Shop Talk: Praying Kicks Off NFL Controversy

The Barbershop guys preview the upcoming football games and discuss whether Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos distracts other players when praying on the field. The guys also share their Thanksgiving gratitude lists. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with author Jimi Izrael, attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor Dave Zirin and sports reporter Pablo Torre.

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

TONY COX, HOST:

I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm sitting in for Michel Martin, who is away.

Well, now it's time for a special edition of the Barber Shop. Now, wait a minute. Even if you're not a big sports fan, stick around. There are some pretty interesting topics we're going to talk about because today the Barber Shop is all sports. We're also going to talk a little bit about being grateful this Thanksgiving season.

So sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor at the magazine, The Nation, Dave Zirin and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

Jimi, it's all yours.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Mr. T. Hey, fellows. Good to have you back in the shop, by the way, Tony. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

PABLO TORRE: Hey, man.

DAVD ZIRIN: Turkey day.

IZRAEL: Well, alrighty then.

ZIRIN: I want to eat. Hit me.

TORRE: (Unintelligible) voice going already.

IZRAEL: Well, you know, let's - can we just jump right in and talk about a preview of the Thanksgiving NFL games? We got the San Francisco Forty-Niners versus the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins playing the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers up against the Detroit Lions. Guys, give me your picks. Pablo, P Dog, you're first up. Sports Illustrated in the house.

TORRE: All right. So I mean the Packers are going to roll over the Lions. I mean, I don't think the Packers - you know, they're not going undefeated this season, but they're pretty much better than anybody else in the NFL by a very wide margin. I'm going with Tony Romo (unintelligible) go-to guy, who's actually a service full quarterback again, beating the Dolphins. And I'm going with the Ravens in a bit of an upset, I guess, over the Forty-Niners. Ray Lewis at night at home. I don't pick against that guy.

IZRAEL: Dave Z, Mr. Zirin, tell us all about it.

ZIRIN: Pablo is like a great major league hitter in that he just went one for three.

IZRAEL: Oh, okay.

ZIRIN: First of all, the Packers are going down. This is the first meaningful game that's been played in Detroit on Thanksgiving since Alex Karras was in the house. I like the Lions bringing it against an undefeated, but flawed, Packers team. That's one.

Two, the hottest team in the NFL is not the Green Bay Packers. It is the Miami Dolphins. I like the Dolphins to smoke Tony Romo. And third - and this one is the one where I think Pablo finally got his groove back - it is the Ravens and John Harbaugh sending Jim Harbaugh back to the Bay Area with the Forty-Niners' second loss.

IZRAEL: You know what? And I'm just glad you're not excited about it.

ZIRIN: I know. Right?

IZRAEL: One word, brother: decaf. A Train, Arsalan, my man, jump in here and give us your picks.

IFTIKHAR: How can you follow that kind of moxy? I'm going to...

IZRAEL: I know. Right?

IFTIKHAR: I'm going to go with Detroit over Green Bay. I'm going to go with Dallas over Miami, and I do think that San Francisco's going to come here to Baltimore and take it and go 9-1.

TORRE: There you go.

IZRAEL: Mr. T, what's the over-under at your house, man?

COX: You know, I like Jim over John. I'm taking Jim Harbaugh over brother John. The Niners are on a roll.

TORRE: They are.

COX: And I think the Ravens have been a little inconsistent this year and even though they have number 52, I'm not sure that he can pull it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

IZRAEL: I guess you's(ph) got to have faith. And speaking about faith, let's talk about T-Bo. You know, he's not playing tomorrow, but wherever he is, we can be sure he's giving thanks. Now, the Denver Broncos quarterback is known for his skills on the field, but also for something called T-Bo'ing. It's a reference to his habit of kneeling in prayer on the field. Now, he's also talked about his faith in post-game interviews.

Now, personally, Jesus is still all right with me, words of the Doobie Brothers, so I can definitely respect his spiritual swagger. But some people think it's a little bit over the top. Now, this week, former Bronco quarterback, Jake Plummer, who I guess is not all Jesused up like that, said, you know, essentially, you know, T-Bo should maybe ease up on all the Jesus talk.

Tony, we got a clip, right?

