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A Look At The Week That Was: Carson's Comments, And Youth Sports

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're headed to The Barbershop. That's our weekly roundtable, where I check in with a group of interesting writers, talkers and thinkers about some of the top stories of the week. For those who follow The Barbershop on Tell Me More, the NPR program I hosted for a number of years, we are welcoming back an old friend. Commentator Jimi Izrael was our regular shopkeeper, and he's back with us now from WCPN in Cleveland. Welcome back, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Michel. And we're back. How's it doing? How are you doing?

MARTIN: Right, right, as we were saying. And...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And we're welcoming some new friends. Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post. She's with us here in our studios in Washington, D.C. And from NPR West, we have Doyin Richards, author and founder of a blog about fatherhood called daddydoinwork.com. It's good to have both of you with us as well. Thanks for coming.

PETULA DVORAK: Thank you for having us.

DOYIN RICHARDS: Love it, thanks to be here - super excited to be here.

MARTIN: Oh, thanks. So we're going to start by talking about presidential candidate and pediatric neurosurgeon - now retired - Ben Carson. He's still polling high among Republican White House contenders, but he's also getting some attention now for comments that he made about gun violence. Here's a clip of him explaining to CNN's Wolf Blitzer why he believes guns might have helped prevent the Holocaust.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WOLF BLITZER: So - but just clarify, if there had been no gun-control laws in Europe at that time, would six million Jews have been slaughtered?

PRES CAND BEN CARSON: I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would've been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.

MARTIN: All right, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: Try to keep it PG, but tell me how you - how you respond.

IZRAEL: Listen, you know what? I feel like Ben Carson - he's kind of become bizarro Trump. It's like if you can't beat crazy, you might as well join it. And I think the numbers kind of support that. I mean, the crazier that he talks, his numbers go up. The strident nature of his comment and his poll numbers are not a coincidence.

MARTIN: Well, so what do you think - this is the kind of thing that - I mean, I bet if I stopped five political consultants on the street - which in Washington, D.C., would not be hard...

DVORAK: Easy.

MARTIN: ...All of them would say don't bring up the Holocaust. Don't tell people that they should've defended...

DVORAK: Defended - yeah, third rail there. He - you know, you've got to remember where he comes from - pediatric neurosurgeon. So he's good at delivering bad news in a really nice way, and maybe you can get a little bit fooled by his soft-spoken, nice nature.

MARTIN: Well, Doyin, you're in the West Coast at the moment. I mean, you know, people are always saying that maybe there's a different view of things out there. Does it sound different to you out there?

RICHARDS: Ben Carson - see, the thing is I try to be an articulate black man. And a lot of people who see me think, like, oh, you must be like Ben Carson. You must be like Ben Carson. We have nothing in common. Like, don't - I mean - God...

MARTIN: Well, why do you think people think you should be like him?

RICHARDS: Well, he's not threatening. He's smart - I mean, at least from an intellectual sense. I mean, he went to school. He's a neurosurgeon. But as far as his feelings about guns, he's really good with his base. For me, personally, he doesn't talk to me. But his base loves him. Someone explain that to me because I don't get it.

DVORAK: That's the thing. He says it so softly, like you said. People are - he's nonthreatening. But when you listen to what he's saying, he's saying some really divisive, really...

MARTIN: Well, you know, is divisiveness on its face a bad thing because, you know, oftentimes, you know, one person's divisiveness is another person's hard truth, right? I mean...

IZRAEL: If you've got some good ideas. If you're just dividing people just for the sake of dividing people, that's something different. But if you just - if it's just crazy talk, that doesn't do anything for us politically.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are having our weekly Barbershop conversation with writers Jimi Izrael, Doyin Richards and Petula Dvorak. Now I want to talk about sports, and this is something that has been a big topic of late. It's the whole question of youth sports. One of the big papers, The Washington Post, wrote about the fact that a lot fewer kids are signing up for youth sports these days. Well, you know, 4 percent is the number that they cited. It's still...

DVORAK: It's still a couple million.

MARTIN: ...A couple million kids who aren't playing youth sports. And Petula, you wrote a column about this, and your suggestion was - what? - that the adults have won; it's not fun anymore.

DVORAK: The adults have won. Basically, you know, too many adults are trying to live their glory days through their kids. And it's something I've been kind of moaning about for a while, and it's not new, the crazy sports parents That's, like, a parenting trope, right? But what's happened is there's a professionalization of youth sports. And so what happened to me, my 10-year-old decided he wanted try hockey. He's a great ice skater. And for years, he's just been goofing around on the ice and - you know, I'm Czech; I said do you want to play hockey? And he said no, so we left it. And at 10, he wanted to play hockey. He shows up, and he's towering over all the kids in the beginning class because the beginning class is 4-year-olds. This is not normal that a 10-year-old is over the hill when he decides to try a sport. Elite sports are reserved for the kids whose parents can do the crazy travel tournaments. It's a $7 billion industry. The idea that average kids can get out there and play, that's not really happening anymore.

