Barbershop: What's the Buzz?

Sports commissioners from a variety of leagues are catching a lot of flack. In a special sports edition of Barbershop, the men talk more about NFL star quarterback Michael Vick, scandal-plagued former NBA referee Tim Donaghy and drug problems at the Tour de France.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley sitting in for Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about whatever is in the news and whatever is on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael, sports producer Alvin Patrick, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and sports writer Terence Harris.

It has been a big week in the world of sports, so we've decided to do a special sports edition of Barbershop today. And I hear that the guys want to talk about the fallout from the indictment of football superstar Michael Vick, the ongoing federal investigation of an NBA referee, and can a commissioner just get a little respect? Troubled times for top leaders of three pro-sports leagues.

I'll jump in if I need to, but go ahead and take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Hey, hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How's it going?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist, The Washington Post Writers Group): Hey, Jimi.

Mr. ALVIN PATRICK (Sports Producer, ESPN): I'm good, man.

Mr. TERRENCE HARRIS (Sports Writer, Houston Chronicle): Chilling, man. What's up?

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey, hey, all right, let's get the ball rolling. Speaking of Mike Vick, indicted on dog fighting charges, will not be joining the Atlanta Falcons at practice anytime soon. Now, some say the league is in for trouble. Others just see another nick on Vick's record and, like Celine Dion, the hearts of the NFL fans will go on. Terry, how do you call it?

Mr. HARRIS: Man, you know, I mean, I don't think this hurts the game at all. I mean, this is an isolated incident involving one individual. It's not widespread. I mean, so I don't see it as being this big issue for the NFL. But I'm bothered by this because I'm the guy that's still saying, you know, hey, what about our system that says innocent until proven guilty?

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. There is that.

Mr. HARRIS: This guys that…

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean, you've got a bunch of dead dogs in your backyard. You know what I mean? Somebody's - something's going on. And you know…

Mr. PATRICK: Hey, but you know…

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train.

Mr. PATRICK: Hey, but remember this, remember this.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, P.

Mr. PATRICK: There was a glove in the back of O.J.'s garage, too. I mean, come on now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, here we go. Here we go.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I don't know if that's a right example, but I get it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. HARRIS: I'm a black man in America, you know. I must be real.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: I don't trust anything, you know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's not go to the O.J. A-rock, my man, how are you feeling about this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Here he is with the O.J. Yo, A-rock from ESPN, bust it for me. I mean, is it just Vick catching a nick?

Mr. PATRICK: Well, the entire game is catching a black eye simply because Michael Vick's number seven jersey has been one of the bestsellers, if not the bestseller, for so many years. I mean, he is a virtual superstar. You know, kids love him. Even if he doesn't necessarily win a lot of football games, he does something on the field…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. PATRICK: …that most people have never seen before. I mean, he, last year, was the first quarterback to ever pass and run for a thousand yards in the same season. And for this to - just for these charges to be brought especially in the type of arena, you know, where you're dealing with pet lovers and all of that kind of stuff, this is a pretty big blow especially on the heels of Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, the R, take the ball and run it, yo.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, I'm surprised - maybe you all too — about how potent a charge this is. I mean, I didn't realize until recently that you can mess with just about anybody under God's green Earth but don't mess with animals. There's a lot of folks out there who just have no sympathy for this kind of stuff. I would agree that it's an isolated incident limited to Vick, unless - and this is how it becomes a problem for the NFL — unless the league is seen as condoning it or going soft on Vick. And that's why I think they had to keep him away from training camp. Because if he taints them with this, if they don't immediately try to distance themselves from it, the worst thing I think that people can do is take this lightly and trivialize this, as I did initially. I didn't get it, but I'm starting to get it. It's a big deal to a lot of folks.

CORLEY: Well, I'm going to have some signs to drop in in just a minute, because Mr. Vick did have a statement that he issued after he appeared in court. He pleaded innocent. I want everybody to know that. And he did have something to say. He said I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown. Above all, I would like to say to my mom, I'm sorry for what she's had to go through in this most trying of times. It has caused pain to my family and I apologize to my family. Words of Michael Vick, who pleaded not guilty to federal dog fighting accusations.

Mr. PATRICK: That's a smart man.

