For Ray Rice, Is A Two-Game Suspension Light Punishment?

Did ESPN's Stephen Smith need to apologize for saying women need to be aware of provocation? The Barbershop guys weigh in.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We know this is your favorite segment. Just admit it. So give the people what they want. It's time for the Barbershop. That's where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. This week, to help us say goodbye, the Barbershop guys have all made a trip to our Washington, D.C. studios. They're all here with us. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week, our writer Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of themuslimguy.com, health care consultant contributor to National Review Online, Neil Minkoff, who was with us for our previous politics segment. He's still with us - and Pablo Torre, senior writer with the ESPN. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks Michel. Hey fellas.

NEIL MINKOFF: It's good to see you, Jimi.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: You guys look so much better in person.

(CROSS TALK)

IZRAEL: Wait a second. He wants his pocket square back. Hey, welcome to the Shop. How are we doing?

MINKOFF: Good.

IZRAEL: D.C., what's good?

(APPLAUSE)

IZRAEL: All right. All right.

MARTIN: And that's the last happy moment we'll have with this topic.

IZRAEL: Yeah I know, right?

MARTIN: O - M - G.

PABLO TORRE: Smooth segue.

IZRAEL: This is a little deep because...

IFTIKHAR: You can't close the barbershop, Calvin.

IZRAEL: Nice, nice. #moviereference.

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: All right, so let's bring - but OK, there's something really serious to talk about. We've got to talk about Ray Rice or Stephen Smith or Whoopi Goldberg - anyway you want to mix it up 'cause they're all mixed up these days. Now, let's focus on Rice. You know, the Baltimore Ravens running back received a two-game suspension stemming from a domestic violence incident. People may remember a video surfacing in February of Rice dragging his unconscious, then-fiance out of an elevator. Reportedly, they got into a fight. He knocked her out. That's - ay, caramba. Yesterday, Rice made a public apology to his wife and fans - talk about dealing with...

MARTIN: The fiance is now the wife - just wanted to clarify that this is the same person.

IZRAEL: ...Right, the wife - right - sorry - wife and fans - talked about dealing with the consequences. Can we drop that clip please?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAY RICE: You know, the pain that I'm talking about living with is that - is waking up every day and my daughter's two years old now - and I have a little girl who's very smart - very intelligent, and one day, she's going to know the power of Google. And we have to explain that to her - you know, what happened that night.

IFTIKHAR: Oh boy.

IZRAEL: Thank you. Despite the apology, critics are all over this saying this suspension is too light. Pablo, P-dog, you're out sports insider, man.

TORRE: Allegedly.

IZRAEL: Do you think it's too light?

TORRE: I do. I do because Roger Goodell - one of his main planks, as Commissioner of the NFL, has been instituting what you might call a justice system, right? And so part and parcel of that is the context of other punishments that he's levied. And if you smoke pot, you get four games. If you stomp on a teammate on a field, you get more than what Ray Rice got in those two games. So to me, if your justice system is to have - is to be worth anything - it needs to reflect the values you hold most dear. And if you're giving Ray Rice two games for upper cutting his fiance - now wife - in an elevator, that's sending a very disturbing message about what is actually important to the NFL and the Commissioner and to this justice system which is supposed to govern his constituency. That's really problematic for me.

IZRAEL: Dr. Neil, do you buy Rice's apology?

MINKOFF: Sure, but what difference does it make? I mean, yeah, I believe that he has been called out - he was on every media outlet there is. It's an incredibly disturbing piece of video to watch. I'm sure he is contrite about it, and maybe, some good can come out of it. But I'm not - I mean, the fact of the matter is, you know, the NFL needs to decide if they're policing what happens on the field or off the field. And if they're going to police what happens off the field - to Pablo's point - they have to be more consistent and they have to take knocking out somebody more importantly than smoking a joint.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, here's what's kind of got me mixed up. ESPN's First Take host Stephen A. Smith weighed in on the situation last Friday. He got suspended, too, for these comments. Drop that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHEN SMITH: We also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation - not that there's real provocation - but the elements of provocation. You've got to make sure that you address it because what we've got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don't think that's broached enough.

