'Shop Talk': Will NFL Lockout Stay In Limbo?

NFL general counsel Jeff Pash listens to a reporter's question during a news conference where it was announced  that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout, pending player approval, in College Park, Ga., on Thursday, July 21, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) i i

NFL general counsel Jeff Pash listens to a reporter's question during a news conference where it was announced that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout, pending player approval, in College Park, Ga., on Thursday, July 21, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore/AP hide caption

itoggle caption John Bazemore/AP
NFL general counsel Jeff Pash listens to a reporter's question during a news conference where it was announced  that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout, pending player approval, in College Park, Ga., on Thursday, July 21, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

NFL general counsel Jeff Pash listens to a reporter's question during a news conference where it was announced that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout, pending player approval, in College Park, Ga., on Thursday, July 21, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

John Bazemore/AP

The Barbershop guys weigh in on President Obama's birthday wish, Thursday's pending agreement to end the NFL lockout, and the feud between Republican Rep. Allen West and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Host Michel Martin speaks with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist Ron Christie and NPR Correspondent Mike Pesca.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now we're going to step out of the Oval Office and head over to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in their chairs for a shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist Ron Christie, and NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RON CHRISTIE: What's up?

MIKE PESCA: All right.

IZRAEL: Well, all right. Well, let's get some things started. Yo, Michel, what's good with you? You had any interesting interviews lately? And - right. Right.

MARTIN: One or two.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Props for scoring that conversation with the commander-in-chief. Good look on you. Good look.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. Well, now we know what the president wants for his birthday - a deal on the debt ceiling. We know that Congress has less than two weeks to reach a compromise, and I don't know if the Congress is willing to hand the president what he wants for his birthday.

We do know that the Senate has rejected the so-called cut, cap and balance plan that the House Republicans - or that the House has already adopted. The Senate's rejected that, 51 to 46. So I don't know.

IZRAEL: Well, thanks for that, Michel.

MARTIN: It's hot here. It's very hot.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. And you know, what's interesting to me - I read President Obama's piece yesterday in USA Today, and at least, you know - because I'm always razzing him because he doesn't - he kind of rides the middle. But I have a sense that at least he knows that he's not going to be able to make people happy. You know, he's in a no-win situation. And nobody wants him to compromise. That clearly would be in the best interest of the country, as far as I'm concerned.

Ron, R.C., you're up first, man. What do you think?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think we're at a critical stage in the negotiations. I think that President Obama and the Democrats - from everything that I've been hearing from my friends who are behind the scenes on this - are insistent on a tax increase. And you know, at the end of the day, it's what can get 218 votes in the House of Representatives. And I don't think any measure with a tax increase attached to it is going to pass the House.

And I just worry that this brinksmanship has come far too late. We've had all year to deal with this. And the president and the Democrats have really not wanted to focus on this until, I'd say, about the last three or four weeks. And we could have some really catastrophic consequences if they don't get their act together in D.C. and fix this problem.

IZRAEL: A-train, what's your take?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I mean, you know, just piggy-backing off what Ron said, you know, for me, you know - for those of us like Michel and I, who live here in D.C., it's sort - it has become gamesmanship. I mean, I'm sort of reminded of sort of the NFL, NBA lockouts. You know, these are, you know, essentially games of chicken - you know, blinking contests, you know, trying to get the 23rd hour and 59th minute and eventually, hopefully, you know, cutting a deal. We saw that with the NFL owners, which we'll talk about.

But you know, there seems to be too much political grandstanding right now. And I think they're just waiting out the clock until the 23rd hour. And I think something will ultimately get done.

MARTIN: Well, you know, here's the thing. Well, I don't know, I'm just wondering, though, is that really a fair analogy, though? Because is - because how do you assess what's gamesmanship, and how do you assess what is, in fact, conviction? You know, conviction informed by ideology, which is not trivial.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And political realities. And a sense of - I mean, I guess a divided government, I don't understand how we can argue that one side or the other is being more intransigent.

IFTIKHAR: Sorry...

MARTIN: Because, in fact, it's divided government.

IFTIKHAR: It is divided...

