Is NFL Star Ben Roethlisberger's Suspension Too Harsh?

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In this week's installment of the Barbershop, host Michel Martin, freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, Sports Illustrated Reporter Pablo Torre, and Political Science professor and blogger Lester Spence talk about Arizona's controversial immigration bill, the suspension of NFL star Ben Roethlisberger and Vice President Joe Biden's chat fest on the View.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our 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 our shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael,�syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, Sports Illustrated reporter�Pablo Torre and�political science professor�and blogger Lester Spence. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer: Hey, thanks, Michel. Yo, from WBEZ in Chicago. This is Jimi Izrael. This is my American life. What's up, fellas? How are we livin'?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, how's it going, man?

Unidentified Man #2: Doing good, man, doing good.

Mr. IZRAEL: Welcome to the shop. Well, you know what? Check it out. It's muy caliente down in Arizona these days. And the weather has nothing to do with it. The governor there, Republican Jan Brewer, he's...

MARTIN: Jan, she. It's Jan, she. Yes, hello.

Mr. IZRAEL: Jan, really?

MARTIN: Yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I was doing it in a European flair, but, okay, Jan Brewer.

MARTIN: Google, it works.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, she's yet to sign a controversial immigration bill that if signed into law, will give law enforcement the power to arrest people they suspect of being illegal immigrants. Wowzers, Michel...

MARTIN: You know, and this has been such a big issue - a number of faith leaders, civil libertarians, the president has spoken out about this just today.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Finally.

MARTIN: And...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, just today, right.

MARTIN: And I just want to mention that, you know, that's a complicated issue, but we can talk about that in a minute, which I'm sure we will. But we should also note that both Arizona senators Jon Kyl and John McCain support the immigration bill. Now, here's Senator McCain speaking on Fox News on Monday with Bill O'Reilly.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The O'Reilly Factor")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The federal responsibilities have not been fulfilled, therefore the state of Arizona is acting - doing what they feel they need to do in light of the fact that the federal government is not fulfilling its fundamental responsibility to secure our borders. Our borders must be secured.

Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Host, "The O'Reilly Factor"): But what about the racial profiling? You know that's going to happen. It has to.

Sen. MCCAIN: I would be very sorry that if some of that happens. But I also regret people whose homes and property are being violated. Drivers have cars with illegals in it. They're intentionally causing accidents on the freeway. Look, our border's not secured. Our citizens are not safe.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. You know, who was that guy?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Who was that guy?

Mr. IZRAEL: I know, right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's a maverick.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, him and Senator Jon Kyl, they want the president to send 3,000 National Guardsman down to the border. And between this and this new kind of - this new brand of American apartheid, nothing good can come of this. Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Bro.

Mr. IZRAEL: The R. Now, you take on this issue with the immigration bill...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...in this piece you do for CNN. What's up with that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. I've got a piece up at CNN.com right now that takes on my old hero John McCain, my former hero John McCain. I've defended him on this show. I've defended him in the past. He and I have known each other for 15 years. But I have the advantage of not running for reelection in Arizona, so I can speak my mind and speak freely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: What is that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And he has caved into the fact that he's running a tough reelection campaign against what I call in the piece a cartoonish figure in J.D. Hayworth, who has simplistic solutions to the immigration issue and plays and panders to nativist sentiments in Arizona. The biggest mistake that McCain is making, the biggest piece of dishonesty - and that clip with Bill O'Reilly sort of proves it - this notion somehow that you have illegal immigrants in Arizona because the federal government has failed in this responsibility?

No, I was there. I lived in Arizona from '97 to '99. I was present at the creation of this problem, and I can tell you the reason that you have illegal immigrants in Arizona is because there's a lot of folks in Arizona who hire illegal immigrants. And so McCain is missing and not leveling with folks. He needs to admit that had those immigrants come up through the Arizona border and found no work in the state of Arizona, they would simply have gone points north up to Minnesota or wherever.

And the fact that Arizonans have hired illegal immigrants to do all their chores and build their homes and cook their food and raise their kids, and now they want to bitch and moan about it, and they want somehow to convince the country that this is an invasion and some sort of a wound that's been inflicted from the outside is just dishonest.

And that's how I'll end. The worst thing I can say about this bill is not even the racial profiling thing. I mean, that's clear. The unconstitutional aspect of the fact that it's trying to, you know, usurp the government, the federal government's authority.

