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Rutgers Coach Firing: Have We Gotten Too Soft?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now 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 writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael; he's with us in our Washington, D.C., studios. Pablo Torre is a senior writer for ESPN; he joins us from our bureau in New York. From member station WLRN in Miami, we have Univision's Fernando Vila; and National Review columnist Mario Loyola joins us from member station KUT in Austin, Texas.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellows, welcome to the Shop. How we doing?

PABLO TORRE: What's up?

FERNANDO VILA: What's up, Jimi?

MARIO LOYOLA: (Foreign language spoken)

IZRAEL: Hey, we need some coffee. What's up? Holy mackerel.

MARTIN: Definitely Cuban.

IZRAEL: Well, listen. I guess we'll get excited in a minute, when we start talking about hoops, but let's start the Shop off with a war of words. It's about the term "illegal immigrant." The Associated Press has decided it's outside the borders of acceptable news speech, so it won't use illegal immigrant anymore, in its reports. Michel, you want to take it from here?

MARTIN: Yeah. They posted - the AP posted a blog on Tuesday saying that it will only use the word "illegal" to refer to actions, and not people. So "illegal immigration" is OK; "illegal immigrants" is not OK. And you know, maybe this seems like a small thing to some people, but this has been a very big issue in the media; and activist groups have really taken this on, particularly people who have a more expansive view of immigration than, you know, others - who take the more expansionist view have been really agitating about this issue.

Just - if you're interested, a lot of news organizations follow the AP style guide, but we've asked our folks at NPR what our plan is. And they say they'll handle this on a case-by-case basis until that changes, and we'll let you know if it does. So I don't know. I'm very interested in what people think about this.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, Fernando, let me throw this to you. A Univision reporter was one of the first to break the news that AP was dropping illegal immigrant. What do you guys say over there?

VILA: Yeah. Cristina Costantini has been on this issue for a long time for us. You know, we feel it's - you know, it's important, first, to be accurate in the news. And the term illegal immigrant is actually inaccurate for a lot of reasons. Outside of that, you know, the way you describe people matters a great deal. And it's very easy, when you describe someone as an illegal human being, to jump to the conclusion that then they don't have rights, or they don't have any sort of ability to be - you know, to have the sort of due process of the law and things like that.

So you know, the way the language is used can have effects beyond just describing a person. So we thought it was very important for our audience that this would be - that this change...

MARTIN: OK. But Fernando, the legal term is...

VILA: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...illegal alien, so...

VILA: Right.

MARTIN: ...if you really wanted - if the issue is really just accuracy, then why don't we just use illegal alien?

VILA: Well, that's actually not true, you know, and because the - so there's definitely...

MARTIN: There's resident alien. I mean, if you look at the documents, they say resident alien.

VILA: There's removable alien or, you know - but in a legal - you know, an illegal alien is not actually the correct legal term, you know, just as legal immigrant is a redundant legal term. It doesn't exist, so it's not exactly - the correct way to do it is to describe the action. You know, cross the border illegally or, you know, overstayed his visa or, you know, because there's a variety of different cases that sort of describe what a person is. It's not all - they're not all the same thing.

IZRAEL: Mario Loyola, you - Super Mario, why don't you get in on this? Are you going to stop saying illegal alien? I'm sorry - illegal immigrant.

LOYOLA: Well, yeah. If my - what I love about this is that at the next Christmas party, I'm going to be able to tell my sisters that they can't call me a bad salsa dancer because dancing is an activity. And it doesn't make me a bad person that I can't do it. So that's what I - I just love this principle.

I mean, no. Look, I mean that's - if AP were to apply this principle consistently, it would start to produce all kinds of absurd results very, very quickly. I mean - so committing a felony is an activity; so therefore, it's wrong to describe someone as a felon. Rape is an activity so therefore, it's wrong to describe someone as a rapist. I mean, I don't know.

VILA: But Mario, I'll just ask. Have you ever parked illegally, or have you ever driven over the speed limit? Are you an...

LOYOLA: Sure. That's makes me...

VILA: ...illegal person? Are you an illegal driver?

LOYOLA: ...an illegal parker...

VILA: But no one would ever - but no one would ever describe you as such.

LOYOLA: Well, that just happens to be - that just happens to be the fashion nowadays. I mean, what's at the root, I think, of all this is that you can't - as a linguist friend of mine says, you can't change the way people think about something just by changing what you call it.