IZRAEL: Now, Smith was blasted by some folks who said he was blaming domestic violence victims. Then, Whoopi Goldberg - the brilliant Whoopi Goldberg - stuck up for him on "the View". Let's drop that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION SHOW, "THE VIEW")

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: You have to teach women - do not live with this idea that men have this chivalry thing still with them.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Right.

GOLDBERG: Don't assume that that's still in place.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Right.

GOLDBERG: Don't be surprised if you hit a man and he hits you back.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You hit somebody, they hit you back.

IZRAEL: OK.

TORRE: Wow.

IZRAEL: Thank you for that clip. All right, before we go further - how many people on this panel have been a victim of domestic violence? OK. I've been a victim of domestic violence. In my book, "the Denzel Principle" - available where better books are sold.

(LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Seamless.

MINKOFF: Subtle. Subtle.

IZRAEL: Seriously, I've been in a situation where I've been attacked by women in small spaces - in cars and elevators - and none of you know what you'll do until you're in that situation. What did I do? It just so happens I'm trained to submit, and I was able to submit those young ladies. No jokes - no shots.

MARTIN: What does that mean? What does that mean? What are you saying?

IZRAEL: That means I was able to restrain them in a way to get their attention to ask - I mean, I didn't have to - I didn't have to hit them.

MARTIN: OK.

IZRAEL: I was just able to restrain them in a way - I put them in a lock - like a hold.

MARTIN: OK. So what you saying?

IZRAEL: What I am saying is none of us knows what we'll do in that situation until we're in that situation. And I'm not giving the ups to domestic violence. But this is what I am going to say that nobody has the right to hit anybody, but everybody has the right to protect themselves. That's what I am going to say. And if you've never been in the situation with the young lady that wants your attention and the only means of communication she has is violence, than you don't know what you would do. I promise you that.

MARTIN: OK. well, this is - well, go ahead Arsalan. Why don't you...

IZRAEL: Go ahead A-train.

IFTIKHAR: The problem that I had with Stephen A. Smith's comments was the fact that, to me, it was the moral equivalent of when people talk about rape and say that women were quote, unquote "asking for it," you know based on the way they were acting or dressed or, you know, whatever. And I think that - you know, I love me some Stephen A. Smith, you know, Mario Chalmers and everything - but, you know, I think he stepped over - I think he stepped out of bounds. I think that, you know - getting back to the earlier point - it should be Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, who should be apologizing at a press conference, not Ray Rice doing it twice. I think that he was contrite about it but, I think that Stephen A. Smith was completely tone deaf in the statement that he made and the fact that he wasn't able to apologize for it right away. He actually tried to double down on it before he apologized - shows that we still - at least within the male population here in the United States - you know, have this thing where we try to justify our actions no matter how wrong those actions are based on, you know, so-called mitigating circumstances. I think there are no mitigating circumstances where it's okay to knock your fiance out in an elevator. And I think that ESPN was right to suspend Stephen A. Smith.

MARTIN: Why was it right to suspend them? You're the civil rights lawyer here - dealt with First Amendment issues among others - so why - why were they right to suspend him? I mean, don't they pay him to say things that are provocative and get people's attention?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, there's difference between provocative and completely tone deaf and inappropriate. And, you know, people get suspended all of the time for making inappropriate statements, especially, you know, those of us as public figures. If we say something that's out of, you know, out of line or out of bounds, I think that it's completely within their right to suspend him.

TORRE: And here's what he said was problematic because first you start off with the - just the optics of the situation right? He's saying this after this woman has been knocked out. But beyond that, if you zoom out it's actually even more problematic because my problem is not that there are cases where men are victims; it's the idea that this is an important plank of social policy perhaps, that you want to advocate for, right? Because we still live in this deeply misogynistic, patriarchal society. Sports certainly is the most aggressive form of that. And so, to say that we really need to worry about women provoking men seems tone deaf in terms of the societal context, in terms of history, in terms of statistics about crime. And that to me, I mean, that is dangerous and that's the thing that actually really enables a lot of women from escaping really abusive relationships. And to say that on air, as one of the first things after the situation, was terrible to me.

MARTIN: Neil, go ahead.

