February 16, 2014
Guests: Kendall Coffey; Jelani Cobb; Pedro Noguera; Rinku Sen; Mychal
Denzel Smith; Jelani Cobb, Wade Davis, Dave Zirin, Rinku Sen, Dorie Clark,
JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. What happens when the
president talks about race?
Plus, what we learned this week about coming out.
And the scathing report released about a classic case of bullying.
But first, another young black man, another 19th birthday never reached.
Good morning. I`m Joy Reid in for Melissa Harris-Perry.
Today, Sunday, February 16th, would have been the day Jordan Davis turned
19-years-old. Instead, his life was cut short at age 17, on the night of
November 23rd, 2012. And today is the day after a jury delivered a verdict
in the trial of Michael Dunn, the man who shot and killed Jordan Davis.
That night in a gas station parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida, after a
disagreement over loud music, Dunn fired ten rounds at the vehicle carrying
Davis and three friends. Three of those shots fatally wounded Davis,
according to statements from prosecutors during the trial.
After more than 30 hours of deliberations that began on Wednesday evening,
the 12-member jury returned a verdict of guilty on four of five charges
against Dunn. They found him guilty of three counts of attempted second-
degree murder and one count of firing into the vehicle carrying Jordan
Davis, Tevin Thompson, Leland Brunson, and Tommie Stornes.
But on the question of whether or not Michael Dunn is guilty of the murder
of Jordan Davis, the jury could not reach a consensus. Jurors failed to
reach unanimous verdict on the charge of first-degree murder causing Judge
Russell Healey, who presided over the case, to declare a mistrial on that
In a press release after the verdict, Florida state attorney Angela Corey
said she would retry the charge on the outstanding charge. Judge Healey
set the week of March 24th to decide sentencing.
Now, Florida statutes mandate 20 years in prison for attempted murder with
the discharge of a firearm and up to 15 years for a charge involving firing
a deadly missile. If the judge were to make those sentences consecutive,
Dunn, at 47-years-old, would spend the rest of his life behind bars for the
attempted murder of Jordan Davis` friends. But as of now, he faces no time
in prison for the killing of Jordan Davis, barring a successful retrial by
prosecutors. After the verdict was announced, Jordan`s parents spoke out
in an emotional press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUCIA MCBATH, JORDAN DAVIS` MOTHER: We are so grateful for the truth. We
are so grateful that the jurors were able to understand the common sense of
it all. And we will continue to stand and we will continue to wait for
justice for Jordan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Florida state attorney Angela Corey has faced some criticism for the
way her office has prosecuted Michael Dunn. But last night, she expressed
confidence in the prospect of a retrial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA COREY, FLORIDA STATE PROSECUTOR: We just get ready and we come back
into court and we work just as hard and we seek justice in the same way.
So, retrying a case is something that we`ve all had to do and we will
continue to have to do. And we`ll give it the same full attention. We
don`t back off, having to retry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Joining me now from Austin, Texas, is Kendall Coffey. He`s a former
U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida and an MSNBC legal
analyst. And in Burbank, California, Lisa Bloom, NBC news legal analyst,
as well as a legal analyst for avoo.com, and also the author of the
upcoming book, "suspicion nation."
I want to thank both of you guys for being here. And I want to start with
you, Kendall. If you could just explain, something that`s become sort of a
matter of confusion over this case and that is stand your ground. Whether
or not or how stand your ground was actually used in the case?
KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I`m glad you raised it, Joy,
because it is confusing and defense counsel has suggested it`s not a stand
your ground case. But what they`re saying is they did not use the right to
have a separate stand your ground hearing, decided only by a judge, where a
trial could be avoided entirely, criminal and civil immunity given, if in
the judge-only stand your ground hearing, the judge decides that self-
defense is sufficiently proven.
Now, stand your ground, the principle, the lack of duty to retreat, the
fact that you don`t have to walk away from trouble in the state of Florida,
you can kill somebody if there`s, quote, "a reasonable fear of serious
injury or death," that principle is very much in the jury instructions.
So, no, there wasn`t a separate stand your ground hearing, but the stand
your ground explanation law of the jury was very much there here as it was
in Zimmerman. And believe me, what a jury is told about self-defense in a
situation like this is fundamentally different from what they would have
been told ten years ago before the stand your ground law was applied.
REID: And I want to see if we can play -- there`s some sound that we
actually have of Michael Dunn`s attorney, Cory Strolla. He actually talked
to the jury in his closing arguments, and this is where we sort of heard
the stand your ground piece come in. If you have that sound available, I
would love to play that just for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORY STROLLA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Head no duty to retreat and had the right
to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, Lisa, stand your ground, obviously, has become a big issue in
Florida, really since the George Zimmerman trial. And in your book you
talked a lot, in "suspicion nation," you go in depth really into the
Zimmerman trial. How in your mind did stand your ground influence the case
against Michael Dunn?
LISA BLOOM, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it was clearly part of both trials,
the Zimmerman trial and both trials. As you just played, it was part of
closing arguments, it was part of the jury instructions, because stand your
ground is part of the standard self-defense jury instruction in Florida.
