Careers Of A-Rod, Chris Brown Ruined? A-Rod's bombshell confession of steroid use rocks Major League Baseball, a lovers' quarrel allegedly turns violent between R&B superstars Chris Brown and Rihanna, and reports of bad blood between President Barack Obama and the black press are all hot-button topics in this week's Barbershop.
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Careers Of A-Rod, Chris Brown Ruined?

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Careers Of A-Rod, Chris Brown Ruined?

Careers Of A-Rod, Chris Brown Ruined?

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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 whatever is on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, political science professor Lester Spence, and civil-rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, yo, fellows, what's up? Welcome to the Shop. How are we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Bonjour, man.

LESTER SPENCE: Hey, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Man, hey, yo, A-Rod is, like, A-Roid of a sudden, man. He's just - came clean, admitted that he was taking steroids back in the day...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: While he was playing for the Texas Rangers. We've got some tape, huh?

MARTIN: We do. He actually gave an interview on ESPN with Peter Gammons...

IFTIKHAR: Peter Gammons.

MARTIN: On Monday, and here's what he said.

(Soundbite of ESPN interview, February 9, 2009)

Mr. ALEX RODRIGUEZ (Third Baseman, New York Yankees): Back then, it was different culture. It was very loose. I was young; I was stupid; I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, I was worth, you know, in being one of the greatest players of all time. And I did take a banned substance and, you know, for that, I'm very sorry and deeply regretful.

IZRAEL: Oh, wow. I'm having a hard time fighting back the tears...

NAVARRETTE: Say it isn't so, say it isn't so.

IZRAEL: I'm having a hard time fighting back the tears now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: There's word on the street, Baseball Commish Bud Selig talking about a suspension, but we haven't seen one just yet. I don't know how you suspend somebody retroactively for something they did back in the day.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: That's going to be a real tough one. L Spence, man, welcome back to the Shop. How are you calling this, bro?

SPENCE: I'm of two minds. So, the first thing I'm thinking about is all the young, poor, black and Latino people who are actually in jail because of, basically, nonviolent drug crimes, right? And I'm like, OK, if they're getting time, they're going to be penalized for that, then these guys - something needs to be done about these guys, right? But on the other hand, people in baseball and in professional sports, have to take all types of medicines and medications in order to be able to play at the level they play at. So, steroids, among other things, enables you to compete without injury. In - over the course of a 160-game season, I mean, there's a lot of stuff that can go wrong. So, that...

MARTIN: Could I just say one thing? It doesn't allow you to compete without injury; what it does is repair faster. You repair faster.

SPENCE: Oh, thank you, thank you. And given that, it's, like, I would just say, open it up. If people are going to do it, just open it up and let people compete on that level, if that makes any sense.

IZRAEL: Wait, wait, wait...

IFTIKHAR: Wait, no, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Hold on, hold on down, wait a second. I want to be clear about what you're saying.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, be clear, yeah.

IZRAEL: It sounds like you're suggesting that we allow cats to dope.

SPENCE: Yes.

IZRAEL: Wow. So, just a free-for-all, huh?

IFTIKHAR: No...

MARTIN: He's not the first person to suggest this.

IZRAEL: The R, what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: The first thing that came to mind is, I remember during the Barry Bonds controversy, there was all this media hype about A-Rod. The media was already sort of packaging it this way. There was, like, Barry Bonds is tainted, but then there's A-Rod, and he's going to...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Eventually get to a point where he takes over the lead from Barry Bonds and gets us beyond all this because he's clean.

IZRAEL: Pshaw.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And that all came rushing back to me as I heard this story.

SPENCE: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: And it proves to me that - I don't want to believe it - but I think the super performers today...

SPENCE: Nobody's clean.

NAVARRETTE: The people who perform and play the game above the rim, to borrow a basketball analogy here, I think nobody is clean at that level. At that level, to be a super performer, I'm beginning to realize the fix is in.

SPENCE: That's right.

NAVARRETTE: Now, the last thing here is, A-Rod talked about having to make good on his contract. Here's a guy who gets $250 million contract; we all go to the games because we want to see home runs get hit.

SPENCE: That's right, that's right.

NAVARRETTE: So, I'm not absolving him of any responsibility but we are all involved in this.

IFTIKHAR: Yes.

NAVARRETTE: The owners of the teams, the league, the fans, everybody who says, OK, now, perform, hit the ball out of the park.

