'm not necessarily sure if it, you know, intrinsically means the N-word. I think if he were a white guy, I think people would have called him a bully. You know, I want to like Richard Sherman so much. I love his game. But for me, he just talks way too much smack. He kind of reminds me of a player in basketball, Kevin Garnett, that we all know. And what's interesting is both Kevin Garnett and Richard Sherman are both in Beats by Dre commercials, you know...
IFTIKHAR: ...About, you know, detractors against them, that...
HEADLEE: Oh, come on.
IFTIKHAR: ...I'm the man, I'm the man commercial. For me, he takes the focus - he took the focus off of his team, the Seattle Seahawks, and he put it on himself. In this case, you know, he's somebody who puts the I in team.
IZRAEL: Lenny McAllister, jump in here, bro.
MCALLISTER: All I know is I remember a quote from about 50 years ago of a guy that won a fight, and as they're trying to interview him and get his post-match remarks, he sat there and screamed, I am the greatest. I'm so pretty, can't possibly be beaten. I shook up the world. They kept trying to interview him. And he said I'm too pretty to be interviewed. I'm just too pretty. Now everybody adores the guy. Listen...
MCALLISTER: ...The bottom line is they call him a thug because that is the PC way of calling somebody the N-word. That's what it...
MCALLISTER: ...Boils down to.
IZRAEL: Period. Right.
MCALLISTER: And that's all it boils - I got in a fight with a juco college Texas baseball coach from some no-place in Texas on Sunday night because I said, listen, coaches, you know you want your athletes thinking just what he said. You may not want them saying it publicly, but you want them all to have their chip on their shoulders when they go on the field. When I used to pitch in college, I was 5 foot 8 inches tall, 160 pounds. But I would take my little 90 mile-an-hour fastball - and I didn't care if you were 6 foot 6 inches tall, I'm going to throw one underneath your chin...
MCALLISTER: ...And I'm going to sit you on your behind in three pitches.
HEADLEE: Let me - let me - I need to translate a little bit.
MCALLISTER: That is what you want your athletes to talk about.
HEADLEE: While we're listening to Lenny, juco is a junior college.
HEADLEE: And the prettiest and the greatest was, of course, Muhammed...
HEADLEE: But let's...
IZRAEL: At the time, he was Cassius Clay when he made that quote.
HEADLEE: That's right.
IZRAEL: I may or may not be corrected.
IZRAEL: But I'm pretty sure he was Cassius Clay at the time.
HEADLEE: Let's talk - let's move on to the subject of another, perhaps, loudmouth, perhaps, could be described as a loudmouth. Right, Jimi?
IZRAEL: Yeah. And we're not talking about me this time. We're talking about someone else living that thug life - Justin Bieber.
IFTIKHAR: A want-to-be thug life.
IZRAEL: The pop singer got busted this week for drag racing. He was charged with a DUI, driving with a suspended license and resisting arrest. He also had cronies shut down the street according to some reports. Apparently, he had some choice words for the officer who pulled him over. A-train...
HEADLEE: Which we're not going to say on the radio.
IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah. We can't say those thug-related words, you know. We're not living that thug life.
HEADLEE: Oh, geez.
MCALLISTER: He's not a thug. He's just misunderstood.
IZRAEL: No, no. He's a thug, bro. Justin Bieber's a bona fide, certified thug.
MCALLISTER: You don't know what it's like to be a multi-millionaire at 19. It's just hard.
IZRAEL: Yeah, it's just - it's hard.
HEADLEE: I think Lenny's being facetious.
IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.
IZRAEL: ...Jump in here, man.
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, first of all, when I first saw Justin Bieber's smiling mug shot recently, I thought it was finally nice to see Miley Cyrus without any makeup on.
HEADLEE: Oh, come on.
IFTIKHAR: Second - second, he wants to be called a thug, so please don't call him a thug. You know, he's going to get whatever semblance of street cred, you know, by people calling him that. I think that he certainly has issues. I think there is a double standard in play, you know, when we talk about male celebrities dealing with substance abuse or legal issues, like Justin Bieber, compared to people like Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan.
HEADLEE: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears.
IFTIKHAR: You know, there is a double standard here where, you know, if a female does something similar to what Bieber did, she is somehow, you know, unhinged or has problems than, you know, when Justin does it, you know, it's just boys being boys. So I think there is a double standard there.
IZRAEL: You know what, though? You know what? I don't know who said this first but there's nothing more dangerous than that white boy in the black crew who wants to prove that he's down 'cause that cat - that cat is going to be doing - he's going to bug out. He's going to do some crazy stuff.
IZRAEL: And Justin Bieber is that dude. I mean, he signed to a publishing deal with Usher, and he's making money for that dude. But he's also trying to prove that street cred by, you know, by his proximity to street cred. So, you know - yeah. Those white cats that want to prove they're in the streets, man, you got to watch those cats 'cause those cats are going to be doing the - those cats are going to bug out. So...
MCALLISTER: You know what? The thing is...
HEADLEE: You could say that about any 19-year-old with millions and millions of dollars, though, right? I mean, 19, millions.