MARTIN: So what you're saying is the world is divided into kids who are really good or whose parents can pay to help them be really good...

DVORAK: Yes.

MARTIN: ...And kids who can't play at all? You're saying there's no middle anymore?

DVORAK: That's starting.

MARTIN: Yeah, Doyin, you have two daughters. What's your take on this?

RICHARDS: Well, I played college basketball. And it's interesting because I started playing basketball when I was 10. So I actually started at, you know, pretty - you know, I thought was a young age. But in this generation, it's totally different. I was going - I have two girls. They're 4 and 2. And I was going to put the 4-year-old in soccer. I was going to go there, about to sign her up and I'm seeing all these parents. And everyone's, like, all decked out. And they're like oh, yeah, we'll travel. Like, it's $150 for this and that's another 100 for this. I'm, like, dude, I'm just going to go kick the ball around in the park with my kid...

DVORAK: Yeah.

RICHARDS: ...And just do that instead of just go and sign up. So I said, you know what? She's not playing soccer. I'm not going to be the parent traveling all over Southern California with my kid, and she may not even be interested in it. I want to spend time with her. I want to be able to sit down, have dinner and not be rushing around everywhere - just crazy.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think about this? You have three sons and a daughter. What's your take on it?

IZRAEL: My kids - not so much interested in sports. I mean, I tried to get them interested. But yeah, certainly my 14-year-old, who resides with me, my 14-year-old son, I gave him a choice between jiu-jitsu, baseball and karate. And he decided he'd rather have piano lessons, so...

(LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ...He just wasn't interested in doing anything extracurricular sports or physical-wise period. And I think that gets to maybe in my case and maybe in other parents' case, kids that are raised on video games - like my kids - and they're used to winning and they're not necessarily used to doing anything team-oriented. They're used to just going in for self. And, you know, games like "Mortal Kombat" (imitating "Mortal Kombat" announcer) finish him - you know, they're used to that ultimate win, that definable moment of excellence. So I think my son - it's been - my children in general, my son specifically - it's been a struggle to get him involved in any kind of sports-related thing. And mind you, I have. I mean, he has played - he's played basketball, football and baseball. But now - I'm just happy that he's taking piano.

MARTIN: Maybe the issue is that there are more things to be interested in. And so - you know what I mean? Like, back in the day, everybody'd just go down to the corner lot or they'd go down to the basketball court, and that's what you'd play if you were a boy. And if you were a girl, good luck, right? So, you know, I guess what I'm asking is I see that this is presented as this big terrible thing. But is it really a big terrible thing, or is it just that number one - parents want more control over their kids' time? Whether that's right or wrong, that's a whole - and they want their kids to be taught properly because they feel - because, you know, some of these sports are, in fact, dangerous. And they just believe in, you know, teaching kids the right way from the beginning. And is that so terrible? I mean, hockey is, like, played on ice on concrete, right? I'm sorry...

DVORAK: And with knives, yeah...

MARTIN: It's on knives; it's, like, on concrete...

DVORAK: Knives on your feet, yeah...

MARTIN: ... With knives, right?

DVORAK: No, it's totally scary.

MARTIN: That's what it is. So is that so terrible?

DVORAK: Well, so that means if your kid had the baseball dream at 8, too bad. You've got to do ping-pong. I mean, you know, it's a little crazy. And what's it doing is also shutting out a lot of people who can't afford this. I mean, you know, yeah, sure, there's a great lacrosse league, but that's as expensive as the baseball travel league. And what it's also doing is that idea that you can go to high school and play on your high school team. If you haven't been traveling since 4 and 7, no way.

MARTIN: Well, let me just throw one more thing out there about this. There is a suggestion that that's one reason that girls are outperforming boys in school at a number of levels because they are not as obsessed with sports. And so for some people, the idea that, you know, some kids are not playing as much sports is not such a terrible thing.

RICHARDS: Not at all. I think it's great.

MARTIN: Crickets, now I hear crickets, like, dead silence.

RICHARDS: No, I think it's great. I mean, paying $150 or $100 for nothing really - that's just my opinion, and I know that a lot of parents are going to disagree with me - but I just don't see much sense in having a 4-year-old run in circles around a soccer field.

MARTIN: Doyin Richards is the author and founder of daddydoinwork.com. That's a blog about fatherhood. He joined us from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Jimi Izrael is a public radio commentator and college professor and author. He was with us from Cleveland. And Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post. She was with us in Washington, D.C. Thank you all so much.

DVORAK: Thanks for having us.

IZRAEL: Oh, it was a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.