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Was Throwing A Badminton Match Really So Bad?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barber Shop, 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, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Lester Spence, political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. They're all here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. And, from Las Vegas, Fernando Vila. He's the managing editor of Univision News in English.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

LESTER SPENCE: Hey, what's up?

FERNANDO VILA: What's up, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Oh, Fernando. Are you ever home in Miami? I hear you check...

VILA: Almost never.

IZRAEL: Right. I hear you're checking out the journalism conference in Vegas this week. Good times. I hope - somehow, my invitation got lost in the mail. But anyway...

MARTIN: I know. Right. Mine, too. Right?

IZRAEL: That's so weird.

MARTIN: I know.

IZRAEL: But, anyway, let's get things started with big news today. It's - wait for it - the Olympics. What? You guys know we can't play any tape here. NBC owns all those rights, so you know, let me get this started...

MARTIN: Kick it off. Kick it off.

IZRAEL: ...with some Olympic spirit. We ready for this?


IZRAEL: (Humming Olympic theme song)

VILA: You should see us here in the Las Vegas studio dancing to that.

MARTIN: Yeah. That never gets old, until it does.

IZRAEL: Shout out to my college, Cleveland State University.


MARTIN: All right. It taught you well. You should get your own medal for that, Jimi. But, seriously, I don't know about you, I am glued to the tube. I am glued to the tube. I mean, I just think that the Olympics are just a great time, and I'm just - I don't know. My invitation got lost to that, too. Somehow, my plane ticket got lost. It all got lost, but...


MARTIN: ...but it's just been a very exciting Olympics and - I don't know. Did anybody here not watch Gabby Douglas get her medal?

SPENCE: I saw it.


MARTIN: She's the first African-American female to win an all-around gymnastics title. She's obviously continuing the American stretch in this area. I remember seeing Dominique Dawes, who was also a previous guest on this program, changed her website to say, from the only, you know, to the first to win an individual, which was exciting.

And swimmer Michael Phelps has become the most-decorated Olympian in history. Arsalan, are you watching, too? Are you?

IFTIKHAR: I can't take my eyes off of it. You know, it's - you know...

MARTIN: Biggest highlight for you?

IFTIKHAR: I mean, the biggest highlight, I guess, and the biggest lowlight probably was this whole badminton controversy with, you know, eight players from South Korea, China and Indonesia that were essentially accused of, you know, throwing matches - which is interesting in an Olympic context, how you could throw a match.

But I actually saw the matches, and what was interesting was that this was a round-robin style tournament. It wasn't a knockout tournament. And so once you qualified for the next round, these people were essentially throwing matches. And it was - but the funny part was that the entire crowd knew that they were doing it. So it's like me and Jimi playing badminton, and I hit the shuttlecock into the net. And it was Jimi's serve, and then he hit the shuttlecock into the net. And he'd be like, you win, Arsalan. And I'd be like, no, homey, you win. And the entire crowd was booing, and the referees actually, like, said, we will give you a black card. We will disqualify you, on TV. I mean, it was something that I have never seen before in the Olympics.

MARTIN: Well, yeah. You know, and for me - I mean, think about this. I mean, if - here you are. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to get to see an Olympics and...


MARTIN: And this is what you get? I mean, what's up with that?


IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: But, Fernando, you know, you actually are a badminton fan.

VILA: Yeah. I mean...

MARTIN: Did you know that this was a part of the strategy? I didn't. Did you?

VILA: I think it's more just the format of the competition. But, I mean, usually, when this happens, you know, teams will rest their players or something, but the players that are playing will try to win. This was just a bizarre spectacle, and I think it - I mean, I think it was totally warranted for them to be kicked off because it just - it was just totally tainted, sort of, the Olympic ideal or spirit. It was just a very, very bizarre thing to watch.

You know, the crowd was booing, and they felt totally cheated. I think the people at home felt totally cheated. So, you know, it's just - it was just very, very strange to me to watch.