IZRAEL: You can't?

LOYOLA: And a lot of this is confusing...

VILA: That's not true.

LOYOLA: A lot of this is confusing...

TORRE: Yeah.

LOYOLA: ...using current fashion with eternal truths. And, you know; if I'm parked illegally, call me an illegal parker. It's not even, actually, grammatically incorrect.

MARTIN: Well, that's an interesting question. I don't know. Pablo, what do you think?

TORRE: Yeah. I mean, I just feel like language at this point is so deeply stigmatized that it fails. As Fernando implied, it fails to capture the variety. I mean, the language, and the way it is understood in the common language, fails to describe the complexity of what it means to be a quote, unquote, "illegal immigrant."


TORRE: And there is a human dignity issue. I mean this is what it's about. Look, we make concessions like this all the time in society in terms of what we call things. I don't think it's a perfect parallel, but we don't use the word mentally retarded, right? We say something else. And I'm not comparing those things, they're not a perfect parallel, but why do we do that? It's because there's a class of people that we feel like that fails to describe that does not afford them the appropriate human dignity given the context in which its used and I think illegal immigrant at that point has reached that level.

MARTIN: But Pablo, the reason it's stigmatized is that interest groups have made a concerted effort to stigmatize it...

TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: ...for political reasons and they are entitled to their political...

TORRE: ...of course. Of course, we're not denying that.

MARTIN: They are entitled to their political reasons for so doing. But it's not inherently stigmatized. It's stigmatized because there's been a political effort to make it stigmatized. Right? So...

VILA: Well, that brings up an interesting question sort of, you know, who can ascribe that, right? They themselves probably feel offended by the term, you know.

MARTIN: No, I think it's an interesting question. Like the whole question of slavery...

VILA: So it's not just activists groups.

MARTIN: ...like even like, for example, we make a concerted effort, instead of saying slaves because that implies that your entire condition is of enslavement to say enslaved Americans, Americans who are enslaved or people are in the condition of being enslaved.

TORRE: And Michel...

MARTIN: A lot of historians feel that that's very important because the implication then is that it's because these adjectives become reductionist, you are only, you are only your condition and so...

TORRE: Right. And also I think - just to add one more quick thing - I think it's a question of who is really hurt by this? I mean is anybody really thinking that if we don't use the term illegal immigrant that we're going to fail to describe the fact that they're not here legally? I mean it's more vague. I think it's a cost-benefit analysis here. I don't think the slippery slope is the thing we have to fear here. I think the greater harm is in the social cost of stigmatizing an entire class of people when there is a solution that may take three more words.

IZRAEL: Well, Pablo, you know, so wait a second.

LOYOLA: So it's been known as a stigmatizing label now?

MARTIN: What does Jimi think? Jimi?

IZRAEL: Well, Pablo, you know, it was going to take a hit on this. Journalists have to go out and buy a new AP Stylebook like me and you. But when I, I've done a lot of writing for newspapers and magazines and I've also done a lot of writing for the cause space where we talk a lot about immigration issues. And when I've had to use these kinds of - I mean I use them interchangeably. And when I've worked with editors we all kind of sit back and kind of just brace ourselves and whoever screams the loudest or whatever emails we get on whatever side of a term, you know, very often decides whether or not we will use it again. So I don't know, on some level I see Mario's point. On some level I see Pablo's point. You know, it's a term of the week. It could be something different next week. So, I don't know, I just know I got to pay that money. I got to pay that, what is that, 25 bills for another AP Stylebook? Yikes.


MARTIN: I think you'll be OK.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I'll be all right.

TORRE: Your sources are free.

MARTIN: We're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We are joined by author Jimi Izrael, sports writer Pablo Torre, National Review columnist Mario Loyola, Univision's Fernando Vila.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's head over to the world of college basketball, where some foul talk from a coach stole headlines from the Final Four. Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired this week after videos of him cussing and hurling basketballs of his players hit the Internet. Holy Mackerel, Andy. Well, here's a short - and I do mean short - clip that gives him, gives you the listener, an idea of what was going on.

MIKE RICE: (Unintelligible) (Beep). You're a (Beep)...

IZRAEL: That sounds like my grandfather watching Tiger Woods play. May he rest in peace. Now there were several clips like this released by ESPN. But I understand Coach Rice was a little more eloquent in his apology. Right, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, he was interviewed after he was fired and he talked to, Pablo, he talked ESPN, correct?

