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Doping Controversy Catches Up With Armstrong?


This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Now it's time for the weekly visit to the Barbershop. That's 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 joins me in our D.C. studio. Also here in Washington, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar. And joining us from Miami are Lenny McAllister - he's a senior contributor to Politic365.com and a Republican strategist - and Fernando Vila, the managing editor of Univision News in English.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Vivi. Welcome to the show.

HURTADO: I'm glad to be here, guys. Be easy on me. No new dos. OK?

IZRAEL: Oh, OK. Fellows, what's good? Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

LENNY MCALLISTER: What's going on now?

FERNANDO VILA: What's up, Jimi?

IZRAEL: Fernando, my dude. Mr. McAllister, where's Tracy Flick when you need her? Word to Tom Perrotta. What's up, man? How you doing?

MCALLISTER: Doing pretty well. How you doing today, child of God?

IZRAEL: Good, good, man. I'm doing good. I'm sorry for these obscure literary references. Let me just keep it in motion. You know what? So let's get things started with the news that cycling legend Lance Armstrong is done fighting doping allegations. He says he's innocent, but he won't contest the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

A statement released on Armstrong's behalf last night starts with, quote, "There comes a time in every man's life when he has to say enough is enough. For me, that time is now," end quote. Viviana?

HURTADO: Yeah, Jimi, and this all comes after the agency announced plans to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. They also plan to ban him from the sport for a lifetime. Armstrong says that he is done, as you said, talking about doping. But we have a clip of him addressing the accusations during a 2011 interview with the Texas Tribune.


LANCE ARMSTRONG: It started a long time ago. It started 10 years ago with a lot of talk and speculation, which is - you know, I think is part and parcel to being successful in what is widely viewed as, you know, maybe a dirty sport.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks, Vivi. Listen, whatever happened to your good name? You know, to heck with, you know, you being tired of fighting. I mean, listen, if it's my good name, I'm going to my grave, you know, fighting for my good name, because my kids have to live with that Armstrong name. You know, and so my kids are going to be the kids of that guy who just said, to heck with it. Enough is enough. I could be a doper or maybe I'm not, but I'm not going to fight.

You know, whatever happened to wanting to have a legacy to pass down, which part of your legacy isn't just your tennis shoes and your yellow armbands and the cool t-shirts. It's your name. Fernando, help me out here, man. You know, what do you think?

VILA: Well, no, I mean, you're absolutely right and I think that speaks to the point that, you know, it's very hard to believe that Lance Armstrong was innocent in this case. I mean, if he's giving up the fight now, like you said, I mean, he's tarnishing his legacy. If he were innocent, I mean, it would be normal for him to sort of fight to the bitter end. I mean, that's the sort of typical course of action.

I mean, the sport has been so tainted by doping that it's - you know, almost every single winner of the past 15 to 20 years is in doubt. It's just almost impossible to assume that he would be innocent in such a scenario. I mean, it's very, very hard to believe.

IZRAEL: A-Train, Arsalan Iftikhar, what's your take, bro?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, what's interesting to me is that, you know, what most people don't know is that there are 10 people that were ready to testify against Lance Armstrong. These included former team members, former doctors of his. I mean, these were part of his inner crew. And, you know, I think what he is banking on is the, you know, minutely short attention span of the American public. You know, for the vast majority of the American public, I still think that he is going to be remembered, you know, in terms of his legacy as the guy, you know, who beat...

HURTADO: With the yellow bands.

IFTIKHAR: With the yellow band who beat testicular cancer, riding on one grape, winning seven Tour de Frances. You know, what's interesting to note is that if he is stripped of his seven Tour de Frances, Greg LeMond will be the only American to have ever officially won a Tour de France.

IZRAEL: Well, now, he's going to be known as the guy whose testicular fortitude was in question in other ways, too. Lenny McAllister, weigh in on this one, bro.

MCALLISTER: Listen, good name, not good name. What we are forgetting about is the fact that this is a guy that is post-cancer. When you've gone through a significant thing in your life and you survive it, where your life was literally hanging in the balance...

IZRAEL: Right.

