2010 A Jaw-Dropping Year For Sports, Politics and Media

In this week's Barbershop, host Michel Martin revisits some of the biggest stories that made waves in 2010 — from NPR's much-talked-about firing of news analyst and FOX News contributor Juan Williams to NFL star Michael Vick's aggressive comeback. Martin reflects with author Jimi Izrael, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, Republican strategist Marcus Skelton and civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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 their shapeup this week, are author, Jimi Izrael; Republican strategist, Marcus Skelton; civil rights attorney, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Sports Illustrated reporter, Pablo Torre. Take it away, Jimi - who happens to be here with us in Washington.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey fellows, welcome to the shop, how we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, how's it going?

IZRAEL: Check this out. This is the last shop of the year.

PABLO TORRE: Hide your kids, hide your wives.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I think we're going to kick this week's shop off with a look back. Do I have that right, Michel?

MARTIN: You know what, we just thought we'd play just - well, is it highlights or lowlights of the year? I don't know. We'll just play some of the exchanges that got everybody's attention over the course of the year. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Shame on the Republicans and shame on all those Republicans who are taking shots at Michael Steele. They wanted a figurehead, someone who could inoculate them, a black chairman they could point to whenever they criticize a black President to say, hey, I'm not racist, look, I have a black chairman in my party.

NAACP: The tea party has done more in its illustrious eighth month for people of color than the NAACP ever will, end of discussion. Let's just table it and move on.

ESPN: So LeBron's people developed this idea for an hour-long special and they pitched it to ESPN. They got a lot of notoriety, they got tons of blog hits, and they produced programming that was awful.

IZRAEL: Let's talk a little bit about Steve Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant. I think, like I said, if he was any other color he'd be in the joint, seven figure bail, we'd be checking his credentials to see if he was, you know, a pseudo terrorist or something.

MARCUS SKELTON: What you're saying is Tiger's more focused. You know, if an accountant used to go to the bar at night, and now he's in trouble, he's not going to the bar no more. He's going to stay more focused on work because he can't go anywhere else. So you're going to actually probably see Tiger Woods get better at golf because his only out is going to be, honey, I'm going to the golf course.

IZRAEL: There's always baby mama drama. Let me just tell you that as the single dad in the shop, trust me.

NAVARRETTE: The most offensive thing that Dr. Laura said, was this whole business about hypersensitivity. First rule of thumb: if you're not black, don't go telling black people what is or isn't racist about black people.

IFTIKHAR: Neither the 9/11 hijackers, nor the failed shoe bomber, nor the failed underwear bomber, ever wore any Muslim garb when committing their acts of criminal terrorism. And so conflating that with terrorism and sort of casting aspersions on an entire demographic group in the United States I feel is greatly troubling, and that's why I supported NPR's firing of...

MARTIN: I don't know why (unintelligible) is so upset. He got paid. That's what this has resulted in. We have learned that Islamaphobia and bigotry is big business.

NAVARRETTE: He was not a (unintelligible) Islmaphobiac, he was just saying...

Unidentified Man #3: Oh, he said he's scared of Muslim people in clothes. If that's not Islamaphobia, you better buy a dictionary...

IZRAEL: To put a bow on this, I think these are hard conversations we have to have in the public sphere. I mean, they're not always going to be polite conversations, and they're not always going to be the tenor you want to hear, any of us. But we have to have these conversations.

MARTIN: Marcus was way wrong about Tiger Woods. I feel we need to...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Way wrong about the golf being better.

SKELTON: No. Well, see his wife left, so now he can go out to club anytime he wants to now. He's a single man again, so he's probably cranking it way up now.

IZRAEL: You know what he could now, he could do like a 50 Cent and poles in his basement and just have parties. He don't have to go out. He can have club city or club Tiger. It's his spot. Maybe his game is off on the green, but maybe his game is on elsewhere.

SKELTON: He might be. It is the holiday season.

MARTIN: Is there anything else we got way wrong, Pablo?

TORRE: Well, I'm just glad you guys didn't include my Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl pick, which was phenomenally bad about a week into that. I'm also glad we didn't have - well, I'm sad we didn't have Auto-Tune on that. I think the next step for NPR is to do an Auto-Tune the news type thing every year.