COX: Yeah. Absolutely, we do. Here's Plummer speaking on a Phoenix radio station. This was on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO BROADCAST)

JAKE PLUMMER: T-Bo, regardless of whether I wish he'd just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he's a winner, you know, and I respect that about him and I think that if he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I'll like him a little better. But I don't hate him because of that. I just would rather not have to hear it every time he...

RADIO HOST: Sure. Hear that every, single time. Yeah.

PLUMMER: Every time he takes a good snap or if he makes a good handoff.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Tony. Plummer did give T-Bo some props, but it got me kind of wondering - NFL banned, you know, over-the-top victory dances on the field because they were distracting. Now, is this Tebowing, is it distracting in the same way? Dave Z. Mr. Zirin, your take on this.

DAVE ZIRIN: It's not distracting in the same way, but I'll tell you this. I wouldn't want to have Tim Tebow actually ask his maker, if you are so great and so merciful, why haven't you taught me how to throw a spiral?

TORRE: I knew that was coming. I knew that was coming.

ZIRIN: The man throws a football like it's a ham-shaped grenade and I don't understand how it is that he starts in the NFL. I know you are what your record is. He's 4 and 1, but to me, I guess he's just praying that he makes it one more week.

IZRAEL: I know, right? Pablo's jumping in.

COX: Go ahead, Pablo.

TORRE: Well, you know it - you know, Tebow reminds me in a very weird way, in an opposite way almost of Kurt Warner, who's the last quarterback to kind of really be so uber-Christian and very vocal about it. And Kurt Warner, of course, was, in some ways the opposite guy. He was the guy who was a grocery-bagger, but threw a perfect spiral, was the ultimate thrower. And Tebow, of course, is a Florida star who can't, as Dave eloquently put it, throw a spiral for the life of him.

But he wins. And Jake Plumber, for what it's worth, in all his wisdom, is also a guy who walked away from the NFL again to play handball. So I love Jake Plumber and the same way that I appreciate Plumber's opinion, I think Tebow should have the right to say whatever he wants.

IZRAEL: You know what? He did say something. Tony, he did respond, right? He said something on ESPN, right?

COX: He did. I'm going to play it for you in just a second. But for people that are just tuning in, let me let them know who we are, what we're doing, what we're talking about. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Tony Cox, sitting in for Michel Martin. And you are listening to our weekly Barbershop Round Table. Today, is a special one because we're talking about sports, and sports and more sports. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor Dave Zirin and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

So now, back to this Tebow clip. He did respond, as you said, Jimi. Here's what he said on ESPN First Take. This was yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ESPN FIRST TAKE")

TIM TEBOW: If you're married and you have a wife and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say it to your wife, I love her, the day you get married or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity? And that's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ; is that it is the most important thing in my life so anytime I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or give him an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm going to take that opportunity.

COX: You know, it...

IZRAEL: Oh, wow, yeah. I'm totally feeling that, you know, 'cause you got to tell your wife every opportunity you can that you love her.

COX: You do.

IZRAEL: Ain't that right, baby?

COX: Go ahead (unintelligible)

IFTIKHAR: You do have to tell your wife that you love her every day, but, you know, doing, like, public displays of affection, you know, on every street corner. I mean, I'm not hating on him - I'm not hating on Tim Tebow...

TORRE: I do.

ZIRIN: You're also a newlywed.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IFTIKHAR: Right. You know, Tebow marching his, you know, his team down the field 95 yards against the New York Jets was a masterful thing and I agree that, you know...

COX: Now, that was a prayer answered.

IFTIKHAR: It was, it was. And I do agree, you know, he throws the ball like Dave Zirin does, but it all, you know. I don't mind the holy-roller stuff that much. I mean, it's who he is. That's fine. You know, I think the people are, you know, they're drinking the hater-aid a little too much on this.

COX: Well, here's my question on this, Jimi. One more thing before you move onto the next topic. I wonder how the networks are going to handle this going forward. Because if they don't show it, you don't know that it occurs.

ZIRIN: Or how they'd handle it if Mushin Mohammed, when he was playing, was like, praise Allah, with every catch.

TORRE: Oh, man.

COX: Yeah, it's a question of how...

TORRE: He'd be thrown in Guantanamo Bay.