MARTIN: Because it's the same voters...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...American citizens who voted for, you know, for the House Republican majority, and they also voted for the Democratic majority in the Senate, and they voted for this president. So it's not, like, you know, aliens voted for one side or the other. These are all citizens who all obviously, in my view, sort of voted in good faith for what they believe is right.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: So

IFTIKHAR: But when it's perceived that that political ideology is trumping the greater national interest - you know, obviously, our country on the brink of, you know, governmental default is something that is pretty cataclysmic, you know, in an economic sense. And so, you know, we do have gamesmanship in the sense that, you know, people are sticking to their political orthodoxies in order to essentially, you know, move their agendas forward at the, you know, at the risk of hurting our country.

MARTIN: I don't know. What - go ahead.

IZRAEL: Hold on a second, but give the president props for not riding the middle. At least he knows that not everybody is going to be happy. Can we get M.P. in here? This is his first time in the Shop.

MARTIN: I know. Mike is definitely not happy. He's like, get a brother in; get a brother in.

IZRAEL: Let's get Mike P. in here, man. Welcome to the Shop, man, how you livin'?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PESCA: I'm all right. And let me first say that for my birthday one year, I wanted the Law of the Sea Treaty ratified and I got a Swhinn instead, so I was a little disappointed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PESCA: On that point, I would say that gamesmanship and conviction aren't mutually exclusive. I mean, if you have conviction, what you want to service that conviction is the best strategies to get it done.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

PESCA: So you know, you strongly believe in something, and then you take it up to the 11th, 11th and a half hour. Now, I'm mostly a sports correspondent these days. And I was assessing where we are with the NFL, which we'll get to. But it struck me as a lot different from the debt ceiling because with the NFL, the big dispute is how to split a record amount of revenue, $9.3 billion. With the debt ceiling, it's making tough choices. It's actually a little more like the NBA strike, where they're not making money.

So I would say on this hour, I mean, I - even though as citizens we despair at the fact that it seems like our congressional leaders and the executive are dithering, in fact, they're just trying to play it out to the best of their advantage. And so far, I mean, a deal could get done in a couple of days and it won't - it might be a fine deal. And the fact that it took so long is just a consequence of, you know, not a breakdown of the system. The fact that it took so long could just be, you know, both sides trying their best to get what they honestly believe is in the best interest of their people in the country.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of what took so long - that was NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca, by the way. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with him, with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, and Republican strategist Ron Christie.

So our - America's most popular sport in jeopardy, Mike. So it seems like what? They brought it home.

PESCA: Things are looking pretty good right now. Thirty-one of the NFL's 32 teams have approved the deal - the Oakland Raiders, of course, being the exception, like they always are.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PESCA: And now it's up to the players to figure out what they're going to do. Most indications are that the deal that was hammered was hammered out by the players' representatives. So there are details, and the players might not ratify it or they might ratify it. It's seen as likely that they will. And my analysis of this whole thing, you know - it was hyper-scrutinized, but I don't think so much of it was so surprising.

Each side played their cards. You try to decertify; you see what the courts say; you let it all play out. And then it gets to the point where it's pretty clear that the message is, all right, here's where one side stands; here's where the other side stands. And then they both say, you know what? Let's not lose millions of dollars. Let's make millions of dollars. So they get a deal done, which looks like where we're standing now.

MARTIN: OK. Jimi?

IZRAEL: Wow. That sounds like divorce court.

MARTIN: Oh, snap. Oh, snap.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So - but Jimi, you're the tweet guy, and you were telling us that a lot of the players have been tweeting that they're not happy with the proposed deal. I don't know, what do you think? You think they should take it?

IZRAEL: I think they should take it. I think, you know what? They get paid this exorbitant amount of money, it seems to us, but they've ruined their bodies for life. And I think they should fight for the money they want. And when the money comes across the table, I think they should take it and get back on the field, and do what we try to pay them to do. That's what I think.

MARTIN: But you know, Arsalan, you know that 75 former NFL players brought suit against the league for allegedly covering up important information about concussions.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And do you think that case has merit? You're our lawyer here.

IFTIKHAR: I don't. I think this was more of an attempt by these 75 retired NFL players to, again, you know, keep the issue in the public zeitgeist. As you said, in the Superior Court of Los Angeles in California, 75 retired NFLers are suing the NFL for mismanaging concussions, and also concealing evidence about the overall harmful effects of concussions.