IZRAEL: High stakes poker and badminton. Those are just two shysty, shysty pursuits. You know, at my house, you know, the Olympics is kind of like classic Depeche Mode. We just can't get enough. I mean, it's like - it's on every TV, all the time. And a lot of the time, I don't know who's who or what's what, but I've been really following my man, Mike Phelps, you know, because I dig him, because he's like the slackers' Olympic dude. I mean, he's like, yeah, dude. I mean, he - I mean, nothing really excites him too much. He's just like, yeah. Well, you know, what are we on? Like, 30 medals, 36? You know, that...

MARTIN: I think it's 20, but...

IZRAEL: It is 20, for the record, but you know, there have been some hits and there's been some misses. Dr. Spence, what are the best and worst Olympic moments for you so far?

SPENCE: The worst Olympic moment is just more about the Olympics, in general. I knew about Gabby getting the medal, like, eight hours before. You know, I would have loved to have been able - I have to go on a media fast to watch the Olympics without knowing the results, right? I have to cut off my Twitter, cut off my Facebook, you know, not go on the Web at all.

MARTIN: Why, though? It's news. I mean, I don't understand this.

IFTIKHAR: No, but the problem...

MARTIN: I don't get it.

IZRAEL: Nobody wants the spoilers.

SPENCE: I would've loved to see Gabby win it when she won it. Like, in that moment where she's waiting to see what that final score is, I knew what was going to happen.

IFTIKHAR: When the...

SPENCE: I would've...

IFTIKHAR: You know, funny thing is that you're absolutely right, Lester. You know, NBC has this monopoly on the Olympics and it's funny, you're watching all these news broadcast, and they're, like, OK. We have a spoiler alert. So, you know, if you don't want to know, close your eyes. And then they say it with their mouths...

IZRAEL: And then you run for the remote.



IFTIKHAR: And then, then they'll say, OK, spoiler alert. If you, you know, you put it on mute, and then they'll put - you know, they'll flash up who won the gold medal and...

IZRAEL: With the Chyrons up on there.

IFTIKHAR: Exactly.


MARTIN: But there's...

IFTIKHAR: It's crazy.

MARTIN: I'm just puzzled by this whole idea that we shouldn't tell you things that we know.

SPENCE: Well...

MARTIN: In what other area of life would people be telling the media, don't tell me what you know?

SPENCE: Well, note that I didn't actually put the blame on the media.


SPENCE: Right. What I said is Twitter and Facebook. So...


SPENCE: So, actually, all my friends are like oh, wow, my gosh. She won.


SPENCE: And I'm like you're killing me.

IZRAEL: Your so-called friends. Right. Right.

SPENCE: You're killing me. What type of friends are you?

MARTIN: What is it about the endeavor? I mean, isn't watching - I mean, we knew, because, you know, one of our editors was - we were in a meeting when we found out. And one of the editors came over and said, hey, she won. And we all went, yay. And then we, I watched it later. It didn't take anything away from me to still...


MARTIN: ...you still saw her face. You still saw all of what was going on. I mean, it just - I just think that's - I don't know. I know that's a point of view, but I'm - I'm just puzzled by it. Like, I'm just saying, in what other area does anybody say, don't tell me what you know? That's kind of our job. Sorry. I thought it was.

IFTIKHAR: And the difference from past Olympics is that this was, you know, one of the first few ones that had been time-delayed.

MARTIN: Right.

IFTIKHAR: You know, usually with China last time we had this 12 hour time-delay, so that they could play instantaneously. And so I think that that plays a factor, as well.

MARTIN: All right. Before we go, though, I don't want to start any mess - but actually, I do. Arsalan, are the women outshining the women on Team USA?

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely. Absolutely. I can't - I mean from Missy Franklin and Alicia Schmitt in swimming to the Fab Five gymnasts - even though we all know that the real Fab Five is Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose...

