'Shop' Guys On The World Cup: Can The U.S. Come Out On Top?

The Barbershop guys weigh in on the World Cup, team switching during the NBA off season, electric Harley Davidson motorcycles, and the Washington football team.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Now it's time for the 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 are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. Hey there, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey A.C.. What took you so long, sister?

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I'm sorry, go ahead with your intro. Go with your intro, my bad. Go ahead.

CORNISH: Healthcare consultant and contributor to National Review Online, Neil Minkoff. He's in New York City. Neil, I don't expect a robust hello, but how are you?

NEIL MINKOFF: Robust hello.

CORNISH: (Laughing) OK, thanks.

IZRAEL: Nice.

CORNISH: And in here in our Washington, D.C. studio, contributing editor for The Root, Corey Dade.

COREY DADE: Yes, sir.

CORNISH: And along with Ahmad Omar, he's NPR editor with Morning Edition. Hey there, Ahmad.

AHMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Yes, ma'am.

CORNISH: Alright, Jimi. I hear you're in charge of this.

IZRAEL: Hey, I'm doing the best I can. First of all, before we get started I got to shout out some people. Shout out to Anowi Means (ph), Kyle Williams (ph), Jamie Dickson, Doctor Scope (ph), Paul Cox, John Cursy (ph) and Kristin Crane because those are my fam. Kristin Cane (ph), I'm sorry, Cane. Anyway...

CORNISH: I feel like I should drop a hit or a remix or something after that. What is that?

IZRAEL: In the mix, mix, mix, mix.

CORNISH: All right. Let's get to the World Cup, here.

IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop, fellows. How we doing?

DADE: Hey, hey, hey.

MINKOFF: What's up?

IZRAEL: Thank you, thank you, thank you. At NPR, the home of all your radio fun on your FM dial. So let's get things started. You know, soccer really isn't my game or match - but hey, oh.

OMAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: Ahmad Omar, here. You're feeling down about the poor English - the English guys - the World Cup lost, man. My bad, I'm sorry about that. Who are you rooting for now?

OMAR: Yeah, well, you might know I was born in England. So, you know, I took it...

IZRAEL: I did not know that.

CORNISH: Your accent is terrible.

OMAR: (Speaking with English accent) Typically, England really - isn't it? Sham bullock (ph) defending, lost track of Luis Suarez in the area...

CORNISH: There we go.

IZRAEL: That's not bad.

OMAR: (Speaking with English accent) We've been embarrassed again on football's grandest stage...

IZRAEL: (Laughing) Who let Monty Python loose in the studio?

OMAR: (Speaking with English accent) It's disgusting. All right, back to American accent. That's what I feel about that, Jimi. Any other questions, sir?

(LAUGHTER)

DADE: Oh, ouch.

IZRAEL: (Laughing) Not today. C. Dade, are you down with the cup, bro?

DADE: I am. I'm enjoying watching it. I think - two things are standing out for me. For starters, Brazil, you know, because they're hosting, you know, the huge expectation in that country is that that team takes it. They're, of course, you know, the dominant tradition with World Cup victories. But the way they're playing right now, it's like they're forcing it. So that sort of explains their tie to an inferior team in Mexico. But really, sort of the more interesting angle so far - and I always trip out about this - is the American media's effort to sort of hype, or overhype, the American soccer team, team USA. Every year, they - every year there's a World Cup or the Olympics, you know, they take any little thing and try to extrapolate it into something big. They have chances this year to really advance. Not really.

MINKOFF: To be fair, they've gone from absolutely terrible to, like, kind of mediocre, to OK-ish, to decent-ish.

DADE: Yeah, to not painful to watch.

MINKOFF: Yeah, which is nice.

DADE: Now, their surprise win in Ghana only sort of supports that notion. But what is interesting is if Ronaldo is actually hurt or he doesn't play for Portugal on Sunday and the U.S. actually ties, or God forbid, wins, then, you know, ESPN and the American media - they're just going to blow their lids. It's going to be interesting to watch.

IZRAEL: Yeah.

MINKOFF: Well, that's what it's all about, right?

IZRAEL: Yeah, if we're awake.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: So, Doctor Neil, I understand you're into flopping. You know what, you've got my attention, bro. Explain that one.

MINKOFF: Well, no, it's just funny. You know, we just came off the NBA Finals. And we think of NBA players as maybe being the best athletes in the world. And then you see these soccer guys, and they're - you know, they don't sub out. And they run this gigantic field for two, 45 minute stretches with very few, if any, stoppages. And they're always falling down.

