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Barbershop: UofL Basketball Ban, Football Concussions And The NFL Women's Summit


Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we gather a bunch of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this weekend are Kevin Blackstone, sports columnist and contributor to ESPN's "Around The Horn." Kevin, welcome back.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Out in San Francisco, waiting for the start of Super Bowl 50, Kavitha Davidson is sports writer for Bloomberg View. Hi, Kavitha.


MARTIN: And also welcome back to the Wesley Lowery, reporter for The Washington Post. Good to see you, too.

WESLEY LOWERY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So is everybody looking forward to Super Bowl Sunday?


LOWERY: Every time, always.

DAVIDSON: Very much so.

BLACKISTONE: And getting it over with.

MARTIN: And getting it over with. I can imagine for those of you who are not civilians, right? The rest of us it's fun, but for you all it's work. But before we start on football, I have to ask you about some news from the world of college basketball. I'll start with you on this, Kevin. On Friday, the University of Louisville announced a self-imposed ban on postseason play for their men's basketball program. The - of course, the team would have been a lock for the ACC and for the NCAA tournaments. And I think we've talked about this before that the program has been under investigation after allegations that the team or somebody connected to the team hired exotic dancers...


MARTIN: ...And escorts to entice recruits. So Kevin, how big of a deal is this?

BLACKISTONE: Well, it's a huge deal. This another embarrassment personally for Rick Pitino, who's the coach, under whose watch this apparently happened, although he says he has no knowledge of it. The NCAA calls that lack of institutional control. And I think given the lured nature of these charges - I've said it before, I've written before, Rick Pitino should step aside.

MARTIN: I don't get the self-imposed ban piece. I don't...

BLACKISTONE: Well, they're trying to get ahead of the NCAA. They're trying to say look, we are acknowledging we have some problems here. We're going to penalize ourselves first so hopefully if you decide to penalize us, you will be a little bit more lenient for us.

MARTIN: Has that ever happened?

BLACKISTONE: Yeah, it happens all the time. It's a...

MARTIN: Does it work? I mean, do people...

BLACKISTONE: It does work. It's a card that people play all the time.

MARTIN: Kavitha, what are your thoughts about this? Go ahead, Kavitha.

DAVIDSON: Well, you know, I think you always have to look up at what the school gets out of it. And, you know, this isn't some magnanimous oh, you know, we're mea culpa, we're admitting that we did something horrible and, you know, we deserve to be punished so we're just going to do that to ourselves. They're trying to evade a similar decision by the NCAA, which likely would have come after this season and would have affected their future recruiting.

MARTIN: OK, well, a lot to think about there. That'll be interesting to watch, particularly as March is soon upon us. And it will be really interesting to see what happens as the - you know, March without the University of Louisville will be kind of interesting. So all right, on to the Super Bowl - if you are breathing in the United States (laughter) then you are aware - whether you care or not - the Carolina Panthers, the Denver Broncos, they're going head-to-head in Super Bowl 50. It will be held in San Francisco on Sunday. But Wesley, I'm going to go to you on this because you're our kind of civilian, right?

LOWERY: Exactly, right. I'm sitting here taking this in. I'm...

MARTIN: Taking this all in, right. You know, this is a year - I'm going to go to our sports professionals in a minute - but this is a year in which there's been so much around the sport - you know, domestic violence, there's the cheating scandal, there's publicity everywhere around the health effects of the sport. Is any of that swirling in your mind as you watch this event?

LOWERY: Of course. I mean, I've actually seen in the last few years - you know, and I used to be a very adamant follower of the NFL. Basketball's always been sport number one, but football was a close second. And as these types of stories have boiled up time and time again, these questions - whether it be ethically, whether it be cheating, whether it be health wise - you know, what does football mean, and what does it me to us culturally but also what type of environment is it fostering? It's made it hard to keep continuing to be as adamant and as diehard as a fan of the sport. I'm surprised very often when I go to talk to a buddy from high school or a buddy from college and I'm just asking them - you know, my buddies are all in Cleveland, so, you know, how was the Browns game last weekend, X, Y, Z? And so often, they're also talking about - yeah, but did you see that movie about concussions or so on, so forth? I've got friends now who are getting married and having children. And so we're having these conversations about oh, you remember back when you were the wide receiver and I was the running back, and would we let our sons do that type of thing now, right? And so I do think that in the national consciousness, there's starting to be more of a conversation about again, the role of professional football and football by and large and what that means for us as Americans and maybe what's fostered in kind of the culture of football more broadly.

MARTIN: Hey, Kavitha, you know, you're in San Francisco. I hear that you attended the NFL Women's Summit, which was held on Thursday and Friday. Is this the first time the NFL has held a Women's Summit? What was that all about?

DAVIDSON: This is, and it was actually - it was very encouraging. You know, Roger Goodell came, and he spoke for about 15 minutes. And he announced the implementation of basically the Rooney rule, which is a rule that currently exists in the league that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions. And he announced a version of that for women in executive roles, which is an interesting idea. We're kind of short on details right now. And the Rooney rule itself has been criticized because it hasn't actually been particularly effective. You know, you can interview as many minority candidates as possible but that doesn't necessarily translate into hiring. It will be interesting to see if that actually does translate into better investigating of players, better player discipline, better programs to prevent in the first place domestic violence from happening. And then also just, you know, other less nefarious things - whether we can engage female fans better. So hopefully it will lead to a more inclusive environment.