IZRAEL: Oy. Really?

MARTIN: That's coming. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's our weekly Barbershop. This is our last Barbershop of 2010. We're talking with Jimi Izrael, Marcus Skelton, Arsalan Iftikhar, and Pablo Torre. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks Michel. Now, 2010 had its fair share of comebacks. You know, those people we thought were down for the count, but somehow resurrected their careers.

MARTIN: Well, who do you vote for biggest comeback of the year?

IZRAEL: Oh, Juan Williams most definitely.

MARTIN: Because? Just to remind people of what happened...

IZRAEL: Well, he...

MARTIN: It's too painful for me, so I'll just let you go.

IZRAEL: I mean, an old dude got on TV doing what he does, or what he did for a living, and he got fired from NPR. The next day he had another gig lined up. So if that's not a comeback, I don't know what you call it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: It's a million dollar check. I mean I'm going to throw out Mike Vick.

SKELTON: Yup.

TORRE: I mean he's...

IFTIKHAR: Hands down.

TORRE: God, you know, he's not - it's not a surprising thing. I mean his on-field stuff it's surprising that's he's had an MVP caliber season. But the fact that he's been transformed. I mean I feel like, you know, I just kick myself every time I don't predict that a guy like that can be America's sweetheart again in a certain sense. You know, the whole F. Scott Fitzgerald line about there are no second acts in American lives, is proven false over and over again, and especially in sport. And he just went from somebody, you know, who spent 19 months in jail. We all know, we talked about it all year, to having an MVP worthy season, and now he's a top-selling jersey.

And this week President Obama called Eagles owner Jeff Lurie to congratulate the Eagles on getting him a second chance. And I'm a guy - and I'm glad, that's another clip we didn't play - I'm a guy who was really harsh on Mike Vick, who didn't necessarily think he should've gotten a second chance in the same business that he embarrassed and violated in some ways, but, you know, he's made the best of that chance and he's gone from zero to maybe the best player in the league right now.

MARTIN: How do you feel about that, Pablo? And, of course, again, I have to give my disclosure on this. My husband represented Michael Vick in the allegations that did land him in prison. So how do you feel about it since you were very critical?

TORRE: I mean I stand by my principle in that I don't think anybody should be guaranteed a job that they had lost for, you know, an absurdly criminal reason like that. I mean I think that he could have played in the UFL. He could have done any variety of other jobs just because I think the NFL as a business shouldn't have to abide by somebody who was so out of line and in such a dramatic and offensive way.

But at the same time, I mean I give them all the credit in the world and I root for him in the fact that he was given a second chance and he proved them right in so far as he's done all the right moves.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean my vote certainly goes to Michael. I was on the cover of "Mad" in 2004. I let the dogs out. Paid my time in federal prison...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: ...and am now tearing it up on the field - Vick. Here's a man who paid his dues to society. He's done nearly two years in a federal prison. People who kill human beings sometimes do not spend that much time in federal prison as we saw...

SKELTON: That's true. Donte Stallworth.

IFTIKHAR: This was a man who did his time and he's worked his way back and, you know, not only to the good graces of football fans everywhere, but also to the point where he's still visiting high schools around the country talking about the ethical treatment of animals, things like that. I mean it does show that, you know, we can all have our Shawshank Redemptions.

MARTIN: Marcus, what do you think?

SKELTON: I was going to say the Republican Party since we did take over the House but...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: But the more I...

MARTIN: Yeah. He's just sitting there waiting for that.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right.

SKELTON: He was looking, you know, I see now why he was looking so contented.

IZRAEL: That was the zinger.

SKELTON: No. But the more I look at the BET Award shows and I realized that El DeBarge has resurfaced...

IZRAEL: From oblivion.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yeah. No doubt. No doubt.

SKELTON: ...it's one of these things where...

MARTIN: Hey, but this isn't - wait, let's just think about this for a minute: Republican Party, El DeBarge.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Republican Party, El DeBarge.

IFTIKHAR: Could it be the (unintelligible) of the name.