Mr. IZRAEL: I love that statement. My man's not afraid of doing the time. He's afraid of his mom. He's afraid of what his mom will think. That's awesome. You know what? If Kobe can recover, so can Vick. Let's stop and take a closer look at Tim Donaghy. Is that how he's pronouncing his name, A-rock?

Mr. PATRICK: No, it's actually Donaghy, Donaghy.

Mr. IZRAEL: That - okay, well, dude, the NBA ref who allegedly fixed games for the mob. Now David Stern is calling this the darker days of his tenure. And, Alvin, it's hard to see how basketball will sustain something like this. Can we ever trust the refs again?

Mr. PATRICK: Well, of course, we can. I mean, look, City College had a scandal. The Black Sox in 1919 had a scandal. We've seen this before. Pete Rose. The big thing about this is, you know, is that no one knows whether he is just a rogue lone…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. PATRICK: …person, just as Stern said in his press conference this past week, or whether there actually are other people who are involved. It calls into question the league being able to really police and to do the proper background checks. One thing that came out just today is that, you know, Donaghy lied on his resume.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh man.

Mr. PATRICK: He said that he played baseball in college and he did not. You know, he also said that he was a basketball and a baseball player in high school; he did not.

Mr. IZRAEL: He's the water boy.

Mr. PATRICK: You know, the NBA didn't even know that. It just came out today.

Mr. HARRIS: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow, well, you know, Terry? The way I look at it is this is the kind of scam there has to be two people. I mean, you really can't pull this off by yourself. Terry, how do you see this? Can the game recover, bro?

Mr. HARRIS: Man, I think, you know, what they have to go through, just like they have random drug testing, now they have to have random lie detector testing for these officials. That's the only way I would ever trust anything if they ever call again, because I don't believe for one moment that he's just an isolated guy. I think that the NBA wants us to believe that…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. HARRIS: …for the integrity of the game.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben?

Mr. HARRIS: Because maybe now, you and I, us Clevelander, maybe now we're looking at this, you know, why LeBron and them got swept. I mean, I wondered, hey…

Mr. PATRICK: Right.

Mr. HARRIS: …some of them guys.

Mr. IZRAEL: Everybody, right, right.

Mr. PATRICK: Everybody is saying that right, exactly.

Mr. HARRIS: You know, exactly - that's what I'm wondering right now. But, you know, we were good enough not to be swept.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Ruben, check in.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm waiting for the scandal to go over to the NFL, because then I can explain why my beloved Raiders aren't doing so well. I knew something was amiss. You know, now I appreciate that.

Mr. PATRICK: (Unintelligible)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Everybody out there who's got a favorite team thought the referees or the umpires or whatever are just blind or, in this case, you know, bought and paid for.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And I wanted to go along with what Stern said, that maybe it's an isolated incident as far as the details of this. I mean, you had mobsters calling his house saying you're a dead man. Okay. I mean, right out of the movies.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And so maybe you're not going to get anything as dramatic as that. But my problem is there's so much autonomy and power given to referees…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …in basketball, and I hadn't even thought about it before. But the first thing you need to know is that an umpire in baseball doesn't have this much power; a referee in football doesn't have this much power.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. A-rock, going forward, how do we fix this so it doesn't happen again, bro?

Mr. PATRICK: You know, there really isn't any real way to police, you know, people that are intent on ruining the integrity of the game. The most disturbing thing is that NBA officials are the highest paid out of all the officials in the sports world. They can make upwards of $200,000 or $300,000 per year. They're going to have to do better background checks. They're going to have to do as much as they can, but really there's no way to absolutely say that they are going to be able to do this better. They're going to put a system in place, you know, as David Stern said, but I don't think there's going to be any guarantee.

CORLEY: To let people know, they're listening to a special sports talk by the guys at the Barbershop: Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Terrence Harris and Alvin Patrick. I'm Cheryl Corley. I'm sitting in for Michel Martin.

Let me jump in. And what about the Tour de France? We have a bunch of accusations and…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

CORLEY: …lying and all of that. What's going on with cycling's top race?

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? I don't know that I'm into the Tour de France all like that, you know, (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Come on. come on.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I was waiting for this to come up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Now wait a second I'm not…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I didn't really want to talk about basketball, no.

Mr. IZRAEL: No, no, now see - I know Terry, Terry is an avid biker. You can look at him and see he's an avid biker.

Mr. HARRIS: Hey, hey, hey.

CORLEY: No, no, Terry. No Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo, Terry. What's going on with the Tour de France, bro?