That means that the jurors are told, just before they go to deliberate,
that this defendant had the right to stand his ground and meet force with
force, under certain circumstances. We know in the Zimmerman case that a
couple of the jurors, afterwards, said, he had the right to stand his
And I think, Joy, bigger picture, probably the most important part is that
stand your ground is part of the collective consciousness now in Florida
and in the 26 other stand your ground states. People know, they have the
right to stand their ground. They don`t have to run away, they don`t have
to retreat if there`s a threat. They can pull out a gun and shoot.
And Michael Dunn said immediately after this shooting, I know the law of
self-defense. I know that what I did is OK. It`s very similar to George
Zimmerman, who was schooled in the law of self-defense. And I think just
the knowledge that stand your ground is there, that it is part of the law,
empowers some people to take a gun out and shoot, under circumstances which
they feel are threatening.
REID: And Kendall, I want to go back to you because the other sort of
issue that just in looking and analyzing the case, is there have been
criticisms of state attorney Angela Corey, that she overcharged in the
case. She charged first-degree murder against Michael, against Mr. Dunn,
and she also charged first-degree attempted murder, but the jury wound up
convicting on second-degree attempted murder. Do you feel, in your
opinion, feel that this case was overcharged? And when the retrial comes,
what do you think about state attorney Corey say she will retry on first-
COFFEY: I don`t think it was overcharged. It was aggressively charged.
But certainly, given the scenario that we`ve seen in this case, and I don`t
need to review the facts, Joy, you`ve talked about them before. But he
fires nine or ten shots. Unarmed teenager. He doesn`t -- he takes off
from the authorities afterwards. Doesn`t even mention to anybody that he`s
very, very close to that there was, quote, "a gun there." This was
properly charged as a first-degree murder case.
Now, we know this defendant is facing a minimum of 60 years. So while
there may be a sense that justice is incomplete and there may be a mixed
message for some coming out of this case, simply because first-degree
murder resulted in a hung trial, the punishment part of this case is not
incomplete. 47-year-old guy, minimum of 60 years in prison, lying ahead,
that is effectively a life sentence.
REID: So, going back to you, Lisa Bloom, on one other issue. And you talk
a lot about this, we head you speak about the issue of race and how it was
used in the trial. I want to play a little bit of John Guy. John Guy, one
of the state attorneys who prosecuted Mr. Dunn and a little bit of his
closing rebuttal argument. And then I want to get you to react to an issue
that was used or not used, and that is the issue of race. Let`s listen to
assistant state attorney John Guy during his closing rebuttal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN GUY, PROSECUTOR: Jordan Davis didn`t have a weapon. He had a big
mouth. And that defendant wasn`t going to stand for it. And it cost
Jordan Davis his life. This case is not about self-defense, it`s about
self-denial from that defendant. That`s why it`s not a self-defense case.
That`s why it`s a murder case. He didn`t have to shoot him. He decided to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Now, Lisa, one thing that was not used in the rebuttal in the
closing arguments was explicitly the issue of race. And what -- how do you
think that that impacted the outcome in this trial?
BLOOM: So, first of all, John Guy had the same strategy in the Zimmerman
case, which is a lot of rhetorical flourishes. He has a very dramatic
vocal style. That`s on the plus side. On the negative side is, he doesn`t
effectively connect the evidence with the law and bring it home for the
jury. I mean, let`s be clear about what this verdict was.
The prosecution won on all of the easiest charges. They won that this man
can`t take a gun and shoot at a fleeing car. Those are the charges they
won on. They didn`t win on the top charge, taking the human life of a 17-
year-old. And to do that, they had to show malice, hatred, or ill will.
And to do that, they should have brought in the evidence of racial animus
that Michael Dunn handed them on a silver platter by writing racist letters
from prison that the authorities then had.
There`s no explanation that I can think of, as to why they didn`t use that.
They could have used it in response to the many defense witnesses who
testified that Michael Dunn was gentle and peaceful. And I think someone
who says, openly, I`m prejudiced against African-Americans, he said, the
more I get to know these people, the more prejudice I am against them, he
called these young men thugs and gangsters, although they were just kids
coming back from the mall.
I mean, that should have been used to show hatred and ill will. That would
have rebutted the self-defense claim. And they didn`t do that because they
were afraid to talk about race in this case, just as they were in the
Zimmerman case. They appeared to have not learned any lessons from the big
loss they took in the Zimmerman case.
REID: It`s exactly that point I want to pick up on the other side of the
break. So Lisa and Kendall, please stay there. I also want to bring in
the panel when we come back, and we are going to take a look at some of the
specific things that were said in the courtroom during this case and that`s
coming up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the defendant say anything about the music when
he parked the car next to the red car?
RHONDA ROUER, MICHAEL DUNN`S FIANCEE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what did the defendant say?
ROUER: I hate that thug music.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what was your response to the defendant?
ROUER: I said, yes, I know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was Rhonda Rouer, the girlfriend of Michael Dunn, testifying to
the opinion of the, quote, "thug music playing in the car where Jordan
Davis was sitting with his friends." And this was Dunn`s attorney, Cory
Strolla making his argument that Jordan Davis was of threat to his client.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STROLLA: You know who didn`t duck? Jordan Davis. You know why he didn`t
duck? Because he was getting out of the car with a weapon, after telling
Michael Dunn, you`re dead (bleep). This is going down now. You have four
men against one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Those are some of the moments during the trial, when racial
overtones may have seemed readily apparent in a case where a white man was
accused of killing an African-American teen. And yet the question of race
was not expressly evoked in the case.