MCALLISTER: ...once you get through that, your good name and what other people think about you doesn't mean anywhere near as much. So, to Lance Armstrong, he's looking at all the money he's made. He's looking at the yellow armbands. He's looking at the fact that he broke the tape seven times. So he's saying, I did those things, and I beat cancer. I'm getting up in age. You know what? If this is what you're going to do, go ahead and do it. I still have a life that I fought for that I have to go live.

You know what? More power to him from that perspective.

IZRAEL: Arsalan's got something to add.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Very quickly, you know, I think this actually speaks more as a microcosm of the era of sports that we live in today, you know, obviously with Barry Bonds and steroids in baseball and things like that. Now we're sort of reaching the Malcolm X philosophy of by any means necessary, you know, needed to win in sports today. And I think that people...

IZRAEL: I see what you did there.

IFTIKHAR: I know, right?


IFTIKHAR: You know, I think people are more concerned about winning, you know, than they are about their legacy or their good name.

IZRAEL: Superman is dead.

HURTADO: And it's A-Train, isn't it, Arsalan?

If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado and you're listening to the weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Republican strategist Lenny McAllister, and journalist Fernando Vila.

Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Viviana. Well, you know, it's political convention time. Republicans are set for their big party in Tampa next week, provided Hurricane Isaac, you know, let's them, let's them have at it. Listen, you know, you can't control the weather. And Mitt Romney found out the hard way you can't control what your people say when the microphone is on. Listen, this week Republican Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri created a firestorm of comments about abortion and, quote, "legitimate rape."

Many Republicans, including Mitt Romney, told Akin to quit his campaign. He didn't. Viviana - oh, man. This is a mess. This is a real mess.

HURTADO: Let me pick it up here, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Sure. Sure. Why not?

HURTADO: Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan called Akin personally and urged him to step down. In an interview with a Pittsburgh television station, Ryan was asked about the controversy and his beliefs regarding abortion and rape. Here's part of the conversation.


JON DELANO: You sponsored legislation that has the language forcible rape. What is forcible rape as opposed to...

PAUL RYAN: Rape is rape. Rape is rape, period. End of story.

DELANO: So that forcible rape language meant nothing to you at the time?

RYAN: Rape is rape, and there's no splitting hairs over rape.



IZRAEL: Yeah. This - thanks, thanks for that, Viviana. This is a real mess. Akin is like - he's like, he's like a gift-wrapped present to the Democratic Party.


IZRAEL: But...


IZRAEL: I mean the other thing is, why don't people, why haven't we learned yet that there are some things that you just don't really talk about in the public sphere, some comparisons you don't make, some things you don't try to qualify - you know, Nazis, the N-word, and rape. You know, you don't qualify these things. You step back, you let the facts stand where they are, and - oh man, what a mess. A-Train, come on.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, this is Arsalan. As someone who - I went to college and law school in St. Louis, and I was actually in St. Louis when Todd Akin was first elected to Congress, and he was, you know, known to make gaffes like this before. You know, what's interesting, obviously, you know, in this whole legitimate rape debate is, you know, the term legitimate as though, you know, when something magical - when something legitimate happens, that women have some sort of magical powers, if they're...

HURTADO: I'll just put my mind to it.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, as actor Steve Martin said, you know, during a legitimate robbery, then women, you know, shouldn't lose their purses.


IFTIKHAR: You know, here we have a very tight Senate race between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin. You know, for many Missouri Democrats that I know, they want Akin to stay in the race because that gives Claire McCaskill a better shot at keeping her seat. And so I think this is an important microcosm of where, you know, party politics in America stands today. And I think that come November, the Missouri Senate race is going to be a pretty tight one.

IZRAEL: Lenny McAllister, I know you're a former consultant to the Republican National Committee. What do you think of this fight and this whole policy?

MCALLISTER: Well, first of all, I think that he got caught up in that adjective. And it's unfortunate because that forcible rape is something that's used in law versus statutory rape. So that when they threw that into the language of the law, he - I think he tried to use that in the interview and then it went from forcible to legitimate, which, by the way, he got himself in trouble bringing it up in the first place. But if you take a step back and you look at it from a Republican perspective, if you go back about nine months ago...

IZRAEL: Careful.

MCALLISTER: ...weren't Republicans - weren't Republicans...