IZRAEL: A-Train, my man.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I don't have sympathy for him. You know, when people say, well, you know, he's making $250 million, you know, the pressure just, you know, surmounted on him, you know, at the end of the day, he knew what was allowed and what wasn't allowed, and that's the thing. You know, we have standards that we set today in our professional sports in terms of what is allowed and what isn't allowed. Now, if we allow everybody to 'roid up and be, you know, three-armed, 420-pound mutants with 2 percent body fat, you know, it takes away from the purity of the game. You know, do we want it to turn into the WWF, which is not, essentially, a professional sporting event anymore? It becomes just an entertainment portal. You know...

SPENCE: There are a lot of steps there, man.

IFTIKHAR: What I'm saying is that, you know, if we look at this holistically, looking at the sport itself, you know who I feel bad for is, you know, the guy who finished in second place for MVP voting the years that A-Rod won the MVP.

NAVARRETTE: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: True.

SPENCE: Oh, yes.

IFTIKHAR: I mean, seriously, guys...

NAVARRETTE: Right, right, right.

IFTIKHAR: You know, we have this obsession with a cult of celebrity to the point where people are getting to do things with impunity. And I think that, you know, we have to draw a line and say, listen, right is right; wrong is wrong. You do things in the privacy of your home, but when it affects what we are paying you to do, when you have an unfair advantage over everyone else, that's where we've got to call you out on that.

MARTIN: I just have to jump in. 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, and we're visiting with Jimi Izrael, Lester Spence, Ruben Navarrette and Arsalan Iftikhar. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Listen, speaking of leveling the playing field, you know, President Obama, is he snubbing the black press? Say it isn't so. Apparently, he's putting certain black journalists out front, but he's not calling on them. So, they're visually there, but they're virtually not there...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: You know...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IZRAEL: It's like when you have your in-laws at your house.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: You know, you sit them close to you, but you ignore them for as long as you can.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: It's like window dressing.

SPENCE: Yes, window dressing.

NAVARRETTE: It's diversity window dressing. We know it well.

IZRAEL: A-train, this is your boy, man. What's going on?

IFTIKHAR: You know, honestly, if we scrutinized President George W. Bush with such a fine-toothed comb that we're doing...

IZRAEL: Ah, jeez...

NAVARRETTE: Oh, back to Bush.

IFTIKHAR: No, no, no, listen. Let me finish...

IZRAEL: Aw, here we go.

NAVARRETTE: Who had 10 seconds in the pool? I win. I win. I said it would take you 10 seconds to bring up Bush. I win.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: The...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

MARTIN: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: I like the little Republican rope-a-dope that I just got.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: But moving on, you know...

MARTIN: We'll cut their mics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: No, it's all right. It's all right. We can take it. Listen, President Obama has not been president for one month yet. We gave President Bush eight years of the most monumental screw-ups since time immemorial, virtually, and we let things pass. I mean, seriously, are we going to fixate ourselves on, you know, seating arrangements or, you know, color coordination and things - I mean, honestly, like, we have some very serious things to worry about right now. And I just want to make sure that journalists are getting the word out. You know, I've been an Obama supporter since day one, but I want journalists to do their job and be able to, you know, report the news accurately, and I don't want to, you know, deal with cosmetic issues like this.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. I think this is a silly issue in a sense. I mean, think about the template here. Some folks, mainly folks in the black media community...

SPENCE: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: Are concerned that Barack Obama made an effort - his people made an effort to put African-Americans in the front row of the press conference, but then didn't call on them, but they called on everybody else in the row absent them. Then, we come to find out that some of the people, for instance, were from - one person was from BET, Black Entertainment Television.

IZRAEL: Right, right.

NAVARRETTE: And maybe the first black president was concerned about calling on somebody from Black Entertainment Television. It starts off kind of as a silly controversy, but you've got to keep in context here that - the concern, I think, from some folks is that Barack Obama feels like he doesn't have to do things that other presidents had to do, and that he is going to be able to slide on diversity appointments. And so, I think wrapped in the silly controversy is some real concern about black folks looking at Barack Obama and wondering if maybe there's a reason why he didn't call on the BET person.

MARTIN: Can I ask...

IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah...

MARTIN: Can I throw something in there, though, having been...

IZRAEL: I mean, listen...

MARTIN: I think I may be the only person here who actually was a member of the White House Press Corps. I do believe I was.

IZRAEL: For the Post, amen.

MARTIN: No, for the Wall Street Journal.

IZRAEL: I thought it was the Post.

MARTIN: It was the Wall Street Journal, Jimi. I think I'm familiar with my resume.

IZRAEL: OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I think I know where I worked.

IFTIKHAR: Moving on, moving on.

MARTIN: And you know, your feelings are always hurt at these press conferences. First of all, there's a distinct bias toward the networks...