HEADLEE: That's a tough combo.
IZRAEL: OK, whatever. But, you know, everybody here - you know, at least I did. I had growing up, I had this cat named White Mike. And you left White Mike alone 'cause White Mike was trouble. I mean, that dude was trouble.
IZRAEL: Lenny, I know you had a White Mike in your crew, right?
MCALLISTER: Well, no. Here's the thing.
IZRAEL: All right.
MCALLISTER: People that are actually in the real crew don't have to prove anything.
IZRAEL: Right. That's my point.
MCALLISTER: They're actually in the streets. They're cool. It's the person that's actually from suburbia that has all this money. And they don't want you to know that they drove there in their dad's Benz that they parked around the corner and then they put on the baggy clothes with the ripped jeans 'cause they had to be down in order to try to fit in. It's not the people that are actually in it. It's the people that are trying to act like they're in it that go back to their 3,000 square-foot homes and, you know, the manicured nails and things along those lines from the good life.
IZRAEL: It's obvious you knew the White Mike I'm talking about. Kevin.
BLACKISTONE: Well, and it's...
IZRAEL: Kevin, what do you say?
BLACKISTONE: And it's really in an affront because the people who are really in that life are in that life because they don't really have very many other choices. And so that when they get pulled over by the cops, they're not likely to be handcuffed in front of television sets and have their case on national television where CNN interrupts it. And they're not likely to have the best of counsel. And they wind up - you know, they wind up - they're the ones who wind up on "Cops." They're the ones who wind up on MSNBC's "Lockup" in some city jail or some state prison, not Justin Bieber.
HEADLEE: You are listening to the weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by sportswriter Kevin Blackistone - who you just heard - also writer Jimi Izrael, Republican strategist Lenny Mcallister and commentator Arsalan Iftikhar. Jimi, take it back.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Celeste. OK. Well, you know, I can't let a week get by without asking you guys about President Obama's - yeah. You know, I can't go much further without asking about President Obama's pot comment. You know, in a lengthy New Yorker interview, which I know all of you read 'cause all thugs do, he said pot wasn't much worse than alcohol, that he viewed it as a bad habit like smoking cigarettes.
HEADLEE: Well, he didn't say he endorses smoking marijuana. In fact, he says he tells his daughters it's a bad idea. But he is worried that too many black and Hispanic people get arrested for it while whites don't. And he recommends we take a wait-and-see attitude on legalization in both Colorado and Washington state.
IZRAEL: All right. Which I guess I can - I mean, to the extent that, you know, I care because - I haven't now nor have I ever smoked weed. But, I mean, I really appreciate our president's candor. And I appreciate it, especially, when - it's like he's popping his collar 'cause he has nothing to lose 'cause he's, like, in his second - his second - you know, his second go around. So now he can just - like, anything you want to know about him, he's going to just tell you the absolute truth. Whereas before, you know, he would've skirted around and kind of danced. But now he's just like, hey, you know, weed, well, why not? You know, Lenny McAllister, a lot of conservative critics called his comments irresponsible, maybe even ridiculous. Do you agree?
MCALLISTER: One-hundred percent - irresponsible and ridiculous.
MCALLISTER: I mean, there's no way on God's green earth that the first African-American president, knowing the impact that alcohol has on our communities, the impact that drug - the drug culture has on our communities, the impact that we have when it comes to being on the lower rungs when it comes to health care, for him to take this position is irresponsible, ridiculous. And it's infuriating that another black man in a position of power would say such ridiculous things that our youth are going to jump on and move forward and say, see, it's condoned, and therefore, why not.
IZRAEL: He didn't condone it so much as just say, eh, you know. I mean, I didn't take...
MCALLISTER: He has the bully pulpit of the presidency of the United States. He is supposed to be in position to set a good example, and he has yet to do that other than getting elected president in 2008.
IZRAEL: All right-y then.
MCALLISTER: And that's extremely disappointing every time he talks to our youth and he takes that type of tone. He'll tell his kids not to do it, but for everybody else to take a wait-and-see approach. It sounds a lot like, in a different regard, the D.C. voucher program. My kids can go to a good school. But for the rest of you all, let's atrophy this program out. It's infuriating.
IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.
IZRAEL: ...Get in there, man. Weigh in here.
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, let me put my bag of weed and my Phish CD away for a second here.
IZRAEL: All right.
IFTIKHAR: What he did - what he said was it's not any more dangerous than alcohol. And, you know, if you look at alcohol statistics in America, alcohol addiction affects 17.6 million people, 1 in every 12 people in America. Every hour one person is killed in a drunk driving accident, 20 people are injured. And 88,000 people die every year from excessive alcohol use. You know, if you legalize marijuana, the most you'll have to worry about is, you know, people listening to Blind Melon or playing "Assassin's Creed" on their Xbox.
HEADLEE: Oh, boy.
IFTIKHAR: What I think he's saying is - you know, we have a lot - you know, alcohol is dangerous. We have opiates that, you know, are prescription drugs that are much more physiologically addictive than marijuana. I think he's bringing out something that we're seeing in America about the stigma that we've had against marijuana for so long when there are far more dangerous things that are legal and you could get at your corner store.