We still have Lisa Bloom and Kendall Coffey on remote. And with me in the
studio this morning are Jelani Cobb, associate professor of African studies
at the University of Connecticut, Pedro Noguera, the Peter L, Agnew
professor of education at New York University Steinhardt School of culture,
education and human development and executive director of the metropolitan
center for urban education. Rinku Sen, the executive president of the race
forward, the center for racial justice and innovation and publisher of
colorlines.com, and Mychal Denzel Smith, a writer for the nation.com and a
nobler fellow at the Nation Institute.
So I want to, you know, go right to you guys here on the panel and sort of
get your reactions to what you just heard, sort of the framing, Jelani, of
this case by the Dunn defense.
JELANI COBB, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF COLUMBIA: Well, I mean, a
few weeks ago, we heard Richard Sherman say that when people were calling
him a thug, they were using that as a reference for the "n" word. They
couldn`t use that word, but they could use the word "thug," so that`s what
they were saying in coded language. I think it is the same thing here.
That`s exactly what we saw here.
There is also just too perfectly neat, you know. In the Zimmerman trial,
we saw the allegation that Trayvon Martin that told him that he was going
to kill him and this is how he knew that his life was in jeopardy. That`s
have a perfect tailor-made statement that says, at this point, I know,
because this person has said it, and now allegedly Jordan Davis says the
exact same thing as he`s get out of the car. And it really just lends
itself to incredulity that people can see the situation and not either way
to convict this person of a crime on that count.
REID: And I mean, Mychal, there`s a visceral reaction that a lot of people
had to this case, and a lot of it was similar to the Zimmerman case, where
even though Michael Dunn was convicted on four counts that could send him
to jail to life, there are still, people had an anxiety about the case.
What was your initial reaction to the case, and what would you say to
people who say, listen, this guy will spend a lot of time in jail if his
appeal isn`t successful, that should satisfy people in this case.
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH, A WRITER FOR THE NATION.COM: I`m tired. I`m tired of
being -- I`m tired of trying to come up with words to talk about young
black children being dead, being killed. I`m tired of trying to look at
the parents go through what they have to go through to know the names of
black children for all of the wrong reasons. I`m physically, emotionally
exhausted of this. But I`m not surprised that a racist system produces a
We can, like, sit here and be happy that he`s going to go to jail for the
rest of his life, if that`s how you feel, if you believe in the American
justice system, in some capacity, that that then brings justice to someone.
It brings justice to anyone. But the fact is that Jordan Davis is dead.
Trayvon Martin is dead, Relish (ph) McBride, Marley Graham, Jonathan
Farrell. The list keeps going on and on and I`m tired.
REID: Well, I want to un-package a little bit, Rinku, because is this a
racist result? I mean, you had a justice system prosecute Michael Dunn for
the shooting. A jury, using the law they had, convicted him on four
counts, out of five. Is this a racist result or is this the way the
criminal justice system is supposed to play out? I mean, he was convicted
RINKU SEN, THE EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT, THE RACE FORWARD, THE CENTER FOR RACIAL
JUSTICE AND INNOVATION: Well, the big problem here is that we`re still
debating whether or not race is a factor in this case and in this trial.
And for as long as we`re debating if, we cannot get to the how. So, from
my perspective, the problem with the way the prosecution has carried out
both of these trials now is that by refusing to put race on the table, they
enable the bias that stand your ground codifies to continue and to remain
invisible, remain unclear and hidden.
So, Tania Weathers by had a great piece where she said, what Michael Dunn
expected from that interaction was not respect, but submission. Stand your
ground laws codify that expectation of submission from young black people
to white men, and by not raising that at all during the trial itself, the
prosecution enables that expectation to remain as an unwritten rule that is
embedded into the stand your ground laws.
So, unless we`re going to deal with that in the course of "justice being
carried out," quote-unquote, then we`re never going to get to what the
racial dimensions of the law are and of the system are, and of the behavior
are, what are the racial dimensions of the behavior of these shooters?
In truth, I think fighting stand your ground laws, it`s the anti-lynching
movement of our time. That`s the way we have to think about what is
required to actually have Americans be able to really understand what is
going on underneath those laws and have -- develop the will to take them
COBB: Can I add something really quickly? I think that it`s important to
recognize that when a prosecutor walks into prosecute a black defendant,
they have the wind at their back. And you know, what I think is implicit
here, in both the Martin case and the Davis case, that they do not have the
same sort of capacity to utilize race when the defendant is a white person.
REID: Well, I want to play just for a moment, and then get Pedro`s
response to it because so, this is state attorney John Guy, did sort of try
to make an argument that brings in some of the elements that we`re talking
about. He didn`t explicitly say race, but let`s just listen to part of the
closing rebuttal and the way that John guy chose to frame the Jordan Davis
versus Michael Dunn situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUY: Gangsters. That`s a telling word, label that he used to describe the
people. Gangsters. Jordan Davis, 17-year-old, Wolfsan High School student
is a gangster now, because the music was up loud. Thugs. He said in his
interview and his letter. Thugs, waiting for the thugs to come back,
really? You`ve met them. You`ve met them now. It`s your call. Are any
of them thugs or gangsters?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Pedro, was that somehow not explicit enough?