IFTIKHAR: Sure.

MARTIN: Because the networks are carrying the event live, even though, you know, radio reporters are also - a number of radio outlets, including ours, carry these events, too. But there's always this bias toward television reporters because they think, oh, they know how to handle themselves; they're not going to freeze up and choke. And then he also called on somebody from the blogging community for the first time. I don't think that's ever happened.

SPENCE: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Right, right.

MARTIN: There are lots of different media outlets competing for attention these days, and I think it's not an easy thing.

SPENCE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And also, there are two African-American reporters from major news organizations. There's - Helene Cooper was there for the New York Times, and Mike Fletcher was there for the Washington Post, in addition to those who report for other outlets like CNN and so forth. So, I mean, are they not black, too?

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: Well...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, I guess here's - this is where this gets a little tricky to me.

IZRAEL: Whoa.

SPENCE: So, real quick: The politics of media are serious. So, yeah, yes, this is a surface issue. But people's jobs and their livelihoods are at stake. So, to that extent - it's not important to me - but I can understand why members of the black media are like, listen, you know, if you're doling out resources and someone asking a question, him making that choice, X as opposed to Y, that's a resource, and black media people should get as much of that resource that they fight for.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and then...

MARTIN: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Do they cover, though, the institution every day? There's also a bias toward...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Media outlets that cover the White House every day.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Now, some of these...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, that's right.

MARTIN: Actually did never cover the White House before. They are now. That's terrific, but...

NAVARRETTE: Well, you know what that is, Michel?

IFTIKHAR: Wait, come...

NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben. I'm going to get in trouble. I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but I'll just say it anyway.

IZRAEL: No.

NAVARRETTE: What Michel is talking about is sort of this idea of seniority, this idea of people who have been there all along, the networks have been there all along...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And that sort of goes against the grain of this very notion of bringing in new voices...

SPENCE: That's right.

NAVARRETTE: Like a Huffington Post or like a BET. And what was going to get me into trouble is it sounds to me like a grandfather clause. It sounds to me that for people who've been there for awhile, you're going to defer to the NBCs and the ABCs and CBSs...

MARTIN: OK, but then tell me what's the...

NAVARRETTE: But not the BET.

MARTIN: Incentive - what's the incentive for them to diversify their ranks?

IFTIKHAR: We weren't asking these questions for the last eight years. We weren't asking how diverse is President George W. Bush's, you know, press corps. These cosmetic issue - like, why is this a controversy? Why is this an issue?

MARTIN: Because it matters.

SPENCE: Arsalan, it is cosmetic, but it does matter. It can be both.

IZRAEL: Well, I think we have to keep it in motion and talk about something really ugly. You know, it's been reported that singers Chris Brown and Rihanna were involved in a violent domestic dispute on Grammy night. Chris Brown has been on record in GIANT Magazine as having some anger issues and problems with domestic violence in his past, and I guess he was on "The Tyra Banks Show," talking to Tyra - mm - about his past with domestic violence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: We got some tape on that somewhere?

MARTIN: Yes, but it was a fact that he was a witness to this when he was...

IZRAEL: OK.

MARTIN: A child. I mean - I'll play the clip. You can listen to it. It's Chris - this is Chris Brown on "Tyra Banks Show" in 2007. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Tyra Banks Show")

Mr. CHRIS BROWN (Singer): Basically, like, I, I know some people and their family go through domestic violence and stuff like that. And I had - I don't want to mention the person's name, but, like, somebody that hurt my ma, you know what I'm saying? And me having to deal with that from the age of, like, 7 all the way 'til like, 13, me seeing that and being, like - you know what I'm saying? - visually abused by it. So...

Ms. TYRA BANKS (Model; Host, "The Tyra Banks Show"): And how did it affect you?

Mr. BROWN: It affected me, you know what I'm saying - basically, especially towards women, I treat them differently, because I don't - I don't ever want to go through the same thing or put a woman through the same thing that that person put my mom through, you know what I'm saying? So - and it's not...

IZRAEL: Wow. That's deep.

IFTIKHAR: Wow.

MARTIN: That's a sad story.

IZRAEL: It's really deep and I...

MARTIN: And it has to be said that Chris Brown did turn himself into the LAPD the night of the Grammys later on, and he was accompanied by his attorney.

IFTIKHAR: And as of recently, his endorsements have been suspended for the Dairy Foundation and the Wrigley people, I guess the people that make that gum.

IFTIKHAR: Double Mint, yeah.

IZRAEL: Double Mint, yeah, man. It's all messed up.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know...