IZRAEL: Kevin Blackistone.
BLACKISTONE: Yeah, exactly. I agree with that. I'm not outraged. I'm not infuriated. I'm refreshed by his comments. Look, this country is moving into a new realm of education about the use of marijuana and how best to control it and how it has disproportionately affected black youth when it comes to the - when it comes to the justice system. I mean, right here in Washington, D.C., I mean, the arrest rates for black youth with weed versus everyone else is astronomical. So really, I understand it. I think it's honest. I think it's refreshing. And, you know, we're at a point now where politicians all across the country get asked about their use of weed. And wasn't it David Brooks who just the other week wrote about it...
HEADLEE: For the New York Times. Yeah.
BLACKISTONE: ...And admitted to using it? So, you know, this is the reality of life. He's not telling everybody to go out and get stoned. He's just saying that, you know, it should...
HEADLEE: Bob Dylan did that already.
HEADLEE: So we have time for one more topic today. And I wanted to go to the Cos. Bill Cosby, reportedly, might make a TV comeback. Let's take a listen. Here's Cliff Huxtable in his heyday getting annoyed when his kids are interrupting him at bedtime.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE COSBY SHOW")
BILL COSBY: (As Cliff Huxtable) No, no. When I say who is it, it doesn't mean for you to come in. When I say who is it, then you say who it is.
COSBY: (As Cliff Huxtable) Who is it?
KEISHA KNIGHT PULLIAM: (As Rudy Huxtable) Who it is.
HEADLEE: So reportedly, Cosby is in talks for another sitcom. He would play the patriarch of a multigenerational family. That's according to NBC. Jimi, "The Cosby Show" '84 to '92 ruled the airwaves. Is it time for a comeback?
IZRAEL: Well, he's had four, actually, good bites to the apple. He's had "Bill Cosby Show," "The Cosby Show," "Cosby" and "The Cosby Mysteries." I don't know - I don't know if I want to see him come back because this is a different age, you know, and comedy's different. He has a different disposition. And I don't know. He's - sometimes you just got to drop the mic and go live your life...
IZRAEL: ...And go have some Jell-O pudding.
HEADLEE: OK, drop the mic. OK, Arsalan, what do you think?
IFTIKHAR: Abso-fricken-lutely. I will watch anything with Bill Cosby in it.
IFTIKHAR: You know, for me...
IZRAEL: (Imitating Bill Cosby) You see...
IFTIKHAR: ...You know, as somebody who grew up in the Cosby generation, you know, it would be nice to see Dr. Huxtable turn into...
HEADLEE: A grandpa.
IFTIKHAR: ...Grandpa Huxtable. And as long as Cockroach has a cameo in the new show, you know - as former New York Jets linebacker...
HEADLEE: Oh, God. There you go.
IFTIKHAR: As former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott once said, can't wait.
HEADLEE: All right. Kevin, he is 76 years old. But, you know...
BLACKISTONE: You know what?
HEADLEE: Betty White made a comeback in her elderly years.
BLACKISTONE: You know, I thought Jimi was going to bring up Arsenio Hall because this is not going to be Arsenio Hall. I mean - I mean, Bill Cosby has never had a bad TV show. And a friend of mine just called me about a month ago, and we were talking. He said, oh, you know what I just got? I got, like, a box set or something of "I Spy." He said it was a great TV show.
BLACKISTONE: It was great.
HEADLEE: Robert Culp.
BLACKISTONE: Yeah. And it was groundbreaking. So you know what? This is what Cosby does. And I think he will be a success with another television show.
HEADLEE: All right.
BLACKISTONE: Do it.
HEADLEE: Lenny, let me give you the last word today.
MCALLISTER: I think that he'll talk with a different type of tone with his show. I think - if you look at things such as "Little Bill," the cartoon, they talk about things...
HEADLEE: Oh, that's a good show.
MCALLISTER: ...To young people. That's a great show that takes a different tone than the other cartoons that are out there. I'm expecting him to do that and talk about different types of issues in a gentle, funny but thoughtful type of way. And I'm looking forward to it.
HEADLEE: OK. To Cos or not to Cos? I guess the overall vote, Jimi - I'm sorry, you're voted out. We are definitely going to Cos here. Jimi is...
IZRAEL: (Imitating Bill Cosby) Well, you see...
HEADLEE: ...Is a writer. You're going to have to buy one of those sweaters, Jimi. Sorry.
BLACKISTONE: That was good.
HEADLEE: Jimi Izrael's a writer. You can find him at jimiizrael.com. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. Lenny McAllister, Republican strategist, host of "The McAllister Minute" on the Urban American - American Urban Radio Network, joined us from NPR member station WESA in Pittsburgh. Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of muslimguy.com, senior editor for Islamic Monthly. He joined us from WBEZ in Chicago. And Kevin Blackistone, sports columnist, professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, right here with me in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thanks guys.
BLACKISTONE: Thank you.
MCALLISTER: Thank you. God bless.
HEADLEE: If you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for the podcast. It's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. And that's our show for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tune in for more talk on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.