COX: ...are they going to cover it or not. All right, Jimi, back to you.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's keep it in motion, talk about another quarterback I kind of want to get into, the Philadelphia Eagles, Michael Vick. He sat out last Sunday's game because he broke his rib in a game earlier this month. Aw. Dave, Dave Zirin, how soon we see him back on the field, you think?

ZIRIN: Oh, I think Michael Vick is an amazing combination of the fragile and the tough. I mean, it seems like sometimes you stare at him wrong and a bone snaps. Yet, at the same time, he'll be out there with that snapped bone doing his thing. I think we're going to see Michael Vick back as soon as humanly possible because he plays like somebody who has something to prove. And this team, as bad as the Eagles have been, the NFC East, the winner of that division will win nine games. Mark it down. And so that means the Eagles are still in the hunt.

IZRAEL: Hmm. Tony, I know you wanted to talk about Rex Ryan, yeah?

COX: Yes. Well, one more thing before we get away from the NFL. Of course, I got to get your guys' reaction to the New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. He was not pleased when the New England Patriots took a lead into half-time last Sunday. And when Ryan was walking off the field, a fan heckled him a bit. So Ryan responded with a comment that cost him $75 grand. We can't play that comment, unfortunately, for you, but you know that it wasn't something that you want to talk about with your children. He essentially said to shut the bleep up.

TORRE: You don't know my kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COX: Coach was fined $50,000 by his own team in 2010 for flipping off a fan at a mixed martial arts event. So the question is, I suppose the swear jar in the clubhouse of that team is really big and that Rex Ryan is a guy that keeps putting money in it.

TORRE: Yeah, Rex Ryan's a clown, man. I just - I can't buy into that whole, you know, Ryan trying to sort of hype his team up. You know, he crosses the line. He's a, you know, proverbial line-stepper and, you know, it's one of those things I think the NFL will get tired of really quickly.

ZIRIN: But fans - I mean, the thing that's ironic about that, to me, though, is that he was fined for, you know, cursing at a fan, but fans who go to these games - just who go to Jets games, it's almost like they pay money to hear Rex Ryan curse. He's cursing the entire game. And the NFL Network, you know, they did a special on Bill Belichick and they have him miked up and he's cursing at everybody. I mean, this is part of the game. I never understood why we draw this sanctimonious line when everybody in the stands is drunk and cursing at each other.

COX: So Pablo...

ZIRIN: So, I think, Pablo...

IZRAEL: Pablo, it doesn't bother him.

ZIRIN: Yeah, but Pablo is right, that something strange is afoot.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COX: Let's move from inside football to college football, gentlemen. It was a weekend of upsets last week and now, the bowl championship series has the three top teams from the same conference - LSU, Alabama, Arkansas. You okay with this or is it time for a playoff? Dave, what do you say?

ZIRIN: Of course it's time for a playoff. My goodness. I mean, this is the worst cartel we've seen since Vito Corleone got off the boat in, you know, the lower east side. Man, this is terrible. I mean, I think Pablo has a lot to say about this. Come on, Pablo. Back me up here. Give me the SI imprimatur that we need a playoff.

TORRE: We do, we do. And, you know, the thing is, when you go to these bowl games and how they select teams, the bowls don't care about the best teams. The want the fan base. That's why Notre Dame is going to a bowl and having, you know, being basically favorited by every possible selection committee because they travel well, because their fans all go. And we have a playoff picture like this one, a post-season picture, rather, like this one. It really exposes why we need this. You know, if there's only one way to settle - in sports, what that best team is, and that's to have the best teams play each other in a tournament format. So college football season is the only one that doesn't end like that and it's ridiculous.

COX: You're making me wonder, Arsalan, whether or not we're going to see another upset weekend like we saw this past weekend.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, it was pretty crazy. I mean, you know, you have the number four Oregon Ducks who were upset. I mean, again, I hate the BCS system to the point where I am not a college football fan because of the BCS system. I think it is patently broken. I think that, you know, for those of us who didn't go to a division one school and, you know, didn't have pep rallies every week, you know, we don't really have a vested interest in following this because we think it's a patently broken system.

At least in the NFL, the NBA, even the NHL, there is a playoff system, where the best teams play each other and ultimately the survivor gets the world championship. And I think that until we enter that playoff system for the BCS, I think we're gonna continue to see the fan base shrink around the country.