SKELTON: Hey, if El DeBarge ran in the Republican primary I'd vote for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: We need somebody.

IZRAEL: El DeBarge is a great comeback story. I mean such a song songwriter and singer. He came back from the depths of drug addiction and even incarceration. And he just totally cleaned himself up and he's back on the scene again.

SKELTON: And you need some good just pure singers. You know, a lot of people that can just pure sing you don't really have that now. You got to dance and do everything. You know, he can just sing and, you know, that's...

IZRAEL: That - yeah. Yeah.

SKELTON: Yeah.

IZRAEL: And he's also a really potent songwriter as well.

MARTIN: And, you know, it's interesting though that the through line with El DeBarge and the Vick story is this whole question of surfacing again and what happens to people after incarceration and what their life chances are. I mean these are the first people, like comedian Tim Allen or Charles Dutton, the great, you know, actor...

SKELTON: Rock.

MARTIN: ...who played Rock. But again it's, you know, we don't often talk about what actually happens to people who don't have those kinds of, you know, amazing skills.

TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: Like really particular skills in a very particular way.

TORRE: That's a very good point.

MARTIN: And I think it's interesting that we are talking about it in part because of these circumstances and these stories. Marcus?

SKELTON: And that's one of the sad contradictions of society, where we all scream about, you know, in the political arena rehabilitation, but when someone actually goes to jail, no one wants to give that person a second chance. And these people have extraordinary talents that their second chances could not be denied. Someone was going to hire - somebody was going to hire Mike Vick. You look at all the other NFL athletes, NBA athletes that have had criminal offenses, it may hurt them in the endorsement aisle, but their talent is talent.

You know, the average plumber that gets in trouble isn't going to have the same opportunity Mike Vick has, and this is something we do have to look at as far as, you know, rehabilitation and someone actually saying okay, now you can work for me.

MARTIN: Well, I just want to point out that we had a conversation about this earlier this week on the program. In fact, there was a study by the Pew Center - a research center, a respected research institution, that says over a lifetime people who've been incarcerated for only a couple of years suffer a 40 percent reduction in their earnings, which tends to be concentrated in guess where? The African-American and Latino communities. So I think it is interesting that this issue is surfacing again even though the cases that people are talking about are so different.

TORRE: Yeah. I was going to say there's definitely - I mean that's a really good point there's definitely a, you know, a socio-economic celebrity gap, if you will, about the stigma attached to prison. I mean just the number of athletes who've gone through them, but celebrities who just add to their comeback story. I mean it's almost a moneymaking thing to go to jail and then be on the other end and be good again for a cynical as that is, whereas, other people certainly don't get that...

IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean...

MARTIN: Yeah. Try getting a job stacking boxes...

TORRE: Exactly. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...at a store.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean the problem...

MARTIN: Just try it, you know.

IZRAEL: The whole problem with the rehabilitation piece is there's not a rehabilitation fairy in the joint. You know, I mean you have to want to be rehabilitated. And when you're Michael Vick, you have a motivation to be rehabilitated.

TORRE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: You know, somebody's got to pay for the Hummer, you know, and somebody's got to pay for the bar once it gets bought. So incentive.

MARTIN: The bar?

IZRAEL: The bar.

MARTIN: I don't understand.

IZRAEL: I mean, you don't hang out in bars. But I mean...

MARTIN: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: But athletes come in the bar and they buy the bar.

MARTIN: Oh, I got it.

IZRAEL: You know, they...

MARTIN: I'm sorry, I didn't get that.

IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: Thank you. Sorry.

IZRAEL: So, yeah...

MARTIN: Thank you for catching me up. Sorry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: It's cool. It's cool.

SKELTON: You have an entourage, Michel?

IZRAEL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I need to get one. I need to get one.

IZRAEL: All I'm saying is, you know, we talk about rehabilitation but, you know, you have to want to be rehabilitated. No one can wave a magic wand over your head when you go to the joint and doink, you're rehabilitated.

MARTIN: Okay, but how do you express your desire when nobody will give you a job? That's the question I have. If you come out and people won't even let you stack boxes, what are you supposed to do? I never get the...