Mr. IZRAEL: No doubt.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Here's the problem: It's hypocritical. It is dishonest to bring a problem onto yourself by your own actions and then blame somebody else for it.

MARTIN: Can I ask a question, though, Ruben? I take your point. This is not to excuse anything, but I think it's worth mentioning - I should've mentioned it at the outset, that one of the reasons I think you're so disappointed, and your piece makes clear, is that John McCain has been one of the leaders on immigration reform...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Totally. Totally.

MARTIN: ...in terms of trying to forge a bipartisan consensus on this.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Sure.

MARTIN: The question I have for you, Ruben, as a person who knows Arizona politics, this is not an excuse, could he survive a primary? Can he survive the primary if he doesn't support this?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He's dead. No, he's dead now. He's dead now Michel, because he had two things going for him...

Prof. SPENCE: Oh wow. Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...with most moderate voters in Arizona and most voters in Arizona - integrity and independence - and he has gotten rid of both of those. I was going to say something else.

Mr. IZRAEL: Lester...

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He has blanked away those things because now...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thank you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Why vote for somebody who's impersonating a nativist divisive political figure when you can vote for the real thing in J.D. Hayworth? So...

Mr. IZRAEL: Lester, is McCain, is he all washed up now? That's it?

Professor LESTER SPENCE (Political Science, Johns Hopkins Univeristy): Yeah, I think so. What strikes me is this is - so Arizona, just a couple of years ago, they had like a $2 billion budget deficit and they had to make a lot austere cuts. Like cities actually had to give up some of their loot to the state government. I think the two universities had to cut like $50 million for their budget.

So what you see is a case in which state fiscal crisis kind of naturally quote, unquote "generates" this hostility towards the poor and then towards the non-whites. So you're going to see this movement sweep the Southwest in regards to Latinos, and then other non-whites and poor citizens are going to be hit by it throughout the country and other places.

MARTIN: You know Jimi, can I ask you something just, you know, it's easy for us to say well, he doesn't really mean that. It's just sort of politics, but do you think that's a legitimate argument?

Mr. IZRAEL: No I don't. I mean trying to get at the R, man. It's like look, you know what? This is just me as the devil's advocate, right, because clearly, the bill is just off the hook, right? But I mean people are getting caught in the crossfire of the drug wars that are happening on the border. So okay, so we don't want a new American apartheid, right, but I want to hear a solution. I want to hear, what do we do? I mean because clearly, for me, this sounds like a move of desperation.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: What do we do?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, you need a federal solution (unintelligible) again. I mean it's a federal problem. You need a federal solution. I have written a numbers of times and I continue to support more resources for the border patrol, you know, more radar, more intelligence equipment, all the stuff that they need, the tunnel detection equipment. You know, we should probably stop telling our kids not to use drugs when we cut off the supply so we wouldn't have a demand in the first place.

But beyond that, you want to control illegal immigration and you want to fight the drug war and you want to do it at the federal level. You can not have states take this on a la carte the way that Arizona has. This is like now Arizona's like the Mississippi of the 1960s as far as the Southwest is concerned. It's a bad look.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Right. And this is Pablo. And the other I think, you're right. I think it's redundant almost at this point to talk about the potential constitutional implications for the bill. I think one other party though that I think is worth spotlighting here that also has a target on its back as a result of the bill passing would be the police. I can't imagine that police officers and police officials...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh yeah. Right.

Mr. TORRE: ...are in favor of this. Because not only does it set back as former Mesa Police Chief George Gascon said, you know, community policing efforts back decades, but it also puts this legal spotlight on the police. You know, they obviously will open the floodgates for civil rights lawsuits and rightly so. But also, there's a provision in the bill specifically, to allow for citizens to sue the police for not complying with the bill.

Prof. SPENCE: Oh wow.

Mr. TORRE: Which just makes it...

MARTIN: For not complying with the bill? That's the point that - yeah.

Mr. TORRE: Right. It's another whole aspect of policing the police and watching them, making sure that they do the things that, you know, the nativist movement might want, which is troubling for everybody involved it would seem.

Prof. SPENCE: And the state doesn't have the money to do it, right?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

Prof. SPENCE: So I can't emphasize this enough.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Prof. SPENCE: This is about putting all the emphasis on the local municipality to take care of all this.

