'Shop Talk': Michael Vick's Comeback Is One For The Books
ALLISON KEYES, host:
I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
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 a shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports editor for The Nation and edgeofsports.com Dave Zirin, and NPR national correspondent Corey Dade, making his debut. Take it away, Jimi.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL(Writer): Thanks, Allison. Hi, how are you doing? Chicagoans.
KEYES: I'm good. I'm good. The Bears are looking good. Our quarterback is back for the moment. Yeah.
Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Yeah. And suddenly she wakes up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: How are we doing? DZ.
Mr. DAVE ZIRIN (Sports Editor, The Nation and edgeofsports.com): Hey.
Mr. IZRAEL: And DC.
KEYES: It was the defensive line I didn't have.
Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Doing just fine.
Mr. IZRAEL: And we got Hardcore to my right. How are we livin' man, you all right?
COREY DADE: What's up, man? I'm chillin'.
Mr. IZRAEL: Man, we makin' it work, bro. Let's jump right in. So, it's like this. Yo, think back a year ago when it was really Black Friday for Tiger Woods. It was in the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving.
Mr. ZIRIN: Swedish Friday.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: A 911 call to Orlando...
KEYES: There was no black in the...
Mr. IZRAEL: Tiger Woods had crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a tree in front of his house and he was lying on the ground. From there, the story spiraled downwards and Tiger Woods fell from grace, Allison.
KEYES: Yeah. And several mistresses, none of them looked black, somehow, came forward saying that they'd had affairs with the pro golfer. But since that Black Friday, Tiger Woods lost his number one world golf ranking, lost tons and tons of money, and is now officially divorced.
But, he says he's a better man for it, at least that's what he told ESPN radio. He was asked, if he hadn't been caught, would he still be living the, you know, la vida loca?
Mr. TIGER WOODS (Pro Golfer): I don't know. That's speculation. I really don't know. And all I know what's transpired in my life and where I am now. And I'm so much better now because of this past year. Obviously, it was very difficult on a lot of people, especially those closest to me. But it's been the best thing for me.
Mr. IZRAEL: And by that he means his accountant, his stock broker, his real estate agent. Thanks for that. So, you know, fellas, before the scandal, Tiger Woods had a squeaky clean image. But the knock on him at that time, you know, that was never spoken, he never spoke of his personal life back in the day. Now, DZ...
KEYES: That knock, was it a golf club?
Mr. IZRAEL: I'm not going - I'm not - listen, DZ...
KEYES: Alleged, alleged.
Mr. IZRAEL: Is the world a better place now that we know the dark truth about Tiger Woods and his extramarital affairs?
Mr. ZIRIN: Is the world a better place?
Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah.
Mr. ZIRIN: I don't know. The world's just as bad as it was a year ago. Look, I was going back and looking at some of the copy I wrote back then. And you know what? I still can't believe to myself that this became as a big story as it was, the story of famous golfer with nickname Tiger, has loads of mistresses.
Mr. ZIRIN: Look, if you went to college with somebody who was captain of the golf team, their name was Tiger, would you ever leave your girlfriend alone with them for a second? Not really. But I'll tell you this, though, looking back, and so sometimes I castigate myself, like, gee, did I really need to write six columns about it in three weeks?
But then you think to yourself this, he's the first billionaire athlete ever. It's the most dizzying fall from grace in the history of maybe all entertainment. Although LeBron is giving him a run for his money this year. And as was alluded to by Ms. Keyes, it raises all kinds of interesting issues of race, class, multiculturalism, what was covered up, what wasn't covered up.
So, look, there's enough there to make a six-hour miniseries. So I'm not hating on people for reporting on it, but at the same time I feel like I need to shower with steel wool now that it's all done.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IZRAEL: Hardcore, jump in here, man.
DADE: Well, as someone who actually covered him, I was on the ground sitting outside...
KEYES: So, you have to be careful (unintelligible).