MARTIN: Well, what - can I ask you this - and it's a little bit of an icky question but I'll ask you, Kevin, this whole question of OK, now the league's going to reach out to women. How does that sit with you as an African-American man when you feel like the sport is 75 percent African-American...


MARTIN: ...And the players are 75 percent African-American men. And I'm not trying to set up a...

BLACKISTONE: Sure, no but...

MARTIN: ...Girls versus the boys kind of - but...

BLACKISTONE: No, it's...

MARTIN: ...Does that...

BLACKISTONE: It's a very fair question because one of the little secrets about Title IX, which has been around since - what? - 1972 is that it has had a greater positive impact for white women than for women of color, many of whom we see playing in D-1 revenue-generating sport on the women's side in college, and that's basketball.

MARTIN: And why is that?

BLACKISTONE: You know, I think because people still need to be broken out of their old ideas about who can serve in a leadership position.

MARTIN: What do you mean by it's had a greater affect for white women than for African-American women?

BLACKISTONE: Well, there have been more...

MARTIN: Are you saying...

BLACKISTONE: I think more - it's been reported quantitatively that more white women have benefited from Title IX in terms of participation rates and in terms of employment rates in college athletics than women of color. And - but women of color have a greater face when it comes to being the face of college athletics, particularly in basketball, than a lot of other people. So they don't feel as if they get as fair of a shake in college athletics as some others.

MARTIN: Kavitha, you have thoughts on that?

DAVIDSON: I think Kevin's absolutely right, especially if you look at head-coaching positions and, you know, athletic director, assistant athletic director positions. White women have benefited from Title IX in that respect much more than women of color have despite the fact that they're coaching teams that mostly do - are comprised of women of color. You know, the other side of that, of course, is, you know, not to get into who's the more oppressed minority kind of thing. If you look at salaries compared to what their male counterparts are making, you know, everybody still has ground to make up when it comes to catching up to the white men in these fields.

MARTIN: Wesley, before we let you, I have to ask you about this. And, you know, a lot of people are watching Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who has a broken arm, who had surgery on it. But he says he's ready to play, doesn't want to miss the Super Bowl. I just have to ask you, you know, as a fan, I don't know how to think about this. I mean, on the one hand, he's a grown man. But...

LOWERY: It's tough.

MARTIN: What is up with that?

LOWERY: And that's why it's hard in some ways to judge it one way or the other because, you know, here you have someone who has spent their entire adult life working towards a singular goal. You know, this is the type of thing that you very well may only get one opportunity to do. And I know - I mean, I've got brothers, both of whom are still college athletes right now, both of whom have gotten injured before. And we're saying all right, yeah, you can't - one brother, no, you can't wrestle because this is hurt, and the other brother no, you can't do the long-jump today because you got hurt. No, no, no, no, no - if I don't do this then I can't go to the postseason, and I can't - you know, athletes are so singularly focused very often, and they're driven that way. Look, to tell the guy who's a professional football player your team's in the Super Bowl but you can't suit up, I can understand why he wants to go out there. That said, I'm going to watch the game and be worried the whole time that he's going to end up sprawled out on the ground. And that's concerning a little bit.

MARTIN: Wesley, can you envision a time when you would just say to yourself no, I can't - I'm not going to watch this?

LOWERY: I mean, I don't know about all that, right? I mean...



LOWERY: I mean, part of me would like to say yes. But at the end of the day, you know, I'm not going to not watch the Super Bowl because an athlete's out there wanting to be an athlete. You know, if he gets hurt, he gets hurt. We've seen bad injuries - we can see a bad injury. Any other player on that field can get hurt pretty bad.

MARTIN: That's true. Kevin.

BLACKISTONE: We valorize playing through injury in sports. I mean, growing up, I remember Jack Youngblood for the Rams playing with a broken leg. I remember Ronnie Lott with the 49ers amputating a part of his finger so that he could continue to play. I mean, this is part of the lore of sports, as crazy as it seems to the rest of us. If I break my arm, I'm not working for, like, a week. And all I do is write.


MARTIN: A very valid point. All right, before we let you go, I'm sorry, I have to ask each of this really important question, and I hope you don't mind. But Kavitha, I'm going to go to you first - wings or pizza.

DAVIDSON: New Yorker, I'm going to say pizza.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. OK, Kevin?

BLACKISTONE: Wings, so I'll pass on the gluten.

MARTIN: Oh, oh, OK, just be like that with celery, no doubt...


MARTIN: ...No doubt.

LOWERY: So I'm still on the young-person diet, so I eat a lot of pizza normally. And so Super Bowl day, it's wings.

MARTIN: Well, Buffalo or barbecue?

LOWERY: A little honey chipotle, keep it fancy.



MARTIN: Thanks to Kavitha Davidson, Kevin Blackistone and Wesley Lowery. Happy game day, thank you.

LOWERY: Thanks for having us.


DAVIDSON: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.