TORRE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Right. OK. And this is what he had to say. This is a short clip of what he had to say. Here it is.

RICE: As I stated three months ago, after I watched the video, how deeply regrettable those actions. I also stated I was going to try to work on changing and I think I've accomplished a lot of that.

MARTIN: So after this, you know, there are so many interesting things about this but one is that this information was - this behavior was known to the university like three months ago.

TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: And that he was put on a behavior modification plan and he was fined and suspended for a couple of games. But then after it went public he was fired. Now the Rutgers assistant coach Jimmy Martelli and athletic director Tim Pernetti have reportedly left their posts. The assistant coach, I believe, he resigned voluntarily or at least this is how it's been reported, saying he was just disgusted at having been a part of this. So, but there are people who are also calling for the president to resign, Robert Barchi to quit. As of this particular he hasn't. I'm really interested in what you all think of this because I, well, I just feel that we have very long turned a blind eye on how we treat young men. It's almost as if we feel like abuse doesn't apply to young men. And I also cannot help but note that Bobby Knight, the longtime coach of Indiana, famous for throwing chairs at one point, grabbing players and so forth, is now making commercials for a fast food chain. So...

IZRAEL: Right. And...

MARTIN: ...which makes fun of the fact that he threw chairs at people. And I'm just like what's up with that?

IZRAEL: And, you know, Pablo, I was reminded of that story out of the Ledger in Florida back in 2000, when that coach grabbed that kid from the boys and girls school for missing a catch and he shook them and he threw him down and broke both of his arms. And I'm just thinking to myself what's going on here? What's happening to sports culture? You know, and here we got Coach Rice, he's finally, finally getting fired after these things come to light. You know, any justice served here?

TORRE: Too - I mean too little too late...

IZRAEL: Right.

TORRE: I think Robert Barchi, anybody who saw this tape or was complicit in the decision to only suspend him three, you know, three games or whatever it was initially in December, and thought that this would blow over, that's mind-blowing to me and I think you're totally right. Look, there is a culture of this that pervades sports generally and no one is proposing - no reasonable person proposes, I think, that practice needs to be a hold everyone's hands group therapy session. No one thinks that. Shame, ridicule, up to a line, that's fine. The reason...

IZRAEL: Where's the line? Where is the line?

TORRE: Well, exactly. I mean the reason, I think you draw the line - I mean here's the example that we can draw here: no homophobia, no derogatory remarks towards women, no xenophobia - he was insulting a student from Lithuania - no physical abuse, no bullying and those are somewhat amorphous terms but...

LOYOLA: No bullying?

TORRE: Well, no bullying as in, you know, using the power dynamic of an adult to shame a student excessively.

IZRAEL: So it sounds as if you...

LOYOLA: Oh my goodness.

IZRAEL: Well, yeah, you've described the candy gram, Pablo. I don't know how you can effectively coach with...

TORRE: Well, what kind of society do you want to live in? I mean if you want to say bullying is OK then we open the door that I think is way more harmful than trying to draw a line, don't we?

IZRAEL: I don't know if you ever hear me say bullying is OK but, you know, when you're a coach you have to motivate. You have...

TORRE: Of course. And, look, I'm saying left to reasonable people we can debate these terms but the main point of this is that this was clearly over the line and it took this long for him to get fired and you do wonder if hypothetically there's a more successful coach out there who does many similar things that are over the line, how long it would've taken because this guy was not a winner on the court.

IZRAEL: Bobby Knight. Fernando.

VILA: Yeah.

IZRAEL: What do you think of this, man?

VILA: Well, I just think that there is a, there's a sort of culture in sports that sort of says that in order to motivate and in order to sort of achieve success you need to be this sort of dictator tough guy. And that's not always true. I mean it's not...

TORRE: Right.

VILA: There's plenty of coaches that have achieved, you know, great success.

MARTIN: I know. Has anybody heard of Tony Dungy?

TORRE: John Wooden.

MARTIN: And he's Super Bowl winner...

VILA: Tony Dungy is a great example of...

MARTIN: ...never, doesn't raise his voice. He doesn't really believe in yelling at people.