Mr. HARRIS: Hey, man. It's been corrupt. I mean, you know, I mean, but - people who do it, I mean, who would want to do a race like that. I mean, something has to be wrong with them in the head in the first place.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: But no. But seriously, they've had a long, long standing problem, even with the biggest named stars and the drug issues. So, I mean, it just doesn't surprise me that this thing carries on. You know, if this was your biggest stars, trust me, it's going to trickle down. And that's what we're seeing this week.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-train, or A-rock. I'm sorry. A-train's off elsewhere. A-Rock.

Mr. PATRICK: My name is changing throughout this whole thing, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PATRICK: Look, the Tour de France, one thing that we can say is that the governing body of cycling is doing more than any other governing body to actually try to get others the bottom of this. The Tour de France is their Super Bowl and they are essentially blowing it up. They're going after people in a very, very hard way and trying to implicate those, even if it means, as they did the last year, dethroning the champion. Even if it means this year a cycling team dropping out when they have the actual leading cyclist. That's in the case of Mr. Rasmussen.

So at least they're actually trying and, you know, that's probably what most people don't think Major League Baseball and the track and field, you know, folks are not doing.

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I think they're trying now. Everybody's trying now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Terry.

Mr. HARRIS: You know, but the thing is with the Tour de France, I mean, this keeps coming up, I mean, year after year after year after year. And so I think at some point you going to look at it and say, hey, I mean, are any of these guys really clean?

Mr. PATRICK: (Unintelligible). That's right.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, Terry, Terry, you know what? You know what, Terry? I'm with you. You know, I mean, because I can't even bike to the corner much less, you know, across country. And I always thought those guys were crazy. I want to thank C-love for making a good point, well timed.

But, you know, check this out, man. Let's take a look and step back and look at the whole disheveled landscape of sports, where it looks like everyone's got some explaining to do.

Now, Terry, which commissioner you think is catching it worst? Bud Selig for Barry Bonds, Roger Goodell for Mike Vick, or David Stern for the NBA?

Mr. HARRIS: Well, I definitely say it has to be David Stern because we're talking about with him the integrity of an entire game. We don't know what we've seen, if everything that we've watched this past year or in the past couple of years, I mean, if it really played it out the way it should have. With that thought in mind, I'm thinking David Stern has the biggest problem than any of the other commissioners by far.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-rock?

Mr. PATRICK: Without a doubt, it's David Stern, you know, as Terry said. This is the very fabric of his entire league that is being questioned, you know. And the other commissioners are dealing with individuals. Although Bud Selig is dealing with a larger problem that he ignored in the '90s, and he's chosen to make it bigger by, you know, acting like he wasn't actually going to show up for the breaking of the biggest record in the history of American sports. But he since, you know, backtracked and he will be there. But David Stern has the most - he has the biggest problem right now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, the R, Ruben, run it.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo, I put a vote in for Bud Selig having the toughest job and the toughest spot. I'll tell you why. Because from baseball, you end up with steroids and everything…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …and it's been one of the most discouraging parts of the story. I saw a story just a couple of days ago that - about a steroids investigation in golf no less, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Man.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: In golf, yeah. Anywhere you have a competition and you have the human element…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …there's going to be the incentive to cheat and to sort of juice up your performance. And the fact that for those of us who remember when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record, this is a huge deal that's about to happen with Barry Bonds. And there's a whole sort of cloud over head and it's really discouraging. For those of us who love baseball, it's really sad that we're about to hit this milestone and there's a pall over it. And I think that's heavy. I don't know how Selig can deal with that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Fellas, we're round the third and heading home. I want to thank you so much for joining the Barbershop. I'm going to kick it back to C-Love, Cheryl Corley, who's sitting in for Michel Martin.

CORLEY: Thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael joined us from WUKY in Lexington, Kentucky. He writes for the opinion page of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com. He joined us from KTBS in San Diego. Terrence Harris is a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle. He joined us from KUHF in Houston, Texas. And Alvin Patrick is a coordinating producer for ESPN's "First Take," and he joined us from his office in Bristol, Connecticut.

You can find links to all of our Barbershop guys at our Web site npr.org/tellmemore.

Guys, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mr. HARRIS: Oh, my pleasure.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thanks, Cheryl.

Mr. PATRICK: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you. Yup yup.

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