SPENCE: Go blue.

IFTIKHAR: ...Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

MARTIN: There's a new Fab Five.

SPENCE: Go blue.


MARTIN: History moves on. History moves on. History moves on.

IFTIKHAR: The women are absolutely outshining the men at the Olympics, and I'm proud to say that.

MARTIN: Anybody disagree?

IZRAEL: I don't.

VILA: I was sort of fascinated by the women's controversy in the soccer, the Hope Solo...


VILA: ...Brandi Chastain back-and-forth was kind of - I mean, you don't usually see...

MARTIN: Tell more about it.

VILA: Well, I guess Brandi Chastain was a former Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. women's soccer team, and she's now an announcer on TV. And she was commentating the U.S. - I think it was the U.S.-France game or something. And she criticized one of the defenders, and Hope Solo took to Twitter to just destroy her. I mean, it was brutal. And you don't usually see, you know, professional athletes sort of going after their former colleagues like that. And it was just a - it was just kind of a crazy thing to witness.


MARTIN: Interesting. Interesting. I think it's Colombia versus U.S., but I'm not sure.

VILA: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. You're right. That's true.

MARTIN: But I think it's Colombia versus U.S. OK. OK.

VILA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, one other Olympic note: I am also excited about the range of attire that women are now utilizing here. You'll note that when it was their choice in beach volleyball, more of the women covered up, and not for religious reasons, but because that's what they chose to wear. And that's one of the things that irritates me. It's not a choice unless it can be exercised in either direction. So if somebody wants to take their shirt off and show their sports bra, fine. But if somebody wants to put on more clothes, that should be fine, too.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

IZRAEL: Agreed.

VILA: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I was excited to see that. So...

IZRAEL: Agreed.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to our weekly Barbershop roundtable with writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, political science Professor Lester Spence and journalist Fernando Vila.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right, guys. Let's talk chicken. Now people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate have been organizing events at Chick-fil-A restaurants this week. From appreciation days to kiss-in protests, people are still fired up about comments Chick-fil-A's president made last month about same-sex marriage.


IFTIKHAR: Yes, sir.

IZRAEL: Arsalan, some of your hometown Chicagoans jumped into the fray. Mayor Rahm Emanuel expressed his disapproval...


IZRAEL: ...with the chain, and an aldermen vowed to block future openings. What's up with that? What do you make of all this?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think that this probably does get the ridonkulous award of the week, not only Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but Boston Mayor Menino, as well, basically saying that they would seriously reconsider whether to allow for expansions of Chick-fil-A restaurants - which is obviously, you know, completely in violation of the First Amendment.

You know, somebody who has legal business practices, you cannot, you know, you cannot discriminate against them just because you happen to find their political views repulsive. And even though, you know, I don't agree with the CEO of Chick-fil-A's statements, I don't think that that should be, you know, the death knell in terms of, you know, their business expansion. So I think that the mayors have overstepped their bounds there.

IZRAEL: You know what's interesting to me? Because I'm a supporter of same-sex marriage, as well as free speech. What's interesting to me...

IFTIKHAR: And chicken.

IZRAEL: Well, and chicken. Yeah.


IZRAEL: But what's interesting to me is that this is kind of what I like to call the "Seinfeld" effect. You know, it reminds me of when Jesse Jackson asked black people to boycott the "Seinfeld" box set, as if black people were lined up, had even ever heard of "Seinfeld," because of comments that Michael Richards had made...


IZRAEL: ...racist comments. What it ended up doing is it made that the top CD - the top-selling box set the following week. What I'm saying, people that had never heard of "Seinfeld" were suddenly curious. because they kept hearing the name. and they kept hearing the product. And...

SPENCE: No soup for you.