VILA: And, yes. I mean anyone who watches that video, like Pablo said, he clearly crossed several lines. I mean, you know, where you draw the line is, you know, is always a little bit of a case-by-case basis, but in this particular video he clearly crossed the line.

IZRAEL: Yeah. It was...

MARTIN: What does Mario think is?

LOYOLA: Yeah. This just brings up nightmares to me of, you know, of staff sergeants in the U.S. Army having to undergo sensitivity training and stuff like that. I mean what I would like to know is - and it's easy for us to sit back and render judgment on this completely divorced from the context. Nobody's told us what the players on this team think. I mean that to me is the context that's really important because it wouldn't surprise me at all if, you know, with very few exceptions, most of the players on the team think that this coach was great and wanted to keep him on and that's probably why the...

MARTIN: Well, three players transferred.

TORRE: Well, some said that they liked and some said that they didn't. I mean it's not, I agree with what Mario is saying, it's not a slam-dunk case where everyone was sort of mutinying, but there's...

LOYOLA: Yeah. And I think that, you know, and the important thing here is there's a fine line, right, between like the tough drill sergeant that we kind of, that's kind of typical and traditional in this sort of role and somebody who is really abusive and I think that you maybe can't tell that from a simple video.

MARTIN: Are they at war here? I'm sorry. Aren't they playing basketball?

VILA: Right.

MARTIN: Are they had to defend the country? Are they here to defend the Constitution and the safety of the people of the United States? No, they are not. They're playing basketball. I don't understand this war analogy for you're just throwing balls at people's - from what I saw, throwing balls at people's heads, throwing balls at their private parts and, you know, calling them these derogatory names. Is that - I don't understand what - I don't know. Maybe it's - what that has to do with motivating people. I'm sorry.

TORRE: I think that is a blade upon sports, I mean to be perfectly honest. I think there are a lot of good things that come out of tough love and of being the big tough guy and all of that.


TORRE: Bobby Knight has his virtues but at some point you've got to push back because this is - I mean if you want to talk about slippery slope, allowing the door to open for a coach to basically have free reign in this way is really troubling.

LOYOLA: Yeah, a slippery slope but...

MARTIN: Well, I understand what Mario is saying that any time you correct somebody's posture and if you put your hands on somebody to correct somebody's posture or stance you're going to be accused of harassing them. You know, one hopes not but I don't - well, I don't, anyway. OK.

TORRE: Right.

VILA: A slippery slope goes both ways.

MARTIN: It does go both ways. OK. We have a minute left so we have to have the picks. We have to have the picks. I think I'm still in the hunt, amazingly enough, even though I think the, you know, I went with my heart, not my head for the championship. Everybody knows this: Georgetown. But what about other people? OK. Pablo, you know, go ahead.

TORRE: Yeah, I mean it's hard to, I mean look, my bracket has been exploded long ago. I picked Georgetown too, Michel.

MARTIN: Oh. I'm so touched.

TORRE: But Louisville, I mean the Kevin Ware thing, you could debate how unseemly it is now, that people are trying to profit and sell T-shirts on him and his number and all that. But Louisville is not only the best team in the tournament that's left, but they have this crazy emotional boost that's actually not overdone. They actually feel the impact of this kid getting hurt and sort of motivating them. So it's really hard to pick against them to go all the way at this point.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you like?

IZRAEL: I love Louisville. I love a good story. This one has win one for the Gipper written all over it. Yeah. I'm down with Louisville.

MARTIN: Mario, what do you like?

LOYOLA: Yeah, I've got to say Louisville is going to beat them.

MARTIN: Fernando, what do you like?

VILA: My childhood idol was Tim Hardaway growing up, so I'm going with Michigan.

MARTIN: You're going with?

VILA: Michigan, the University of Michigan.

MARTIN: Michigan. OK. OK.

TORRE: Tim Hardaway Jr. on that team too. He's out there.

MARTIN: All right. Our editor, Ammad Omar, will be your friend. So we'll see.


MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll have to see. We'll check back and we'll decide whether we use the tape to embarrass all of us are not. All right.

TORRE: Please don't.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College, with us in Washington, D.C. Pablo Torre is a senior editor for ESPN. With us from New York, from member station WLRN in Miami, Univision's Fernando Vila, and National Review columnist Mario Loyola at member station WKUT in Austin, Texas.

Thanks everybody.

TORRE: Thank you.

VILA: Thank you.

LOYOLA: Chow-chow.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.