PEDRO NOGUERA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE METROPOLITAN CENTER FOR URBAN
EDUCATION: Well, I think race is invoked, but in the most insidious way,
through the stereotypes. Through the stereotypes that the defense attorney
uses in characterizing Michael and his companions, and even through some of
the lack that the prosecutor uses. He calls them loud-mouths, right? So,
again, this is to a white jury, again, their imagination goes into these
are the kinds of young people that my I might be threatened by.
And so, and the problem is that it`s never, as Rinku said, brought out
explicitly on the table. What`s going on here? Why is it that this man
feels threatened by these young people? Does he have a history of feeling
animosity towards African-Americans? That`s never wrought up in the case.
And therefore, we`re looking at the case in a vacuum, even though the
context is being shaped by these powerful, heavily loaded racial
stereotypes, which I think results in the kind of verdict that we found.
REID: So, Kendall, just to bring you back in, is there something about the
law, the stand your ground law itself, that encourages that kind of framing
or makes it difficult to bring an issue of race, because you really don`t
need to do it. You just need to prove that your client, if you are the
defendant`s attorney, had a reasonable fear.
COFFEY: Well, I think that the prosecution is trying to, perhaps, avoid
adding to the apparent racial reality of the situation like that, because
jurors can react strongly to it. There`s going to be white jurors on the
case. They don`t want holdout jurors that get confused, perhaps. I`m
speculating. But there`s no doubt that when you put more emotional issues
into a case, sometimes you don`t know how it`s going to affect the jury and
sometimes you get jurors that are going to feel strongly and it could end
up holding out.
But in terms of what stand your ground does, which I think is a huge
problem, it makes it easier, frankly, for white people, in a very lame,
slim, basis of self-defense, to say, yes, I was afraid for my life, I
thought I saw a gun, I heard him say he was coming to kill me, so I had to
go get my gun and defend myself. That is the kind of formula that I think
is frightening, and that kind of formula, frankly, seemed to at least
create a reasonable doubt in some jurors` minds last night.
REID: And Lisa, final thought to you. I mean, is there a risk that if
prosecutors explicitly invoke race, that you will, potentially, get a
backlash from white jurors who might resent that framing by the prosecutor.
BLOOM: No, because it can be done properly. And I talk in my book about
courts where race is talked about in a very effective manner. For example,
judges who say during jury instructions, racial bias is a part of our
culture. We don`t like it, but most of us walk around with explicit racial
biases, including me. And I ask you to put that aside during your jury
instructions. Do not consider that one person, because of the color of his
skin, is more threatening. And if you have any problem with this concept,
consider switching the races of the two men involved here and see if you
would come out with the same kind of verdict.
This is done in doctor`s office, when doctors treat black and white
patients differently. They can be educated to stop doing that. Police
officers can be trained to get over their racial biases and jurors can too.
It can be done. It doesn`t have to be done in a confrontational, finger
pointing way and it needs to start happening in these Florida courtrooms.
REID: All right, Lisa Bloom in Burbank, California, and Kendall Coffey in
Austin, Texas, thanks very much.
BLOOM: Thank you.
COFFEY: Thank you.
REID: All right, and coming up next, the broader conversation sparked
nationwide, once again by the untimely death of a young black man.
REID: The killing of Jordan Davis and the trial of Michael Dunn renewed
debate over the stand your the ground law, that first reached national
prominence after George Zimmerman went 44 days before being charged in the
killing of Trayvon Martin. But it also brought attention once again to the
perception of young black men in America. And one of my guests today has
written eloquently about how it feels to live with the burden of those
This week for thenation.com, Mychal Denzel Smith wrote a column entitled
"how to create a thug." In it, he tells the story of being approached by a
man who thought he knew where to find drugs, seemingly, simply because he`s
black. And of the decision not to respond aggressively, Mychal writes, I
made my choice last night on the basis of feeling that I had something to
I haven`t always felt that way. Being black in America feels like having
nothing. Imagine having to make that decision, when every muscle in your
body tells you to do otherwise. Imagine having to make that decision when
you don`t know how to operate on anything but anger. Imagine having to
make that decision on an almost daily basis. Imagine having to make the
decision when you`re sure there isn`t a future for you in this world.
Imagine having to make that decision knowing it could be your last. Are we
still thugs now?
So, Mychal, when you wrote that, after that incident, I mean, you`re a
successful writer. You`re somebody who would, you know, anyone objectively
would say has made it in this society. How is it that that stage you feel
like you had nothing?
SMITH: Because the burden of racism is such that you don`t really have
anything at least, that`s the feeling. Because I walk around in this young
black male body, and I understand that it causes fear, it causes a
reaction, it causes, you know, police to look at me more carefully. It
could kill me. Like, this is the burden that I live, just by virtue of
having been born black and living in America, is the fact that I have been
born into a racist system, a racist society that has placed on my black
male body a set of ideas that invoke fear in people. And that`s what
Jordan Davis is dealing with. That`s what Trayvon Martin was dealing, and
that`s what killed them. I know that I still have that possibility, no
matter how much success that I have in my life. I still walk around in a
black male body in the United States of America and that can get me killed.
REID: I mean, and it`s 2014.