IZRAEL: Start rapping I guess.

SKELTON: Yeah. You better find something to...

IZRAEL: Ho, ho, it's your birthday.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: Learn how to throw a spiral.

IZRAEL: 50 Cents, you know, like...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: Make your own business.

IZRAEL: Right. Yeah. Become an entrepreneur.

MARTIN: Okay.

IFTIKHAR: Or, you know, if you're Eliot Spitzer you break federal law and go to CNN and get your own show.

MARTIN: Oh snap.

SKELTON: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But he was - well, interestingly enough, he was never prosecuted, I think is the point there, interestingly enough. Speaking, you know, we did have some laughs this year. We did have some laughs, didn't we? A few.

IZRAEL: Sure.

SKELTON: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Okay. They're looking at me like, what? Who? Here it is. Here are a couple of more moments that we have over the course of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TORRE: New York magazine actually had a great cover story this week on Jimmy Fallon and how he basically doesn't care about the timeslot. He...

MARTIN: Ron likes him too. We think he's funny.

IZRAEL: Jimmy Fallon does not care about good humor.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: It's definitely a people problem, 'cause you know with the Tea Party, you know, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids are more organized than the Tea Party, man. They're so...

SKELTON: Oh, I wouldn't say that.

IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean. I mean.

SKELTON: I wouldn't say that. You will find that out in November.

IFTIKHAR: It's not a foregone conclusion that Miami's going win the championship next year. They have three max guys.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IFTIKHAR: They have to fill out nine guys with minimum wage, you know, me, Blackistone, Jimi, Eric and Ruben; we can all play for minimum wage. So...

NAVARRETTE: I'm available.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: But, Jimi, can we point out that the NBA minimum wage...

IZRAEL: Briefly.

NAVARRETTE: ... is substantially higher than the NPR minimum wage.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: And then there's that.

JOHN RIDLEY: I think that this is really it for Mel Gibson. I mean this it. Eliot Spitzer never bounced back, we'll never see that guy again after a behavior like this so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Right.

SKELTON: I don't know.

RIDLEY: He's got that Jesus movie money. If had Jesus movie money the things that would be coming out of my mouth right now would probably sink NPR forever.

MARTIN: Oh dear. Well let's not do that. Let's not do that.

IFTIKHAR: Peyton Manning is the Rodger Federer of football. And when it comes to his trio of wide receivers...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: ...listen, you know, he has Reggie, you know, no relation to John Wayne. He has Austin, my dogs name is Lassie and yes she is a collie and Pierre, I'm a...

RUDIN: Grown man, don't dare call me garcon.

IFTIKHAR: They're going to win - last two minutes drive 35-31.

MARTIN: Got all that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Pablo, (foreign language spoken). What's up, man? How you living?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: (Foreign language spoken).

TORRE: (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Let's keep it moving. So...

TORRE: Let me just say, that doesn't quite translate out well, brother.

MARTIN: Yeah, I know, that's (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: Yeah, I know. I know. My Spanish is kind of rusty this morning.

TORRE: (Foreign language spoken). Brother from another mother, that's right.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you.

RUDIN: Oh, by the way, I just found out though, one thing about the Olympics: Lindsey Vonn's medal was just taken away. Barack Obama's going downhill faster.

MARTIN: Oh, Ken.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So who was wrong there? Let's see, Ken Rudin. We have to send him the full email letting him know that he was way wrong. Let's see...

IFTIKHAR: I picked the Colts over the Saints, which did not happen in the Super Bowl.

MARTIN: True.

IZRAEL: I was wrong about the Republicans. They were a little bit more organized than Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: Slightly.

MARTIN: Well, let's try it again. Let's look ahead again, since we got a chance to, you know, bring some accountability and transparency to our predictions. Let's look ahead to 2011. Anybody want to stick his toe in the water and...

TORRE: Yeah. I mean I'll...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Pablo.

TORRE: ...dive in. You know, it's sports, I mean let's talk about that first. I mean there's so many issues: labor, concussions, a New York Super Bowl, the Heat. But I'm going to go with the ongoing rivalry between male athletes and their cell phones.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: I'm curious to see...