Now, this is the first legal action of its kind. It includes named plaintiffs like former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mark Duper, one half of the Marks Brothers; Ottis Anderson of the New York Giants; Vernon Dean of the Redskins. Basically, I don't think that they're going to be able to find any sort of causation between the NFL's, you know, studies and reports, and the actual concussion stuff. But again, I think it's to keep things in the public zeitgeist.

MARTIN: Mike, just before we let you go, any different opinion on that? Do you agree with Arsalan on that? Or do you think the case has merit?

PESCA: The analogy being made is that it's a lot like the cigarette lawsuits. But most people forget that the vast majority of cigarette lawsuits lost.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

PESCA: Right. But the NFL - I would just say that Roger Goodell had a choice a couple years ago: either to fight what was a mountain of scientific evidence, or to acknowledge it. And the downside - I say to his great credit, he's taking on the head injury issue head on. But the downside to that was it does open you up a little bit to a suit. And if they had, you know, denied, denied, denied and strung it out and hired their own scientist to come up with different conclusions, you know, this suit might not have happened, or least have happened this year.

So it was a chance that Goodell took, and I think Goodell should get - be complimented for the league itself trying to get in front of the head injury issue. And the ripple of that is that lower-level leagues, especially youth leagues, are now really taking it seriously. And this suit will draw attention to the fact that helmets that young players use are often terrible. And the standards for helmets - Schwartz of the New York Times has done a lot of investigative reporting into this. You know, if you have your kids playing football, make sure that they're not using these old, reconstituted helmets because the standards and the governments that look over football helmets, it's really a lax oversight situation.

MARTIN: OK. Before we let you all go, talk about a contact sport. Hello. This week, Republican congressman Allen West told Debbie Wasserman Schultz - she's the chair of the Democratic National Committee; she's also a Florida rep - that if she wants a fight, he's happy to oblige. So much for civility in the Sunshine State. West wrote these comments in an email to Wasserman Schultz when - he calls her vile and despicable, and tells her to - excuse me - shut the heck up.

And this - he wrote this after she criticized him on the floor of the House for his stand on entitlement cuts. This is what she said on the floor. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

Representative DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Incredulously, the gentleman from Florida who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries - as do I - is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from South Florida.

MARTIN: Now, there's just been - you know, I don't know what to call it; like, flame on, on this because there have been pieces from a number of writers - mainly women - saying that West is totally out of line. But Ron, you have a very different perspective on this. You think Wasserman Schultz was out of line.

CHRISTIE: Absolutely. She's been with obsessed with Allen West even before he was a member of Congress. She was the one who organized a very disruptive campaign rally in front of his office when he was seeking his congressional seat. And the only thing I can tell you and your listeners, for having worked on Capitol Hill for nearly nine years, is that it is against the decorum of the House to personally go after one member, to make reference to another member in the way that she did.

And I would also add that what she said was 100 percent not true. There was nothing in the House Republicans' cut, cap and balance bill that would've affected Medicare. And so for her to say that there's a member from Florida - and there was another thing, it was like a tornado through South Florida - and that he was going to adversely impact people on Medicare, is a lie.

And I'm tired of people who go out and try to scare seniors. And she has had a record of having gone after Allen West. And he said, enough's enough. So I'm absolutely behind him.

MARTIN: OK. There's more to it than that.

CHRISTIE: Yes, there is.

MARTIN: And it involves a Motorcycle magazine, but I don't have time to get into that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But Arsalan, final thought?

IFTIKHAR: You know, Ron, you're my homeboy, but Allen West is not. This is a man that was convicted of violating two counts of the Uniform Code of Military Justice while he was in the Army in Iraq, for shooting near the head of an innocent Iraqi police civilian officer.

Against Democratic incumbent Ron Klein, he said that he wanted to take him behind the woodshed and give him a whooping. This guy said that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was not a lady. What if someone said that he is not black? I mean the guy has put his foot in his mouth so many times, he should open up a Payless ShoeSource.

MARTIN: Oh, no. Goodness. Oh, no.

CHRISTIE: You're my man, but I disagree, my brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. Well, thank you for keeping it civil, both of you. We'll have to leave it there for now. Jimi Izrael's a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Mike Pesca is an NPR sports correspondent. He was with us from our bureau in New York. Joining him there, Ron Christie, Republican strategist, former aide to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com, and managing editor of the Crescent Post. Thank you all so much.

PESCA: Peace out. Bye.

IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.

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