COBB: I mean, we all have this frame of reference, you know. I think like
getting a ticket where admittedly, I was going a little bit in excess of
the speed limit, but, you know, a police officer pulled me over, and then
radioed for another police officer, they boxed me in. And then, you know,
proceed to come over to the car. And I was sitting there, trying to make
sure I didn`t make any gesture whatsoever that could be interpreted, saying
this person is going for a weapon. And I remember, I was coming from
class, I had a suit and tie, and like, this is kind of completely
immaterial that I`m a professor, that I`m associated with the university,
that I`ve written books and so on, I very easily could have ended up in a
circumstance where I could have been dead on the highway. And that is a
very common reality for us.
And I think the other thing about this, invariably, someone will hear this
and say, what about black-on-black crime, and African-Americans are more
likely to kill each other and so on. I think this is really ridiculous
because what we`re really talking about is a way in which a system and
structure codifies that and turns a blind eye to the consequences of it.
If a black person because kill another black person, we know this person
will likely be arrested and will not say, you had reason to be in fear of
your life. But if this other person does, whether it be law enforcement or
someone like Michael Dunn, you get the explicit sanction that this person
has the capacity to behave this way.
SMITH: And I think (INAUDIBLE) address this and stayed and put up after
the verdict came out in that the same racism that kills us with police or
these white vigilantes is the same racism that produces the situations in
which black-on-black crime or black-on-black violence thrives so, it can`t
REID: We`re not done talking about this, this issue because young men of
color in America and the challenges that they face, is obviously very
And this week, President Obama weighed in. He launched a bold new
initiative on exactly that. And we`re going to have that story, coming up
REID: The challenges facing young men of color in this country are not
lost on its leader. When President Obama talks about race, it`s often in a
deeply personal way, about his experiences as a black man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I stand here today,
grateful for the diversity of my heritage.
At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either
too black or not black enough.
You know, if I had a son, he`d look like Trayvon.
Another way of saying that is that Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35
years ago. There are very few African-American men in this country who
haven`t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a
department store. That includes me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: But when it comes to policy, rarely has the president created or
advocated for policies that explicitly target black and other minority
communities. Instead, the president often speaks in broad race-neutral
terms about his presidency and about his policies, and has defended those
policies to critics who says he doesn`t do enough for African-Americans.
Here`s what he told "Black Enterprise" magazine in 2012 when asked about
his support for black businesses. Quote, "I want all businesses to
succeed. I want all Americans to have opportunity. I`m not the president
of black America. I`m the president of the United States of America."
In that interview, the president said his banking policies had helped all
kinds of people who had been locked out of traditional lending. That they
were broad, but ultimately had a positive effect for African-American
business owners. It`s similar to how the White House has described other
policies. The White House has put out statements with titles like, how the
affordable care act will benefit African-Americans. The affordable care
act helps the African-Americans, and the affordable care act gives African-
American greater control over their own health care, making the point that
the law disproportionately benefits African-Americans because they`re
disproportionately more likely to lack health insurance.
Now, well beyond its first term, and with his attorney general coming out
swinging on voting rights and drug sentencing disparities, President Obama
is creating a new program that explicitly sets out to help a very specific
group, young men of color. The president spoke briefly about the new
program in his state of the union address last month, and made mention of
the especially tough odds young men of color face.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I`m reaching out to some of America`s leading foundations and
corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing
especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: The White House announced the program this week. It will be known
by one of the president`s favorite phrases when talking about American
values, my brother`s keeper. According to the White House, my brother`s
keeper will pull together corporations, foundations, and federal agencies
to improve literacy and early learning and job opportunities, and to reform
disciplinary policies in order to keep boys in school and out of the
criminal justice system, what one administration called the school to
We don`t have that many details yet about how the program will work, and we
simply can`t know whether it will work, but what`s notable is the
announcement has not been couched in race neutrality, in terms of positive
or disadvantage, without mentioning that children of color are
disproportionately impacted by those very things. It`s explicitly directed
at improving opportunities for young men of color. It`s explicitly about
Stay right there. Up next, my panel talks race and the president.
REID: The president`s new my brother`s keeper initiative to help young men
of color in school and out of prison is an answer to long-held criticisms
by some in the black community who say the president has not done enough to
use his unique position as the first African-American president to address
the problems of long, marginalized communities.
Pedro, I want to ask you first, what do you think is the significance of
the White House coming out and doing this program that is so explicitly
about black and brown young men?
NOGUERA: Well, I think it`s significant because addressing the issue of
race directly has been a challenge for this president all along. And I`m
sympathetic to the difficulty he faces. I know his opponents, who will
always accuse him of race baiting, of favoritism of various kinds, but he
can`t avoid this issue, but can`t avoid this issue. He`s avoided it for
too long as it is. We have these large incarceration rates, we have very
high unemployment rates the New York City. Over 50 percent of black males
are unemployed. And this is a pattern we see throughout the country. So
to not address it, while he`s the president, I think is a major omission.
Now the question is, what is this policy going to look like? Is it going
to focus only on the kind of feel-good efforts or is it going to address
some of the structural barriers that result in higher unemployment, higher
incarceration, higher dropout rates? And that`s where I think we all need
to look out very carefully. Because, so far, I have not been impressed
with what`s come out of the White House in this area.