MINKOFF: Well, and it could have been made right so easily, by just changing it to, we need to teach men how not to be provoked, right? It could be, we need to teach people who have a short temper who are willing to respond to anything with violence have other coping mechanisms so they can learn not to be provoked, and not to be in a situation where instead of being responsible, they're knocking somebody out.

MARTIN: What do you think, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Well, I think we don't know what happened in the elevator. I mean, isn't that right, Pablo?

MARTIN: That's partly my problem, with what Stephen Smith had to say. How does he know what happened in that elevator?

IZRAEL: None of us know what happened.

MARTIN: I take it you don't think he should've been suspended.

IZRAEL: I do not believe he should've been suspended...

MARTIN: Because?

IZRAEL: ...Because he was indelicate - the word provocation is problematic because anything can be provocation. That wasn't the right word. That wasn't the right word choice.

But everybody, everybody, keep them hands - their hands - to themselves. Children know that. A dog will bite you back if you hit it. And my understanding - I've read different accounts where...

MARTIN: Why shouldn't he have been suspended though? I mean, if you're saying he said something stupid and he brought discredit to the network and he caused a whole lot of huzzah-ry that wasn't, you know, necessary, and it was wrong, why shouldn't he have been suspended? Tell me why not.

IZRAEL: He should've corrected himself. I do not believe he should've been suspended. I just believe he should've said, I meant this, I said that; I'm correcting the record.

That's what I believe.

MARTIN: Can I just have a brief moment of privilege here, since I'm the only (unintelligible) on the panel? Can I just tell you this? I don't understand why Stephen Smith is advising people about their domestic affairs. I'm just curious - what are his qualifications for this? And if he does of qualifications for this then I'd like to know what they are, but it seems to me that the advice should've been to all parties. It seems to me, a lot of people need help with their communication in this country. But if you're six-foot-five and somebody else is five-foot-three, it seems to me you should keep your hands to yourself, period. That's my only thought on that. I'll just take that privilege.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So you've been listening to our Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, professor Arsalan Iftikhar, healthcare consultant - he's trained as a doctor - Neil Minkoff, that's why we call Doctor; we're not making fun of him, he actually is one, sports writer Pablo Torre.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thinks Michel. All right, let's keep it moving. We've got a political couple whose problems are on display in court, but not divorce court - or at least not yet. It's former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's corruption trial. Prosecuters say that he and his family accepted gifts and loans worth more than 150 grand. Everything from designer dresses, a Rolex, and cash for the daughter's wedding. All of this from the head of a vitamin supplement company who wanted to do business with the state. I think they even got some free protein powder Michel, wow.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, the thing that's interesting about this is that defense lawyers for the McDonnells used their opening statements to say, that they could not have had - it could not have been a conspiracy because the marriage was broken at the time, and that the reason Maureen McDonnell accepted all these gifts because she had a crush on the businessman in question, and that she - so that's why I just was fascinated by this. And I'm just trying to think of a scenario where - I don't even want to go there.

IZRAEL: Michel. It totally sounds - it sounds like a Woody Allen movie in the making. I don't want to touch it.

MARTIN: From a political standpoint, I just, I don't know, Arsalan, what about that? Can you imagine taking that defense into court?

IFTIKHAR: Yes, I can actually. Having lived in Virginia for 10 years and growing up in Chicago, Illinois, I can, you know...

IZRAEL: It's all good. It's all good in Chicago.

IFTIKHAR: There is literally nothing within the political or legal realm that surprises me. I actually can see that as a defense. Now, whether it's going to be convincing defense is, you know, obviously up to a judge to decide. But, I mean, I can understand if, you know, Bob McDonnell's trying to say, you know, we were unable - it was impossible for us to collude in this conspiracy because you know, we had a broken marriage. You know, anything to keep you out of jail. I can understand that.

MARTIN: Just as a person who writes about politics and is sort of close to it, would you rather be known as a corrupt lawmaker or for your wife stepping out on you? I mean, which of those scenarios do you?

IFTIKHAR: I'd rather not be in jail.

(LAUGHTER)

MINKOFF: Let me flip the horrible coin, that I have to say - that if you have to choose between those two horrible choices, I think you're better off being a person with integrity whose wife stepped out on you because then at least you're a person of integrity, and maybe you can move on from that.