IZRAEL: And - right, right. And they wanted to support it for whatever reason. They wanted to support whatever Michael Richards rights to be crazy were. But in this particular case, that's all that's really done for Chick-fil-A. I mean, I had to do to my office, popped his head inside of my office. He's, like, Jimi, I know this is so wrong, but all this talk, it makes me want some Chick-fil-A.


IZRAEL: You know, I mean which is just wrong, but it's like, you know, I think this was the wrong way to go about this. You know, you can't shut down people's free thought.

SPENCE: Well...

MARTIN: Mr. - Dr. Spence.

SPENCE: Well, we should distinguish between - one is, real quickly, I find it interesting that Rahm Emanuel and other mayors are taking move against Chick-fil-A for this issue, but wouldn't take similar moves against big-box chains for not paying living wages, right? That's something they could do, but don't.

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: So I think that's really interesting. But we have to distinguish between mayors making moves and regular people saying we want to boycott this Chick-fil-A.

VILA: Right.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

VILA: Exactly.

SPENCE: And it's not just because of what they say, right. It's also because of them actually putting their money where their mouth is...

IZRAEL: Right.

SPENCE: ...them actually supporting legislation that condemns same-sex marriage. Right?

IZRAEL: Right. And for the record, you know, a lot of these people are late. That's what kind of disgusts me because, you know, I haven't been eating Chick-fil-A since the '90s.


IZRAEL: So a lot of you cats were trying to boycott it right now, you cats are mad late. There are so many reasons. There are many sundry reasons to dis Chick-fil-A. This is just the latest one.

MARTIN: Like what?

IZRAEL: They have all kinds of - they support all kind of causes and they donate money to stuff I just don't believe in. So, I mean, since the '90s I haven't rocked with Chick-fil-A. I rock with Wendy's.

VILA: I stick to Popeye's chicken myself.

IZRAEL: Yeah - woo, I can't do that.


IZRAEL: I - my tummy doesn't like Popeye's.

VILA: Their biscuits are unbelievable.

IZRAEL: My tummy turns Brutus whenever I put some Popeye's in it.

MARTIN: But seriously, but can you move without Popeye's, though? I mean, like, Popeye's is the official food of moving, isn't it?

IZRAEL: Is it really?

MARTIN: Like if you move from one place to another...


MARTIN: ...if you pack boxes or whatever, I don't think you can - I think it's in the Constitution somewhere that you have to have Popeye's. I really do.

IZRAEL: Michel, you got to step your game up, seriously.

MARTIN: You have to.

IZRAEL: Next time you move, call me. I'll hook you up.

MARTIN: Really?

IZRAEL: Yeah, for real.

VILA: There's a Popeye's chicken in the Hong Kong airport which is, you know, just globalization at its finest.

IZRAEL: Oh, man. Aye.


MARTIN: You know, for those of you who think that this is a misstep, I'm curious of what you think would have been an appropriate response by people who wanted to express themselves without stimulating all of this reaction, because one of the most interesting things I've read about this - and unfortunately, this was an anonymous writing So I have no way of knowing whether it's true. But I read an anonymous blog posting by a person who is a gay person who works at Chick-fil-A, who said it first, you know, who posted saying, you know, look. Don't boycott. This is my job. Just, you know, find some other way to express yourself. But then seeing all, you know, people coming in and being so aggressive about saying I'm here in order to oppose same-sex marriage and...


MARTIN: ...and felt and that person feeling very kind of bullied around that, kind of the aggressiveness of that response. I'm just wondering, like, Arsalan - I mean, I know that this is not your job, but what do you think would've been a better way to handle this?

IFTIKHAR: Well, again, I think taking both Lester and Jimi's points here, I think, you know, calling for a personal boycotts is definitely something that, you know, obviously, any American can do. But I think that it has had a negative effect. Jimi, you know, has talked about there have been stories where, you know, there have been people who are opposed to gay marriage who have never heard of Chick-fil-A before saying, I'm going to Chick-fil-A...

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: ...to eat me a burger, you know, to show my support of the CEO there.