MCALLISTER: ...weren't Republicans asking Mitt Romney to drop out of the race after a gaffe over a rich guy betting another rich guy $10,000 during a debate? Or Newt Gingrich saying stuff about...

HURTADO: This isn't a gaffe, though, Lenny, is it?


HURTADO: I mean it is, but it's really not.

MCALLISTER: Well, Viviana, what it - well, and that's the point. Not necessarily political gaffe, yes. A position or a mindset, no. And that's where it's not a gaffe, to your point. Is it a political gaffe? Yes. It's something that shouldn't have been said, shouldn't have been articulated the way it was. But when you look at the positions that some of my fellow Republicans have - and that goes back to my article today on Politics 365, you know, they don't have a diversity of life experiences in the party leadership right now, and when you don't have that, you come out with certain sterile views of the world that don't fit into modern America, and that's how you get these type of statements, that's how you get certain actions, and sometimes that's how you get certain policy positions from the conservative movement which bring this type of rub, this type of controversy, to the forefront every now and then.

IZRAEL: Fernando Vila, are the folks over at Univision, are they talking about this at all?

VILA: We are talking about it. And I mean I think it's - I think it goes back to what Arsalan said about Americans' short attention span. I mean I wonder what's going to happen if, if Todd Akin stays in the race and he eventually, you know, it's close and he might even win. And you know, this, this does seem to be a legitimate - or not a...


IZRAEL: D'oh. D'oh.

MCALLISTER: The new L-word.

IFTIKHAR: It's "Pee-wee's Playhouse" up in here.

VILA: It seems to be an actual policy platform of the GOP these days. I mean the wording he used was unfortunate for him politically, but I mean he was in tune with what the rest of the party sort of advocates now, and I wonder how in tune that is what the rest of the American people. I mean it, you know, no abortions in the case of rape and incest, it seems to be a pretty extreme positions to me.

MCALLISTER: But it goes back to - doesn't it go back to what ends up happening with both parties nowadays, where the extremes are taking over, they're the ones writing the platforms, they're the ones that are controlling the messaging? And then the superPACs, the superPACs are not people that are in the middle, they're not moderates. Those are usually people on the extremes. And if they are the people with the money and the access to the media, those are the messages we're going to hear, those are the messages that candidates are going to respond to and then it starts going down that path where a lot of us have that type of - uhhh- when it comes to dealing with American politics today.

IZRAEL: Let's - speaking of American politics, let's keep the ball in motion. President Obama was recently criticized for, you know, the company he keeps. He took part in a high-priced fundraiser with Michael Jordan, you know, that Michael Jordan, this week, as opposed to the other one. You know, tickets cost 20 grand a seat for dinner and a celebrity basketball game. What upset a lot of folks was who was on the guest list. I guess - I wasn't the guest list, so...

HURTADO: I wasn't either.

IZRAEL: So that was that. But it included Knicks player Carmelo Anthony, who recently appeared a while back in a YouTube video that's pro-drug use and anti-cop. A-Train, clutch the pearls, you know, is the president better off rubbing elbows...


IZRAEL: ...with - I mean he's rubbing elbows with like - oh my. Uh. Uh. I'm ferklempt over here, you know, can I get some water?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, it's, you know, it's one of those things that I think people are just grasping at straws, you know...

IZRAEL: You too? Really?

IFTIKHAR: No. I mean it, you know, Mitt Romney can have these, you know, high, high-priced fundraisers, you know, with his Wall Street types, but, you know, President Obama can't, you know, kick it with some NBA players to try to raise money for his campaign. You know, I think that this is a, it's a nonstory and I think that it'll blow over in a news cycle.

IZRAEL: You mean it's a nonstory about politics?

IFTIKHAR: I know, right, in the media?

MCALLISTER: It's not a nonstory. It's...

IFTIKHAR: Oh, come on, man.

MCALLISTER: You know, if you're sitting - if people are putting out YouTube clips about, you know, dope is OK and this type of lifestyle is all right...

IFTIKHAR: Carmelo - come on, Lenny...

IZRAEL: Hold - hold on. Let, let, let - let Mr. McAllister get in there.

MCALLISTER: But Carmelo is not the only one. Carmelo is not the only one. You can go back to Common(ph) . You can go back to other situations where President Obama creates these affiliations with people that are shady characters. And let us not even get back into the Chicago connections of four years ago. You know, there is a narrative when you start talking about candidates and who they're affiliated with. Mitt Romney gets slammed on this too.