IZRAEL: And even a handful of stations have stopped playing records from his playlist, and what I'm hoping comes out of this - I'm not sure if his career is important at this point. For me, as a father, I'm not sure if his career is important. What I'd like to see him do is step up and come to terms with his abusive past, and then try to help other young men deal with having seen something like that and find some resources to cope with that kind of thing, because I think there are a lot of young men that come up in these domestic battlefields that don't know how to deal with this type of stuff, and they don't want to talk to anybody to detox, you know?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Because, you know, there's a stigma about that in our community.

IFTIKHAR: Right, yeah.

IZRAEL: And I mean, this is really sad, it's really sad and sick all the way around.

SPENCE: This is Lester. So, what I'm thinking about is R. Kelly case, and without talking about, you know, who's at fault or exactly what happened, I would hope that this incident could increase the discussion that we have on black radio and in black spaces about the relationships between men and women.

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: And then, there's another level to this, where there's some real serious gender politics that goes on in entertainment. In this case, it's not the same thing, but you've got black, male performers and then women who perform in their videos wanting to be down, and then there are power issues there. And we have to find some way to use - something positive has to come out of this, because I really - it'd really be tragic if one or both of their careers was just damaged but there is no lessons learned, if that makes sense.

MARTIN: I think that's a really important point, because one of the things I found concerning is that on a lot of the entertainment Web sites that particularly focus on entertainers of their genre, it's become this he-said/she-said and who is more at fault. And it's - that it's distressing, as you talked about the gender politics, it's like, oh, it's her fault because this; I'm going to take her down; it's his fault, this kind of thing...

SPENCE: Yeah.

MARTIN: How is that productive? Particularly, these are very young people. It doesn't shock me that very young people have some communications difficulties.

SPENCE: Yes.

MARTIN: And I applaud Chris Brown for having spoken about the effect that it had on him, watching his mother be battered at that age. I think that is a very important lesson for people to learn. But then to leave it at this is just heartbreaking to me. Arsalan, you wanted to say something.

IFTIKHAR: Well - right, and I agree with you completely, but even though it might explain future behavior, it should not allow that future behavior to go on with impunity. So, if he goes on to Tyra Banks in 2007, says, I was a victim of all this and I don't want to do this to another woman, and then he goes and does it to another woman, that obviously shows that there is a disconnect between the victim and the person that we know today. That's all I'm trying to say.

MARTIN: You're absolutely right. I just - I think what Lester is getting at is there's an ugliness about the way we talk about this and sort of a competitiveness of choosing of sides...

SPENCE: Yeah.

MARTIN: It's like the girls are supposed to be on this side and the guys are supposed to be on that side...

SPENCE: That's right.

MARTIN: And sometimes the sides switch, but there's something really distressing about this. This shouldn't happen to anybody, and the fact is, it is happening to somebody. Right now as we are sitting here, somebody is going through this. And it would just be really heartbreaking to me if all we got out of this is, it's a damn shame and they didn't sell anymore records.

IZRAEL: Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: That's right. I think Arsalan makes a good point about the Tyra Banks thing should not absolve him of future - responsibility for future actions. And either he was not being sincere in that interview, or the lesson that he thought he learned wore off...

MARTIN: Or it is such a profound imprint...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: That it takes a lot more work to get over it that you think is going to.

IZRAEL: Right, right. That's where I'm getting at.

SPENCE: And that's what Jimi brought up, right?

NAVARRETTE: Maybe.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: They just need to go talk to somebody.

SPENCE: Right.

NAVARRETTE: Maybe, absolutely. Could be, and maybe the point here is this is one of those issues that shouldn't be bandied about in the realm that people are talking about on entertainment sites and all those things that we...

IFTIKHAR: Yes.

NAVARRETTE: This is much more serious than that, and it's not just sort of, you know, did you see who's gained weight? It doesn't belong on that kind of genre, you know?

IZRAEL: Right, right, right.

SPENCE: That's right, absolutely right.

IZRAEL: I do hope this resolves itself to the good, and with that, I'm going to have to call it a wrap. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming to the Shop. I have to throw it over to the lady of the house. Ladies first.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Why, thank you, and I did forget to say Happy Valentine's Day to all of the men in the house.

IFTIKHAR: Happy Valentine's Day.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Happy Valentine's Day.

MARTIN: I hope you all get whatever chocolate and roses you're hoping for.

SPENCE: Happy Valentine's Day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE Online; he joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com; he joined us from San Diego. Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University; he joined us from the studios of member station WEAA. And Arsalan Iftikhar, the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil-rights attorney, joined us here in our Washington, D.C., bureau. Gentlemen, thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

SPENCE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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