MARTIN: Do you think he can move on from that?

MINKOFF: No, but maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: All right. Well, before we let you all go, I just wanted to save some time at the end because we've had a lot of fun over the years and we just wanted to share some of those memories. So I was going to ask each of you - Jimi, you are the - you're kind of the OG of the Barbershop.

IZRAEL: I am the OG, not kind of.

MARTIN: And so you've been with us from the really from the beginning, really before, when we were still podcast online.

IZRAEL: That's right - Rough Cuts.

MARTIN: That's right. Was your favorite moment?

IZRAEL: My favorite moment is when I kind of got the crew together - Dr. Lester Spence was in the house - and we did the very first Barbershop. That was it. I didn't know what we were doing, you know? So that was my first moment. We were learning, we were trying to figure out how this is going to sound. So that was definitely my favorite moment.

MARTIN: Pablo, what about you?

TORRE: I mean, just the - well, I'll begin generally because this is something - this doesn't exist anywhere else, right? Like, I keep looking for places in my life where I could see this, let alone participate in it, and these four people - the long cast of people who I've gotten the pleasure to do this with - it's been really, really like, genuinely, sincerely fantastic. But beyond that, my favorite moment is just whenever we talk about sports predictions and Jimi just picks the team from Cleveland.

(LAUGHTER)

TORRE: I wish there was a montage of that, like - Super Bowl Champions, Cleveland Browns. NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers.

MARTIN: But this is how the worm turns. He might actually be right for a change. Who would have thought?

IZRAEL: Lebron heard I went back Cleveland, so he got to come back.

MARTIN: OK. Arsalan, what about you? You're the baby OG. You're kind of our second-longest tenured member of the Shop, after Jimi.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, having been on the show for seven years since the beginning, you know, on the fun side of it the most fun aspect was giving out the redunkulous awards, which ended up - to be honest, it started out as something silly and dumb but you know, has become a staple in my shtick. You know, echoing Pablo's...

MARTIN: It's still silly and dumb, I just thought I'd - I'm sorry. I don't mean to be mean about it but - but anyway, go ahead.

IFTIKHAR: And Michel Martin gets the last redunkulous award ever.

MARTIN: Sorry. Sorry.

IFTIKHAR: In seriousness, you know, again echoing Pablo's point, you know, the fact that, you know, we can have a forum where four males of color who are journalists and commentators can come together you know, in our media landscape which you know, sadly, is predominantly lily-white. You know, this was a safe haven for some of us to talk about issues that the world and the country are talking about, but from a vantage point that many Americans never had the opportunity to be exposed to. And that's is why think that, you know, for many people, for many of our fans, the Barbershop will live forever and it definitely will live forever in our hearts, as well.

IZRAEL: Oh, my God. Really, bro?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Neil, what about you? You're our kind of relative newbie. You've only been with us a couple of years.

MINKOFF: Yes. This is such an unusual place. Honestly when I first came in for the very first time for my first haircut, I was a little worried about being the...

IFTIKHAR: You got a fade that first time, that was weird.

MINKOFF: I did, which was really weird. I was a little worried about how I would fit in, you know? But this has been - there's a group of us up here, and there are times we don't agree on anything. But we like each other and we respect each other, and this is a place where we can do that without turning into a screaming match, and turning into like, World Wrestling Federation cartoon antics.

IFTIKHAR: Or Fox News.

IZRAEL: Dr. Neil, yeah - welcome to the Barbershop, bro.

MARTIN: OK. All right.

MINKOFF: So and it's just been really welcoming, and that to me has been the biggest part.

MARTIN: Neil Minkoff is a healthcare consultant. He is trained as a doctor - Dr. Neil. He's contributed to the National Review. Jimi Izrael is a writer. You can find his blog at jimiizreal.com. Pablo Torre's a senior writer for ESPN. Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of themuslimguy.com and an adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University. Thank you all so much for today and for every day that you've been with us

IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel.

TORRE: Thank you, Michel.

IFTIKHAR: Michel, thanks to you.

MINKOFF: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Peace, love and Barbershop.

IFTIKHAR: And thanks to you, Jimi.

MINKOFF: Thank you, Jimi.

TORRE: Thank you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: You're welcome, America.

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