REID: So the pushback, I mean, and Jelani, if you do look at those
numbers. We look at youth unemployment, black youth unemployment, is 38
percent, right? It`s more than double white youth unemployment.
The imprisonment rates, two-thirds of inmates are people of color, high
school graduation rates. You have black male high school graduation is
only 57 percent, white male, 79 percent, Hispanic male 63 percent. So you
have all these empirical data, but it`s not like that data just started
happening when Barack Obama became president, right? These are things that
have been the case for a generation. I mean, realistically, what should
the expectations be from the African-American community for this president?
COBB: I think in terms of relationships, in terms of political
relationships, you never benefit by letting your elected leaders off the
hook even if they`re in a difficult position. I don`t think it`s ever in
your best interests to say, we understand how difficult this is. I think
it`s always in your best position, your best interests, as a constituent to
say, try harder, do something different, be more creative. And that`s just
the kind of hard-nosed transactional nature of why you go into a polling
place and pull down a lever or press a button to make somebody -- give
somebody an elected office.
Secondarily, you know, when the president ran, when he first decided to
run, he said the rationale for his campaign, in a field of really talented
leaders, was that if he won, it would say to young people of color, that
they were capable of accomplishing anything. So I think he`s really trying
to test that out. Because when we look at it, statistically, we`re saying,
OK, it`s possible for one person to achieve something extraordinary, but
what about the entire mass of young people who find their conditions to be
stagnant and difficult and facing jeopardy in the legal system and physical
jeopardy by someone who can shoot them and not necessarily face criminal
charges for it and all these other kind of dynamics. I think those things
are important to keep in mind.
REID: But I mean, Rinku, isn`t the greatest power that the president had
the power of his example? I mean, there is an argument to say that his
position in and of itself has a power.
SEN: Well, sure. Yes, but, is it the greatest power that he has? I
thought the greatest power he had was the power to move policy forward.
REID: If Congress will pass it.
SEN: Yes. Well, even if Congress doesn`t pass it, advancing a policy
idea, for example, would make a big difference in the debate. I`m cynical,
for example, about the public/private partnership thing. It seems to me
that there is still just too much money and too much white advantage to be
gained through the continued disadvantaging of young men of color. And the
notion that corporations without any kind of rule making, that corporations
without that are going to somehow dramatically change their hiring
practices and provide lots of new employment opportunities to young men of
color, I`m really cynical about that.
And some of these initiatives on young men of color are driven with
contradictions. Right here in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg put together
$127 million initiative to provide tutoring and support services and new
employment opportunities to young men of color, even as he rabidly defended
stop and frisk as a policy and practice of New York City.
So it seems to me that one of the things the president could do is really
help people understand that relationship between the individual and the
system. And make sure that this particular initiative addresses the
system, not just in government, but also in private practice.
REID: And I think, just a final thought there. Are we putting so much of
a burden on one person that we`re letting a lot of the people downstream,
in terms of local off the hook?
NOGUERA: Well, I think that`s an important point. That it`s not simply
the president, but the president is the leader of the country so he has to
set a tone. And hopefully it`s a tone that will then filter into congress,
the mayors of our big cities, because, you`re right. They all have a
responsibility to play in addressing these issues. But I would, again,
focus on the issue of opportunity and the lack of opportunity for young men
of color today in America.
REID: All right. Well, thank you very much.
And up next, the president isn`t the only one in the administration
speaking more openly about race. We are going to talk about how attorney
general Eric Holder`s voice keeps getting louder and clearer.
REID: If there`s one member of the president`s cabinet that has spoken
openly and plainly about race since the beginning of the administration,
it`s attorney general Eric Holder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Though this nation has proudly thought
of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been,
and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Mr. Holder, who has been vigilant in taking on voter
disenfranchisement, with lawsuits in Texas and North Carolina, where voting
laws disproportionately impact people of color, is now pushing the issue
This past week, the attorney general urged states to law former felons to
vote after they`ve served their time, and made clear that felony
disenfranchisement has its roots and perpetrates racial discrimination.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: And although well over a century has passed since post-
reconstruction states use these measures to strip African-Americans of
their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on
modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, Mychal, that felony disenfranchisement piece is really key,
right? Because there are 11 states, including Florida, that ban voting
even after someone has served their time, even after they`ve been off of
parole. And that leaves 5.85 million Americans unable to vote. That`s
been something that Eric Holder has been very proactive on. How key and
important is that?
SMITH: That`s very important. I mean, we`ve seen, since 2000, especially,
the discrepancies that happen in elections when you disenfranchise voters.
And this is a key demographic that has been systemically disenfranchised,
so kudos to Eric Holder. I mean, that was one of the moments during the
state of union when Barack Obama said, you know, we have to protect the
rights of everyone to vote. And it`s like, well, I hope you were doing
something on, you know, felony disenfranchisement.
But I also just want to say quickly that, you know, as we talk about this,
as we give people kudos on this movement, I want to -- and we`ve been
talking a lot about young men of color or black men of color. Like, black
men, that we not allow the racial narrative to just be a masculine
narrative that we don`t leave women out of this conversation.
REID: No, absolutely. And I mean, I think, in terms of -- that`s a great
point. But just on the broader narrative of explicit racial policy, like
you were talking before, we have to have policy. That is actual policy.