MARTIN: The chicken. No. Chicken. There's no burgers there.


IZRAEL: Chicken burgers.

IFTIKHAR: Chicken burgers.

MARTIN: Chicken burgers.


IFTIKHAR: Yeah, the Chick-fil-A.

MARTIN: Chick-fil-A.

IFTIKHAR: Right. I got you. I got you.


IFTIKHAR: But, you know, that's just the thing. I mean, in this country, free speech begets free speech.

IZRAEL: Can't we all just disagreeing without being disagreeable? Whatever happened about coming to the table? And beyond that, you know, if we all check the politics of every officer that owns every company that we...

IFTIKHAR: Right. Yeah.

VILA: Yes.

IZRAEL: ...you know, we'd be running around hungry and naked. So I...

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. But one could argue the other way. I mean, there are people who would argue the other way. I mean, there are people who would argue the other way, that you should go out and check the politics of the people they you're supposed to be...

IZRAEL: I do want to live in that country. I'm sorry.

MARTIN: ...so that you can be a conscious consumer. I mean, that's their point of...

IZRAEL: I don't want to live in that country.

MARTIN: ...that's that point of view. OK, one more thing before we let you go. Anybody know who this is?


SNOOP LION: (Singing) You reap what you sow. Can't let that come when that peace won't fig row, no.


MARTIN: OK. But maybe you know this one. Maybe you know this one. Maybe know this guy.


LION: (Rapping) From the depths of the sea, back to the block, Snoop Doggy Dog funky as the...

MARTIN: That's the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg. He announced this week that he will be known as snoop lion. Jimi.

IZRAEL: That is so sad. And I'm...

IFTIKHAR: Come on, man.

IZRAEL: I'm so sad. No, I'm going to tell you why. This isn't like when Sinead O'Connor, when she made the transition from doing, like, mope rock to doing, like, really soulful reggae music, I mean, because it was - I mean, because she's an artist - she's a better artist, in my opinion, certainly than Snoop Dogg.

This is more about the money. Snoop has exhausted his options in the marketplace. You know, I mean, people are just sick of hearing, you know, I'm a Crip from Long Beach. They're done with that narrative, so now he has to figure out what the next move is. And reggae music sells to everybody. And, you know, that's all this is. This isn't about any kind of spiritual awakening. This is about an accountant awakening. He got a call from his accountant that said dude, you better get your record sales of real quick.

MARTIN: Arsalan, real quick.

IFTIKHAR: Listen, just because Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace didn't mean that we stopped calling Ron Artest. He will always, always been Snoop Dogg.



MARTIN: Quickly. Dr. Spence, quickly.

SPENCE: Yeah, I...

MARTIN: You wrote a book about hip-hop and politics. So...


MARTIN: ... mid-life crisis? Marketing ploy? Musical reincarnation? Keeping it fresh?

IFTIKHAR: Stop. They're all right.

SPENCE: Well, the thing is is that gangster rap joint, it has a shelf span. It just - it really - I mean, it has a lifespan. It isn't a good book to be 40, 45, still mining the same artistic terrain, right.

IZRAEL: Still Cripping. Still Cripping. Right.


SPENCE: So I think it's a good look.

MARTIN: Fernando, very briefly: He says he would like to be a judge in the next season of "American Idol." Should they give him a shot?

VILA: I don't know. That actually...

IZRAEL: Fo shizzle.

VILA: ...would be pretty funny. I just wonder if the feline kingdom will welcome him as much as the canine kingdom used to.


MARTIN: All right. That was Fernando Vila. He's the managing editor of Univision in English. He joined us from member station KNPR in Las Vegas. Here in Washington, D.C., Jimi Izrael, writer and culture critic, Lester Spence, political science professor at Johns Hopkins University and Arsalan Ifitkhar, civil rights attorney and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, all here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you all.


VILA: Thank you.

SPENCE: See ya.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.