MARTIN: Just to tie a bow on that, Governor Jan Brewer, she pledged $10,000 in federal stimulus funds to bolster law enforcement efforts there. So she thinks she's going to take the federal stimulus money in part to support these efforts. So anyway, this is a very important story and obviously, we're going to keep an eye on it. And Ruben, thanks for that. And we'll link to your column so people can see exactly what you've been talking about.

If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're talking with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Pablo Torre and political science professor Lester Spence.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. So you mean wait, so you mean it's not Jan Brady, really? Like, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Just don't dig the hole any deeper.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Marsha. Marsha. Marsha.

MARTIN: Don't dig the hole any deeper.

Prof. SPENCE: Pork chops and apple sauce. Pork chops and apple sauce.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Okay. Well, you know what? It's like this, all right now from the world of sports. The first round of NFL draft was last night and there were a few surprise picks and we'll get to that in a moment. But maybe the biggest surprise of the week from the NFL was the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got suspended for six - count - six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah. I'm really dying to hear what you all think about this. I'll just play, if you want to hear it, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talking to reporters on Wednesday about this. I think a lot people were shocked by this. Here it is.

Mr. ROGER GOODELL (Commissioner, National Football League): You do not have to be (technical difficulty) a crime, or even charged with a crime. If there's a pattern of behavior that reflects poorly on yourself, your team, the league in general, it's important for us to have early intervention to stop that behavior.

MARTIN: Just to clarify what he's talking about is that Roethlisberger has been implicated in two different incidents involving young women. He was not criminally charged in either case. But the allegation is - and authorities say they didn't have enough evidence to sustain a conviction, that's why they didn't go forward. But they say that he physically engaged in some appalling behavior with women where he seemed to have pressured himself or pushed himself upon these women against their consent or they were too drunk to actually give consent.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm. Right. Right.

MARTIN: There you go. That's it, Jimi. Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Pablo, listen.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Suspended.

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: Six games. Was this punishment a little too harsh for somebody who's not really been charged with a crime?

Mr. TORRE: No. It wasn't in my mind. It actually, it's probably going to be four games because there's this good behavior sort of clause worked into it. But I think if you talk to most NFL fans, or at least the fans that I've talked to who I consider to be reasonable folks and myself included, you know, I think this was almost, you know, I think Roger Goodell could've punished him for harsher than this and I think that would've been okay. And yes, I understand the...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRE: ...concerns that Roger Goodell in these cases is something like Zeus where you don't know what he's going to do. It seems at times unilateral, but Ben Roethlisberger, I mean he was not charged with a crime. That's absolutely true. But you have this pattern, as Roger Goodell said, and if you comb through the 572 pages of the Georgia Police report, I mean if a fraction of that is true, I think the NFL as a workplace, as a business has all the right in the world to suspend a player for behavior that it deems to be reprehensible.

And even if you don't buy the allegations of sexual assault by the book I think - I mean Ben Roethlisberger, let's put it pretty bluntly here, you don't have to dig around the league, you know, very much to find - as my colleagues have said - to find examples and opinions about his treatment of women and this is something that's not a secret. And the fact that it's come out in the open twice now, and in that police report there's a third incident that chose not to be prosecuted because the witness did not want to go forward with it. It's troubling for a lot of reasons even if there was no crime strictly committed.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

Prof. SPENCE: Wow.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, this is Ruben. When I heard the DA say listen, I'm not going to bring charges, but grow up Ben. Grow up Ben.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. Exactly.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That was already the hint that obviously having read the - he read the police report before the rest of us did and there was stuff in that report and since we've picked up things out of that report and heard it talked about, clearly, this isn't just even like a straight sexual assault. This is like, you know, everything from public displays of things that ought not be displayed in public to sort of, you know, this idea of having sex in the bathroom to begin with it. And it all just rubbed the NFL the wrong way and the NFL commissioner the wrong way. And I think...

Mr. IZRAEL: And well it should.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think it's a really good and important thing that he's been suspended for six games because people forget, NFL, Major League Baseball, basketball, whatever, everything they have, all the money, all the fame, all the, you know, the fans love them and the whole thing, all comes from the league. It all comes from their participation in this very elite club. And there should be some understanding that it's not all about them. It's about the club too.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And when they disrespect the club then they ought to pay.