This is actual hard one (ph). And you know what, Eric Holder does work for
someone, and it`s the president, right?
SEN: It`s a really, really positive movement we`ve had coming out of the
department of justice over the last year, for sure, and a little bit longer
than that. A related motion in that department is new guidelines around
school discipline policies. We know, from years and years of data, and
just from the life stories of our kids, who are going to school, that the
path to prison often starts at school.
REID: And this is for girls as well as boys. Because I think Mychal makes
a good on the, this can`t be just limited to young men of color.
SEN: And in some ways, the gender dynamics are effective on girls of zero
tolerance policies at schools, for example, are even more dramatic, because
there`s an expectation of mellowness or, you know, good behavior from
girls, and if that expectation is busted, then the punishment can be
really, really disproportionate.
REID: And I`m wondering, Pedro, if we tend to give Eric Holder more
credit, because he does have more latitudes in a lot of ways. He`s not
president of the United States. He`s able to zero in on policy in terms of
his position. And so, does he get a disproportionate share of the credit
versus the president for being able to talk about race.
NOGUERA: Well, I think he deserves a lot of credit for his willingness to
be so forthright in directly addressing these issues of injustice. I think
focusing on the disenfranchisement of felons will be a huge change, if that
could occur. The president, I think, walks a fine line. And as we know,
he`s attacked for everything he does. So the fact that he`s willing to
support his attorney general and empower him to take these kinds of
positions, I think, says a lot for the administration and for the
REID: All right. Pedro Noguera, I want to thank you so much for being
here. The rest of the panel is coming back in the next hour.
And coming up next, the latest on college football star Michael Sam and why
coming out is so complicated in 2014.
And also, a big announcement, a whole new way for you to interact with this
show and Melissa Harris-Perry.
More Nerdland at the top of the hour.
REID: Welcome back. I`m Joy Reid, in for Melissa Harris-Perry.
When it comes to coming out, in many ways, these are the best of times. We
are in the mix of an era of incredible progress for LGBT acceptance and
legal rights. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have now
legalized same-sex marriage.
And take a look at what happened in Virginia late last Thursday. A federal
judge struck down that state`s ban on same-sex marriage. The judge issued
a stay on a ruling pending an appeal, but Virginia`s new Democratic
attorney general has said he won`t defend the ban in a federal court.
If marriage equality in a southern state like Virginia once seemed
unthinkable, how about LBGT acceptance in sports? Just in the last year or
so, we`ve seen athletes Jason Collins, WNBA number one pick, Brittney
Griner, diver Tom Daley, and soccer star Robbie Rogers all reveal publicly
that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Only one of those, Greiner, the world women`s basketball star, did what NFL
prospect Michael Sam just did, come out at the very start of their pro
careers. Sam, an all-American defensive end at the University of Missouri,
announced he is gay early last week, in interviews with ESPN and "The New
Since Sam is eligible for May`s NFL draft, pro football may have its first
active player who is openly gay. Almost immediately, Sam was met with a
flood of support from his teammates at Missouri and even from the Twitter
accounts of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
"Sports Illustrated" published a bold cover, America is ready for Michael
Sam, while also asking, is the NFL ready for Michael Sam? Many NFL players
and alumni said, yes, and the league itself issued a statement that read,
quote, "We admire Michael Sam`s honesty and courage. Michael is a football
player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL.
We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
But when asking who is part of this "we," that`s where it gets a little
tricky. Terrell Thomas, most recently of the New York Giants offered this
to the "New York Post" about Sam being gay. Quote, "I don`t believe in it,
I don`t respect it, but if that`s what you want to do, so be it."
And the "we" may not even include Michael Sam`s own father. Michael Sam
Sr., who got the news about his own son a week before the world did, was
quoted by "The New York Times" as saying he`s old school, a man and a woman
type of guy, and Deacon Jones, the late Hall of Fame. is, quote, "turning
over in his grave."
Sam`s father later alleged he was terribly misquoted by "The Times", which
stood by its report. The response to Michael Sam`s revelation suggests
that even in 2014, even as more LBGT Americans step into the spotlight,
coming out is still complicated.
Joining me now are Jelani Cobb, associate director of Africana studies at
the University of Connecticut, Dorie Clark, author of "Reinventing You:
Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future", Rinku Sen, president and executive
director of Race Forward, and former NFL player Wade Davis, executive
director of the You Can Play Project, and from Las Vegas, Dave Zirin, the
sports editor for "The Nation" magazine.
Dave, I want to start with you because, you know, there`s been a lot of
really positive reaction to Michael Sam coming out, but then you have the
other side of it. You have that ESPN story, where a lot of people off the
record, who work in the NFL in the front office were saying, well, you know
what, we might have really ruined his draft prospects.
Do you think that Michael Sam will have a harder time making a team because
he`s come out?
DAVE ZIRIN, THE NATION: Well, that`s an open question. The NFL is on the
clock. And we will find out on draft day how much of this is just
rhetoric, because they don`t want to look like a retrograde, homophobic
league, and how much of it is actually real.
It`s interesting how much of this relates to your last hour, Joy, because
if the word of the last hour is the way that things like "thug" becomes
stand-ins for slurs against people because of the color of their skin, the
word on this issue is "distraction", that`s the code word. It`s like --
will it be a distraction to have an LBGT person in the locker room.