COX: What do you say, Jimi? You want to go into another topic?

IZRAEL: Fore. All right. So let's talk Tiger Woods.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: He finally showed his stripes. Finally, he helped secure a U.S. win in the Presidents Cup on Sunday. And before that, he took a third place finish in the Australian Open. Now, a lot of people - a lot of folks, they just kind of wrote him off and it's been two Thanksgivings now, two Thanksgivings ago, that, you know, his Cadillac and his image took a hit after an argument with his now ex-wife.

But, you know, moving forward, looking into the future, I don't know. Is he going to come back proud? Me personally, I feel like golf is a - golf isn't boxing, you know. It's really a sport that happens in the head and once your game is off, your game is off. Now, you might get back on game, but you'll never be quite as good as you once were. A-train, Arsalan, you're up first, man.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I think, you know, especially in talking about Tiger Woods, I think it's important for him to win. I just think he needs to win majors in order for him to get back. And I agree with you completely, Jimi, it's all a head game. And I think, you know, the fact that he hasn't been able to win these last two years is a testament to how much the whole fiasco with the Escalade really, you know, affected his game.

IZRAEL: Not for nothing, it also disrupted his family. Pablo...

TORRE: Yeah, well, you know, I think Tiger Woods is never going to be back to where he was. He's too old at this point for golf in that lifespan. And, you know, it is a mental game. And I think Tiger though is going to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of what I like to call the Penn State curve, where we think of all the bad things athletes have done, compare it to what is now the worst thing we've ever seen in sports and think, well, maybe that guy isn't that bad. Maybe he shouldn't be heckled everywhere he goes. I just think Tiger Woods is being put in context at this point.

ZIRIN: That's true. But he doesn't have to be as good as he was, though. He has 14 majors. We all know from the time Tiger was a fetus, his father, Earl Woods, put that number 18 up on the wall and said, you have to pass 18 majors, Jack Nicholas' record. And that's all Tiger wants. He wants to see if he can squeeze out five more majors before his body starts to fall apart. But I want to give a think you to Tiger Woods because it was two Thanksgivings ago that my family finally had something to talk about at the dinner table.

COX: That's actually - in fact, that's a perfect segue way to the end of the segment because we wanted to ask you what you were thankful about, looking at Thanksgiving. Dave Zirin just gave us one. Pablo, what are you thankful about?

TORRE: I'm thankful for actual games that are good for the sake of being games. You know, a good college football game, be nice if we had a playoff, but the MLB post season was great. Just things that remind us why we got into sports in a year when so much horrible stuff has happened off the field. And with the lockout, too, I think it's time we don't take our games for granted.

IZRAEL: Arsalan...

IFTIKHAR: I'm thankful for Dave Zirin, Tony Cox, Jimi Izrael, Pablo Torre and Michel Martin.

ZIRIN: That's a smart guy. He wants to come back.

COX: All right. Jimi?

IZRAEL: Well, of course, I'm thankful for my wife and kids, but especially thankful to my grandma, Sweetheart, who now that I'm on in Cleveland, WCPN 90.3, she listens every Friday. I love you, Sweetheart.

COX: That's nice. Dave, I cut you off. You're going to have another opportunity, but it's got to be a quick one.

ZIRIN: I'm thankful to Bo Pelini, the coach of Nebraska for standing up after the Penn State-Nebraska game and saying, why are we playing this? Has the whole world gone mad?

COX: That's great. I'm thankful for all of you guys and I'm thankful that I'll be able to make the plane to get to be with my family tomorrow.

ZIRIN: Ah, there you go.

COX: It's been a wonderful time. Jimi Izrael, freelance journalist, author of the book "The Denzel Principle," joining us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, joining us from our NPR studios in New York. Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine, also host of Sirius XM radio's Edge of Sports radio and Arsalan Iftikhar, civil rights attorney, founder of the muslimguy.com, author of the newly released book "Islamic Pacifism, Global Muslims In The Post-Obama Era." Arsalan and Dave here with me in Washington. Thank you, guys very much. Happy Thanksgiving.

TORRE: Gobble, gobble.

IFTIKHAR: Thank you.

ZIRIN: Yep, yep.

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