DADE: On the ground with Tiger Woods. News at 11.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DADE: When I was a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, I was one of those reporters who was camped out in front of his house in his subdivision for days on end in those early days right after the accident. So one can make the argument that everything that he's doing now is a year late because when we were there, you know, he was - what was clear and what we reported is how terribly he and his team had mismanaged this whole thing the entire time. Bunkered in his home day after day, refusing to talk to the cops for at least at the first part of it, and then refusing to really refute these accusations that were flying from all these women.
So we reported that, you know, really, most of these decisions to bunker rested with Tiger himself. He wasn't listening to his inner circle, his closest advisors who wanted him to get out in front of this and try to diffuse it. And so it just showed how controlling he was and how unwilling to admit that he actually needed help.
So perhaps, you know, is the world better off knowing the so-called truth about Tiger? Well, you know, I think history's proven that any time an idol is destroyed it seems to be a rebuke of America's love for creating these idols in the first place.
Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train - thanks HardCore. Now that we know how Tiger gets down, can you get some sleep, bro?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I'm always reminded of the famous Nike commercial spot, you know, where you had all these kids from around the world saying, I am Tiger Woods, I am Tiger Woods.
KEYES: Kind of like the Michael Jackson thing.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: I think Nike needs to - Nike now needs to come out with the married man version where we're all like sporting our wedding rings saying, I am not Tiger Woods. Baby, I'm not Tiger Woods. Hell no, I ain't Tiger Woods.
You know, it's been, like Dave said, it probably is one of the largest and most profound falls from grace, at least for a professional athlete. Like Dave said, hes the first billion dollar athlete. You know, now all he has to do is win. I think that's the only way he's going to redeem himself within the sport of golf.
I mean, you know, you have, you know, Kobe Bryant who was acquitted of, you know, rape charges, who went out and, you know has won a few rings. Ray Lewis, who was acquitted of murder charges and, you know, just went out and played and win. I mean, I think Tiger just needs to focus on the golf course. He needs to win a few more Masters, and I think that's the only way that he can even have a chance of redeeming his legacy.
Mr. ZIRIN: That's one hell of a segue to talk a little bit about Mr. Michael Vick. Because I find it to be very fascinating - oh, by the way, are you allowed to say that's one hell of a segue, or are you just supposed to segue?
KEYES: I think we're in trouble now, and we're going to lose our license completely.
Mr. ZIRIN: Here's the thing about Vick, though. It's like, Michael Vick spends two years in Leavenworth, gets a seal of approval from the Humane Society, but not until he plays well on the field do you see national sports writers say, gee whiz, this person's worthy of redemption.
KEYES: Listen, the thing about Michael Vick is, okay, the Eagles have a record of seven to three, and all right, he's a great athlete. I saw that Redskins game that looked like college basketball, he beat the Redskins so badly. But I'm a dog lover, have not forgiven for him for the dog fighting conviction. He's an evil dog killer, great football player, I'm just saying.
If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're in our weekly segment, The Barber Shop, where we're talking with author Jimi Izrael; civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar; sports editor for The Nation, Dave Zirin; and NPR national correspondent, Corey Dade. Jimi, all yours.
Mr. IZRAEL: All right. So back to the conversation about Mike Vick. Hardcore?
DADE: Nothing cures ills like winning. I think to Dave's point, the SPCA and the animal rights activists really didn't - the bill of health that was so-called clean, the endorsement he got when he first got back in the league was grudging. It was not full-throated, it was sort of we'll wait and see.
KEYES: Well, yeah.
DADE: And, you know, at the end of the day, you know, what's clear is that now his - what he does off the field and what he does on the field seems to be fully integrated. What people need to appreciate is this is a cat who came into the league and never studied tape hardly ever and still made it the pro bowl. And so, regardless of what his past transgressions were, you know, take him for where he is, and, you know, Steve Young said it best on ESPN...
KEYES: Wait, I just have to back to you up for the people who don't know, what do you mean by studying tape.