DADE: Flop city.

MINKOFF: I mean, it's much worse than the heat. It's much worse than what's going on in the NBA because the stakes are higher. If you flop and there's a yellow card, and you flop and do it again there's another one. And then, man, you've really got an advantage. But it really turns me off, as a casual fan, to watch these fantastic athletes with otherwise perfect body control just collapse in a heap.

DADE: Well, to be fair, they are trying to cut down on that.

CORNISH: You guys are all assuming everyone knows what flopping is, all right? So flopping is when, basically, conveniently near the official, you, like, manage to fall or...

(CROSSTALK)

CORNISH: After some contact.

IZRAEL: A.C., though. A.C., real talk - I mean, that works in real life 'cause, you know, I had...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Listen. No, I...

CORNISH: That's called insurance fraud, Jimi. OK?

IZRAEL: No, no it has other applications. I had to flop during the defense of my MFA, man. You know, I was kind of running a little low. I just hit the ground, like...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: They gave me a mulligan.

CORNISH: It's also popular in basketball, right? I remember some news stories going by, complaining about people's flopping.

IZRAEL: But speaking of people hitting the ground, you know, let's talk about some real, American football. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, that infamous team, has a new problem on his hands. He's dug in on keeping the team name even though critics say it's a racial slur. Now the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is upping the ante. And they're trying to hit him where it hurts - his pocketbooks. Audie?

CORNISH: Yeah, I mean, basically, the team's been going back and forth with the Patent Office for a while over this. In their most recent ruling, they rescinded the team's trade mark registration, saying it's, quote, "disparaging to Native Americans." And, of course, the team is appealing the effort. Jimi, what do you think of that move?

IZRAEL: I think that it ups the ante. And I live in the home of the Cleveland Indians. And I get it. And I understand it. But I'm a big fan of bigger fish to fry. And that makes me sound like an awful person, and I'll be that dude. But Jimi crack corn. I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I mean, that's where I am on that. I mean...

CORNISH: I don't even know what that means. I'm going to let Corey jump in.

IZRAEL: Yeah, go ahead, C. Dade.

DADE: Do you care, though?

(LAUGHTER)

DADE: As the resident D.C. native who grew up watching this team, and, you know - to the point where he became a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan - holler...

CORNISH: We won't hold that against you.

DADE: Hey, I got to get that in. I got to get that in.

CORNISH: (Laughing) This is like shout out Friday.

DADE: You know, what's interesting with this is that the D.C. fans, which is, you know, one of the most racially diverse fan bases - a huge African-American fan base - they are overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the name. But they're just tone deaf, quite frankly. D.C. delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said it best recently. You know, she's a third-generation Washingtonian. And she used the name for years, too, until she became more sensitized about the offense that people take from that name. And in America, we have - when it comes to racial slurs, we have a rule. We have a custom. And it's codified by law. The target of the name gets to decide if that name is offensive - full stop. So it doesn't matter if Dan Snyder thinks it's offensive. It doesn't matter how many justifications the NFL gives about it honoring Native Americans, which is really BS. The bottom line is it is offensive to a large number of people. And for some people it is analogous to the N-word.

CORNISH: I want to make room for Doctor Neil here, the libertarian.

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

CORNISH: Thoughts on the government sticking their nose in this?

MINKOFF: I don't see that this is a trademark issue. I mean, if you want to be the person that goes out and buys the rights to an offensive name, then you should publicly be the person that gets called out for buying the rights to an offensive name. I don't see why this needs to be a topic of regulation. I don't really have a strong opinion about the name itself. But the point I'd like to make is, I don't believe that changing the name would hurt the team. I don't believe that there is a downside to them by doing this.

DADE: Exactly.

MINKOFF: You know, it didn't hurt the D.C. Bullets when they became the Wizards. It didn't hurt when the New Orleans team became the Pelicans. There is nobody who cares about the Redskins and their following who is going to stop rooting for RG3 if they become the Washington Hamiltonian's, or whatever.

IZRAEL: I just don't know what happens once we change the name. I mean, racism is as American as anything in America. And so - and that doesn't mean we have to suffer it, but by the same token - so that happens, and then what happens?

DADE: Well, what happens is you stop propagating a racist name. That's what happens. It's something that's taken out of the American lexicon, which is always a good.

IZRAEL: OK. And so what about the Fighting Irish?