One of the most effective ads that President Obama has had has been all these affiliations with Bermuda and tax shelters, 'cause it's creating an image. And Paul Ryan, they can't relate to the rest of America, which I agree with that. But if it works on the Republican side when you're attacking Republicans, it's the same way with President Obama. And again, he, President Obama is like a flag, he goes the way the wind blows when it comes to politics. If it's going to be cool and it's going to catch your attention, he does it. If he were more focused on the economy and things he needed to be focused on over the past four years, he wouldn't have to worry about hanging out with the Michael Jordan - who by the way, is now - now wants to be cool and be political. But 20 years ago, when he had a chance to speak up for the LA riots, said, you know what, Republicans buy tennis shoes too. So it's kind of ironic where you have these two folks that don't have a particular reputation for having much of a backbone when it comes to taking a stand, now hanging out with each other for photo ops.

IZRAEL: Lenny McAllister, voice of the people. Ladies and gentlemen, Fernando, Fernando Vila.


VILA: Politics is a lot of things, but the last thing it is is cool.

IZRAEL: Right.

VILA: I think if Michael Jordan tried to be cool, he would, you know, dunk on people and do other things rather than get engaged in politics. But, you know, it's like - Carmelo Anthony is not some sort of, you know, outside of the mainstream figure. I mean he's got millions of fans. I mean no one cared when he, you know, was lifting the gold medal with, with the USA Basketball Team, setting, scoring records and whatnot. And the difference between Bermuda and sort of who President Obama fundraises with, NBA players or not, is that Bermuda and the Cayman Islands and Swiss bank accounts is something that Mitt Romney has proven to, has been proven to engage in and is actually part of his own sort of activities. You know, fund raising in who you hang out with is much, much different than sort of your own financial transactions and all that, so...

MCALLISTER: No, but it's about values, right?


MCALLISTER: We're still talking about values.

VILA: Right.

MCALLISTER: We're still talking about values. So if you have the values to hide your money and you are the values to hang with quote/unquote "questionable characters," which I'm not calling Carmelo questionable. I'm saying...

IZRAEL: Yes, you are. Come on.


HURTADO: Guys. Guys. Guys. OK. Now. Now...

MCALLISTER: It's the narrative is being put out there.

HURTADO: The lady in the Barbershop as a word to say.

And Lenny, I just need to clarify very quickly.

IZRAEL: Save Mr. McAllister. Go ahead.

HURTADO: Lenny, Michael Jordan's comment, to clarify, has to do with the Senate race between Harvey Gantt and Jesse Helms.

Really, quickly, gents, got to get you to one more topic about Prince Harry. We've been hearing the controversy about the...


HURTADO: ...pictures of him getting naked, naked in Vegas. So I got to take it to you, Jimi, what advice, since you've given advice in the Barbershop before to, you know, the media...

IZRAEL: Very sparingly. Right.

HURTADO: What advice do you have for Prince Harry or anybody who is going to be partying in Vegas and cell phones and cameras and pictures?

IZRAEL: Dude, if you're rolling with security and they're not, they don't have your back like that, dude, watch the throne, cover the crown, man. What are you doing?


IZRAEL: Keep, watch the jewels, bro. What are you doing, man? It's a mess. You know, but this is the day and age we're living in, where dignity, you know, dignity is out the window. You know, no one cares. Again, this gets back to your family name, you know, so now, now you're legacy is holding your junk, you know, in a Vegas hotel room. Holy mackerel, Andy.

IFTIKHAR: First world problems. First world problems.

IZRAEL: Right.

HURTADO: Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and founder of themuslimguy.com. They both joined me in our Washington, D.C. studio. From member station WLRN in Miami we had Fernando Vila. He's the managing editor of Univision News in English. Also in Miami, Lenny McAllister; he's the author of "Spoken Thoughts of An Amalgamated Advocate in Today's America."

Thank you all so much.


MCALLISTER: Thank you.

VILA: (Foreign language spoken)

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MCALLISTER: God bless.

HURTADO: And that's our program for today. I'm Viviana Hurtado and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin will talk more with you on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.