IFTIKHAR: Ouch.

TORRE: ...if they finally win the battle in learning how to not text lewd photos of themselves to groupies, and not sex and all these things. I mean it's so - that's, I mean that to me this year looking back - I was looking at the biggest sports stories of 2010, Tiger Woods, Brent Favre, all these other guys who accidentally pictured, texted photos of themselves in indecent ways to women, and it's just, you know, how easy is it to not do that? It's just amazing.

I'm curious to see - I'm going to predict, I'm going to show the faith in our sporting population and I'm going to say that we're going to see fewer major incidents of cell phone related matters with pro athletes in 2011.

MARTIN: Yeah, it'll be iPads.

TORRE: That's right.

MARTIN: It'll be big pictures.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: It'll be 3-D, I think, yeah, you connect it up.

MARTIN: Marcus, what's your prediction for the coming year that we can tease you about?

SKELTON: Oh, no. I predict the pretty boy rappers, like the Kanye Wests of the world and the Drakes of the world are going to pass the Gucci Manes and the T.I.s because they stay out of jail.

IZRAEL: Hmm. That's interesting.

MARTIN: Interesting. You don't want to hazard a - I guess about how Obama is going to do with the new Republican Congress, House majority?

SKELTON: I have no idea. I'm very interested in that. I have to say look out for Mitt Romney. I'll take a shout at that one.

IZRAEL: Really?

SKELTON: Yeah, look out for Mitt Romney.

MARTIN: Because?

SKELTON: Because I believe people are worried about the economy, they are worried about jobs and that trumps everything, and they're looking for somebody that creates jobs. I think Mitt Romney has shown in the last election that he really has a record of doing that, and I think he will probably be one of the better qualified candidates to give Barack Obama a very close election in 2012.

MARTIN: All right. Arsalan, what about you?

IFTIKHAR: Well...

MARTIN: What are you thinking about for 2011?

IFTIKHAR: As someone who has taped the last two out of the three NBA champions here in the Barbershop, I'm going to say that it's going to be a Celtics-Lakers rematch again in the NBA finals come June, 2011. I think it's going to go to the seventh game but I think it's going to be a different venue in Boston, and I think that the Celtics are going to bring it home for number 18.

MARTIN: I love a man with faith.

IFTIKHAR: You got to love it.

MARTIN: I love that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TORRE: Put a clip on ice. Let's replay that in June.

MARTIN: I love it. Jimi, what about you? What are you thinking about for 2011? What's your prediction?

IZRAEL: I think we've seen the end of the sex tapes celebrity. I don't think we're going see anymore Kim Kardashians or Paris Hiltons or people's whose careers have been manufactured because we've seen what they do behind closed doors or in backseats of cars. I think we've had enough as a society and I don't think anybody is ever going to be able to cash in like they've cashed in. So I think it's over. Like...

TORRE: So talented is going to be big in 2011.

IZRAEL: Right. Yeah. Talent...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ...talent is coming back, right?

MARTIN: For?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: See, El DeBarge started all. He started it all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SKELTON: He didn't need a tape. He need one. He sang his way back.

IZRAEL: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That's it. Well, thank you all so much. Happy New Year to you all. I've really enjoyed visiting with all of you this year. It's been great. It's been a great year for all of us.

IFTIKHAR: Happy New Year.

TORRE: Happy New Year.

SKELTON: Happy New Year.

MARTIN: Looking forward to more of it. That's my prediction.

TORRE: Yes.

MARTIN: More good times in 2011 with Jimi Izrael. He's the author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of muslimguy.com. He's also a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Marcus Skelton is a Republican strategist as well as a grants adviser for the Higher Education Association in Washington, D.C. And he's newly engaged. Congratulations.

SKELTON: Thank you. Thank you.

MARTIN: And they were all here in our Washington, D.C. studios. From New York, Pablo Torre, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, and he was kind enough to brave the snow-covered streets of New York.

Thank you all so much for joining us. Happy New Year.

TORRE: Happy New Year.

IFTIKHAR: Happy New Year.

SKELTON: Happy New Year.

IFTIKHAR: Yup-yup.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Let's talk more next year.

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