DADE: Well, he never prepared for his opponents in the way that he needed to. So when studying tape - when you do that, you're talking about looking at the opposition, figuring out their tendencies, learning how to...
KEYES: Watching videotapes of the game.
Mr. IZRAEL: So it's the equivalent of like not doing your homework and still getting an A, basically.
DADE: Exactly. In this case he was getting, you know, he was getting, you know, B plus...
KEYES: B Plus.
Mr. IZRAEL: B plus, okay.
DADE: B pluses. And now, you know, when you look at someone like Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, when you look at someone like Peyton Manning, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, no one's going to be able to perfect the art and skill of being a pocket passer beyond them.
Vick is the opportunity for this position to actually transcend to the next level. And that's, I think, what we're seeing right now.
Mr. IZRAEL: A-train, the over and under, please.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, the over and under, you know, obviously, putting my civil rights lawyer hat on for a second, you know, he served two years in a federal prison. There are people who kill human beings and dont serve that time. And so, you know, I think that we have to look at this through a more, you know, objective sort of holistic prism in that, you know, homeboy did his time in Leavenworth, two years, and he came back out, and he's back to the same old bionic Mike Vick that we knew from Madden 2004.
KEYES: But wait, I want to know what Jimi thinks.
Mr. IZRAEL: About Michael Vick?
Mr. IZRAEL: I say, man, I love a good comeback story, you know. I wasn't a big fan - I don't really - look, people that are cruel to animals, there's something not right in the head, for me, you know. There's something that's not right in their head. But I'm kind of torn. I love a good comeback story.
So, you know, I mean, I'm not going to run out and get a Michael Vick jersey, you can forget about that. But he has served his time now, and I'm a big fan of, you know, you do the time - do the crime, do the time and live your life. So DZ, wrap it up.
Mr. ZIRIN: Dog lovers should be thrilled for Michael Vick's success. Because the fact is, is that there is no national consensus about dog fighting and the ill nature of it. In some states in this country its a misdemeanor. In some states it's the equivalent of a parking ticket. In some states it's a felony.
Mike Vick did not get convicted for either dog killing or dog fighting. He got convicted for a relatively new federal statute about transporting dogs across state lines.
KEYES: And let me be clear, I am not suggesting he is the only person thats been involved in this.
Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, no.
KEYES: Go ahead with your point.
Mr. ZIRIN: Nor am I suggesting - the point is that this shines a spotlight on it like nothing. I mean, I was speaking in a juvenile detention center in Oakland, California talking to kids about it a couple years ago, and they couldn't even understand that someone would go to jail for dog fighting. Theyre like, everyone I know fights pits. And it allowed for an actual discussion about it where previously one would not have occurred.
And that's why the Humane Society has actually embraced him, and a lot of people don't know. People may know Mike Vick is having an MVP season, and they might not know that this week he's in Connecticut talking to kids about this very issue.
KEYES: As he should be. All right. So before we let you guys go, we're going to talk about some music. I wanted to get your take on hip-hop mogul turned author, Shawn Carter, which of course everybody knows is Jay-Z.
He's got this new book out called "Decoded" which is part memoir, part explainer of what some of the metaphors in his rhymes actually mean. Here's Jay-Z talking on NPR's FRESH AIR, explaining the story behind his song, 99 Problems.
(Soundbite of interview)
JAY-Z: So now we're driving, and we're doing - we're actually doing something bad. You know, we're transporting drugs from New York to, you know, down south. And we get pulled over by a state trooper. But we get pulled over for absolutely nothing.
We're wrong. The cop is wrong. This conversation ensues, and it's racial undertones. And he says: Are you - do you have a gun on you, like a lot of you are? You know, just that statement right there. And the conversation between two people who are both in the wrong, but are both used to getting their way. So there is this clever banter that goes back and forth between the two.
(Soundbite of 99 Problems)
KEYES: So I have to ask you guys, do you think he sold out a little bit, or is he just opening himself, Jimi?