OMAR: Are Irish people offended by that, though? Can you have a group of Irish people who say they're offended by that name?

CORNISH: This conversation could go on for a very long time, I can tell you, having been in more than one time. And also, I just want to remind people, this is under appeal. And this battle is surely not over. I look forward to hearing the Barbershop talk about it more in the future. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, healthcare consultant Neil Minkoff, and journalist Corey Dade and Ahmad Omar. Back to you Jimi. And I want to move on to the NBA.

IZRAEL: OK, well, you're the boss of me, A.C.. So...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: So you want to - you guys, you want to talk about the NBA. Now that the season's over, you know, some great sneakers on the court. I'll say that 'cause I'm probably the only sneaker dude here.

DADE: Don't do that. Don't do that.

(CROSSTALK)

IZRAEL: Hey, hey. Oh...

CORNISH: Fighting words, apparently.

DADE: Don't do that.

IZRAEL: Apparently. Wow, out come the razors. So, Doctor Neil, you think this could be the craziest off-season ever. Why is that?

MINKOFF: There's just - there's going to be, or there's the potential for, so much flux. There are so many deals of player contracts that are coming up, or players that have the option to test free agency at the same time. So Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are both potentially retiring. That's only two of the top, you know, six forwards that ever played. So K.G. could leave a big hole for the Nets, or Tim Duncan could leave a big hole for the Spurs. But, oh, Chris Bosh is a free agent and, oh, so is Dwayne Wade. You have the new ownership of the Clippers, Steve Ballmer, who certainly has the funds and wants to make a splash, that he could ignore the salary cap tax and bring Carmelo Anthony - have them join up with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to be the new Big Three. The Nets could do the same thing. And, oh yeah, only the best basketball player in the world could opt out of his deal this year, too. And LeBron hasn't announced what he's doing yet next. So anything could happen. There could be, you know - in a month, the odds of who's going to win the title next year could be 100 percent different.

IZRAEL: I'm so sad to hear that you don't have any passion about this topic.

(LAUGHTER)

MINKOFF: Isn't it sad that I have so much?

IZRAEL: The thing is, there's a lot of speculation about where Miami Heat's LeBron James will end up next. Here's what he said after the finals about his amigos Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and any potential newbies. Drop that tape, please.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEBRON JAMES: I don't know what Dwayne, right now, is thinking. I don't know what Chris is thinking right now, you know? But, you know, we'll see what happens. I don't even know who the unrestricted, restricted, early ETOs, whatever the case may be, guys are. I haven't even dug into that.

DADE: Doctor Neil knows, though. He can tell us about it.

IZRAEL: Yeah, it doesn't sound like this will be decision, part two. Corey Dade - C.D. - what are the chances Carmelo Anthony will put on a different sneaker, much less replace one of the Heat's Big Three.

DADE: I don't think the chances are good. I think, you know, Derek Fisher and his credibility now, as the coach of the New York Knicks, you know, his job, number one, is securing Carmelo. Without Carmelo, they don't have a building block for that team on the court. You know, I think - and also, if they lose Carmelo, they don't get anything for him. And they can't really afford that.

OMAR: Except for cap space.

DADE: But - they get cap space, but they wouldn't be to get anything else...

OMAR: Sure.

DADE: Because no one's going to come there, sight unseen, to be the, you know, the starting point. Amare Stoudemire's back, but they may do the amnesty deal and let him go, or let him sign - re-sign, for a cheaper price, so it doesn't hit them on the cap. But I don't see Carmelo going anywhere. I think what's more realistic is LeBron staying where he is and them - the three of them collectively staying, and them restructuring their deal to make some serious moves on free agency. They know that. They know they have to. And the Heat have already proven that they're willing to do anything. They're willing to do anything to keep that team together and keep winning. And the message that Pat Riley's already told LeBron is, if you leave here, you're sort of running away to build something from scratch. You will not have it like this. Lightning doesn't strike twice. He's not going to be able to go somewhere and have this Big Three kind of dynamic again.

IZRAEL: A.O..

MINKOFF: Except the Clippers.

OMAR: Yeah, well, I'm a Pistons fan. So, you know, free agency is not necessarily the Piston's strong suit because attracting people to Auburn Hills, Michigan, doesn't work quite as well as South Beach for whatever region. So we're not getting any of these guys, let's be honest. I'm hoping we do see a decision, part two. Put LeBron up, do the ESPN thing, do a whole hour-long special that he got skewered for last time. Do it again because at the end of the day, it's a 29-year-old, 30-year-old, playing sports to entertain us. That's the entertainment I'm going to get out of it.