Mr. IZRAEL: And you know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see more stringent language in these people's contracts where there's a standard...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Sure.

Mr. IZRAEL: There's a new professional standard of decorum that actively discourages frat boy behavior. That's what I'd like to see.

MARTIN: Really? Jimi, that's interesting. What would it - well, actually that's interesting. Why?

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm just sick of it. I'm sick of it.

MARTIN: Because you need to be told not to rape women? I don't know. Don't hold women in the bathroom without their consent.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean any kind of frat boy behavior. You know, I'm just done with these grown men behaving like college students.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, maybe like the Fonz, you know, the whole thing.

Prof. SPENCE: You know what? This Lester and I am a frat boy, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: Lester.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Q. Go ahead, Q.

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah, so there's a challenge when we're using language like grow up like frat boy. What he's engaging in or what it appears he's engaging in is equivalent of sexual assault and harassment. That's really serious. And making it seem like this is like - I got three young boys at home. They're not doing this stuff, right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Prof. SPENCE: Right? I mean is really, really serious and he should use this opportunity to get help but...

Mr. TORRE: And here's a...

Prof. SPENCE: But...

Mr. TORRE: Oh, keep going.

Prof. SPENCE: Real quick. But real quick, the thing I'm challenged with is that I don't like the idea that Goodell has the ability to determine what violates the brand and what doesn't, right, just kind of sort of arbitrarily. I really like - that's when Jimi talked about language I think that's what he's talking about.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Can I ask Pablo about that? What about that?

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

MARTIN: That is an interesting point because obviously, you know, contract negotiations are coming up obviously with the players. Pablo, what about that? I mean this is a hard thing to defend but what about that? Is there any thought here that this just leads to - this is too much authority for one person to have over somebody's career?

Mr. TORRE: I mean...

MARTIN: I don't know.

Mr. TORRE: It does seem like that. And as I said, you know, it does seem unilateral at times. I just find it difficult well, first on a practical level, for the union to win - I mean the union will never agree to have specific provisions like that. I just can't imagine they would want that strict behavioral clauses to be universal among its players. I think they...

MARTIN: But they already have moral turpitude clauses.

Mr. TORRE: Exactly.

MARTIN: I mean I did when I was in broadcasting. I may still have one now. I have to call, I have check but when I was at ABC News...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SPENCE: I'm not (unintelligible) that one. No.

MARTIN: Thank you.

Prof. SPENCE: Right. Don't ask. Don't tell.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. TORRE: And teams do have such provisions. For example, I know, you know, riding a motorcycle, Ben Roethlisberger and the famous motorcycle accident.

MARTIN: Without having a helmet.

Mr. TORRE: Riding a motorcycle can be prohibited by team by team basis but having it universalized is very tough. What I just wanted to say also I mean is that Tiger Woods, you know, everyone talked about him and that was to use Ruben's words, cartoonish almost in compared to this. Obviously, that seemed almost tragicomic. This was simply tragic and it seems on a level because it has a criminal width to it, because it was allegations of sexual assault, this should be a bigger story in my mind than the Tiger Woods thing.

MARTIN: That's interesting. That's a good point.

Mr. TORRE: I mean the fact that you have police officers who were off-duty complicit with Ben Roethlisberger. I mean his assistants...

Prof. SPENCE: Right. That's right.

Mr. TORRE: ...were an off-duty state trooper and an off-duty cop.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. TORRE: I mean this speaks to a larger system in place.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Sure. How did those cops treat their victims? Exactly right.

MARTIN: That's a good point. All of these are good points. Pablo, we only have 40 seconds, I'm afraid. But we got to ask about the draft. Any surprises?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. I mean Tim Tebow going to the Broncos at the end of first rounds, I think him landing there is a surprise, him being picked ahead of more NFL-ready quarterbacks like Jimmy Clausen, is a surprise. But yeah, I mean, you know, people can talk all they want about Tim Tebow, I love the guy. You know, I just think he's great. He's a pure talent. He's a pure character. He's a guy who I think will be the opposite to bizarro Ben Roethlisberger, if you will, but sports has disappointed us before, as we well know at this point.

MARTIN: Okay. All right everybody. Thanks for everybody.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Lester Spence is a blogger and political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from our Washington, D.C. studio.

Thank you so much.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks.

Prof. SPENCE: Peace.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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