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, as you know, Allison, I teach a course called hip-hop narrative and film, and the question of authenticity vis a vis keeping it real often comes up. In my lecture to my students, I tell them that keeping it real is just being true to yourself. That's what the hip-hop ethos is about. It isn't about necessarily sagging your pants or, you know, carrying a gun or selling drugs.
That said, this is a rapper turned author and I'm down with that. And not for nothing, it bears witness - not witness, but it bears mentioning that he co-wrote this book with Dream Hampton, the unstoppable hip-hop journalist, Dream Hampton. So big ups to Dream Hampton. But that - all that in, yeah, I'm down with - I'm down with anybody with ambition.
You know you want to be - he started off as a drug dealer, and now he's an author and a mogul, what's next, you know? Yeah. So he is keeping it real. He's being true to himself. It's no sell out. Hardcore?
DADE: Hey, when people talk about rappers selling out, these days it's when they go from rapping to something they're not good at, like say, acting. But Jay-Z's never done that.
Mr. IZRAEL: I would disagree with that.
DADE: I don't mean all rappers are bad actors. I'm talking about the rappers who actually make that jump and are good at it when they get there. Some have actually done in convincingly, but, I mean, Jay-Z has never gone outside of his core competency, which is spitting lyrics and selling products off his ability as a lyricist.
So to me, you know, when history looks back on this thing called hip-hop, it's going to look at the music, the videos, of course, Tupac and Biggie, but now they're going to look at this book. They're going to look at this book as the thing that pulls back the curtain the craft itself. I mean, you know, he said it himself, he's not a business man - he's a business man. This guy rapped about telling dudes to stop wearing jerseys and they did.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right.
KEYES: That's true.
Mr. DADE: That's automatic credibility.
Mr. IZRAEL: Well, here's my thing. I'm going to push back on that a little bit, because I mean, look, I mean, 'cause Will Smith wasn't Laurence Olivier when he first started acting, and now he's one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.
KEYES: So, he's still not...
Mr. IZRAEL: And he's not, but...
Mr. DADE: But he's getting better at it.
Mr. IZRAEL: But that's right. So my whole thing is, as long as you're being true to yourself and you're trying to grow as an artist, more power to you. I mean, if you're doing anything for the money, you're in it for the wrong reason anyway. DZ.
Mr. ZIRIN: I just love this discussion. Because, like, can you sell out by writing a book? I mean...
Mr. IZRAEL: Right, yeah. Really, seriously.
Mr. ZIRIN: So often writing a book is old media. Nobody reads anymore. And honestly, as someone who's written some books, you sell 10,000 copies of a book you're doing well for yourself. You sell 10,000 copies of a record, you better move to Siberia.
Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right.
Mr. ZIRIN: So it's a very different industry.
Mr. IZRAEL: That's right.
Mr. ZIRIN: And if it gets people to read, that's good. That's why I don't hate on Harry Potter either. Anything that gets people to pick up a book and read is a positive because the written word, the art of the graceful sentence, is something that we cannot afford to lose as a species.
Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train, you're not knocking the hustle are you?
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Never. I mean, to anyone who said that Jay-Z is selling out, don't hate the player, hate the game. I want him to keep dropping dimes like Jesus Shuttlesworth.
KEYES: On that note - wow. Jimi Izrael - all right. All right. Jimi Izrael is author of the book, "The Denzel Principal." He typically joins us from Cleveland, but today is right here in Washington. Also with us here in Washington is NPR's national correspondent, Corey Dade. Also here is sports editor The Nation and edgeofsports.com, Dave Zirin. And last but not least, we have Arsalan Iftikhar, who is the founder of themuslimguy.com, and is also a legal fellow for the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding. He joined us from Chicago today. Thanks guys so much.
Mr. DADE: Thank you.
Mr. IFTIKHAR: Thank you.
Mr. ZIRIN: Thank you.
Mr. IZRAEL: Yep Yep.
KEYES: And that's our program for today. I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin will back to talk more on Monday.
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