DADE: Don't hold your breath.

OMAR: I hope to see a big old spectacle. And then whatever team he picks, everyone's going to be mad at him for it. And that's what's going to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

DADE: Don't hold your breath on that one. That ain't going to happen, Ahmad.

OMAR: I hope it does, man. That would be so good.

DADE: It's not going to happen.

CORNISH: All right, gentlemen, we want to get your take on one more thing. All right? The lead I've got here - from choppers to crotch rockets - I don't know if that's appropriate - most motorcycles are all about the power. But Harley-Davidson is hoping to reach a new set of consumers with, get this, and electric Harley. Right? Like the Prius of Harleys.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: What are you laughing at?

DADE: Womp, womp, womp.

CORNISH: I am saying that....

OMAR: Does it come with a tote bag?

CORNISH: I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but, Neil Minkoff, I understand that you like the idea.

MINKOFF: Well, I think it's a cool idea. I think it's an incredibly risky idea. I mean, the Harley is synonymous with being big, and noisy and the symbol of, you know, getting on the road and freedom. And this is small, and nimble, and only goes 50 miles and is going to be quiet. But electric motorcycles have been a growing market for some time. The technology is really cool. In many ways, they make a little more sense in terms of - you know, you don't need as much power to push the motorcycle as you do a car. And Harley's doing this in a really intelligent way. They've only made one or two. And they're going to take them all over the country, and get user feedback and see if this is a market they want to tap into. But this could be a whole new - it could be a brand-new expansion and change how we think of Harley in being, you know, green, or it could be the new Coke of motorcycles.

CORNISH: Crickets on that.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Well, Audie, well, you know, I'm a diamonds-in-the-back, sunroof top, digging the lean, with a gangster-lean type dude - hashtag #WilliamDeVaughnReference.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I'm not really that donor-cycle type dude. You're not going to see me on anybody's motorcycle. Now, you might see me in somebody's Cutlass Classic, you know? But - I mean, but otherwise I'm not the dude on two wheels.

OMAR: You're so Midwest, Jimi.

DADE: I'm with you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: I really am.

DADE: I need a steel cage. I need a steel cage separating me from the other cars on the road. So I probably won't be...But the people who would know, the executive director of the Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame said it sounds like a jet engine going by you really fast. So that's not- that could be cool.

CORNISH: So they created a sound for it?

DADE: Jet engines are a cool sound.

CORNISH: I've heard about this for electric cars - right? - where they give you some kind of simulation engine sound?

DADE: And motorcycle riders, you know, they do it for the feel - the feel of control, the feel of the rumble in the engine. You know, it's something that Harley has to do. It's more of protecting sort of their place in the market. And there's no rush on it. This will always be a niche product. Motorcycles are a niche product to begin with. The classic motorcycle consumer is not practical to begin with. That's why they have motorcycles. So getting to an electric motorcycle is a little bit even more impractical. You know, it's something that they're going to spend a little money on and promote it. But, you know, it's not going to be a game changer any time soon.

MINKOFF: It might be, 20 years from now.

DADE: Exactly. Twenty years from now.

CORNISH: Jimi, you're knocking it. But does it make a difference that it's Harely? Right? I mean, it's a brand that is tied to manliness and - you know what I mean?

IZRAEL: No, no, no, no, no. Harley's not tied - Cutlass Classic is tied to manliness. I don't know where you're from, Audie, but where I'm from, up 143rd and Hayden, you ride that Cutty.

CORNISH: This is the 1970s, right?

IZRAEL: No, this is last week. Are you serious? You ride the Cutty. That's how we do it here in the Midwest. Shout out to Cleveland.

CORNISH: All right. Well, Jimi Izrael is a writer. You can find his blog at jimiizrael.com. Jimi, thanks so much.

IZRAEL: Yep.

CORNISH: Ahmad Omar is an NPR editor with Morning Edition. Thank you, Ahmad.

OMAR: Thank you.

CORNISH: Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant, and contributor the National Review Online and NBA free agent expert. Thanks so much, Neil.

CORNISH: And Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root and runs their political blog, The Take. Corey, thanks for coming in.

DADE: Yes, sir - yes ma'am.

CORNISH: Remember, if you can't get enough of Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for the Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes Store or at npr.org. And that's our program for today. I'm Audie Cornish, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tune in for more talk on Monday.

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