It reminds me of that W.E.B. DuBois thing about how does it feel to be a
problem? It`s like, how does it feel to be a distraction, if who you are
is seen as a negative. And the story has moved so quickly. Because one
day, you have Michael Sam and people are celebrating.
The next day, anonymous comments with things that are just outrageous, they
sound like outtakes from the movie "Anchorman," like he`ll alter the
chemical balance in the locker room.
And my personal favorite was someone -- one NFL executive said, how are we
going to handle the "Today" show and "Good Housekeeping" knocking at the
locker room door?
I mean, look, if you`re scared of "Good Housekeeping," the media frenzy
that is "Good Housekeeping," you`ve got bigger problems than Michael Sam.
And then after, you have what you described, Joy, the response from NFL
owners, very image conscience saying, no, no, no, Michael Sam, there`s a
place for him in the National Football League of the 21st century, but the
answer will really happen on draft day.
REID: OK. I`ve got to bring this out to the panel. I`ll throw this out
to whoever wants to take it. Is it homophobic to call Michael Sam a
WADE DAVIS, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I don`t think so. I think what NFL people
say is like, they`re worried about the media. That`s the honest truth.
Like, I`ve said in NFL meetings and with NFL execs, and they`re not worried
about the fact that they have a gay player in their league. They`re
worried about media people putting a mic in front of a player`s face, and
that player saying something, and then the world saying the NFL is
Yes, there is homophobia in the NFL, but the NFL as a space is not
homophobic. It`s like, it would be if someone said that Congress was
homophobic, right, because there are certain laws that aren`t being passed
to help LBGT people. But I think we have to look at it from a different
perspective and say, wow, like there are players who offered amazing
support for Michael Sam, and they are the majority of what the NFL is.
REID: And you played in the league. So you`re saying in the locker room,
you think that Michael Sam will not have a problem, given the culture that
you experienced in the league, you don`t think he`ll have a problem in
terms of his teammates.
DAVIS: He played on a team in Missouri, in the SEC, which is the minor
leagues of the NFL. His teammates loved him. He played better once he
came out. The NFL is not that much different. The same players that play
in college play in the NFL and they`re a little older, they`re more mature.
It all comes down to leadership.
REID: Dorie, I want to get into it a little bit, because, you know, Dave
Zirin did raise that challenge, that the NFL image-wise is worried this
will be a distraction, because the media on the first day that Michael Sam
plays for whatever team he gets on, will all be there talk to him. Not to
whoever the first round draft pick is, not to whoever, you know, the MVP
that game is. They`re going to get in that locker room and they`re going
to have 50 reporters there to talk to Michael Sam. How did your teammates
treat you on your first day in the NFL?
Is that a legitimate worry on the part of the league?
DORIE CLARK, AUTHOR: I think that`s a legitimate worry, but what you want
to see happen, and what I actually suspect will happen is that on day one,
the focus is going to be on Michael Sam, how are we adjust welcome day two,
the focus will be back on football.
If this can be a one-day story, that is the ideal for the NFL, because it
shows we have moved beyond it. We are now post-weirdness about gay issues.
We can focus on what matters, which is the game.
REID: Go ahead.
JELANI COBB, UCONN: I think when we look at -- we talk about Jackie
Robinson a lot, you know, these days, and the question could have been
asked, was Jackie Robinson a distraction. Absolutely! His presence was a
distraction. The question was, was there a bigger principle at play. And I
think that is really the issue.
Like, and of course, having to confront the distraction of the issue of
race meant that professional baseball had to actually deal with the broader
society in which it operated. And I think that`s what people should keep
in mind about that.
REID: Yes. So, in a sense, Rinku, is it a good thing if he`s a
distraction, because it forces the NFL to confront whatever homophobia
there is existing in the league, in the locker room, and in the culture.
RINKU SEN, COLORLINES.COM: Yes, I think it`s clear there is some cultural
change that needs to take place within the NFL. There`s been a long report
released about an investigation of bullying at the Miami dolphins, that
came out last week. There was a long "New York Times" story about it. And
that report really drills down into a number of harassment and other kind
And I think the question that arises is how do you change the culture of a
team, of an institution? And as my colleague here has suggested, it has to
start at the top, but it has to include intention, behavior, and rules.
None of those -- none of those things, by themselves, without the other
two, is going to guarantee, for example, that someone like Michael Sam can
make his career without homophobia.
REID: Well, Dave, can you speak to that for a second? There is an issue
of the culture, right, within the NFL? The broader culture that trickles
all the way down to the peewee leagues in terms of football. Is Michael
Sam forcing a conversation that has to be had in order to backtrack on some
of the bullying culture, et cetera, in the NFL?
ZIRIN: To me, there`s no question about that. And I think that there`s a
real revelatory moment here, where we`re also seeing what the NFL does and
does not consider a distraction.
And that needs to be confronted as well, because, hey, 5,000 players sue
the league for head injuries, not a distraction. A team`s billion-dollar
brand that is a racist name, I`m talking to you, Washington, not a
distraction. A commissioner who makes over $40 million a year, not a
distraction. The coddling of players who have real issues with spousal
abuse and violence against women, not a distraction.
Yet, somehow, who you choose to love on your own time, that is seen as a
distraction. And I think that`s part of what needs to be confronted. Like
with Jackie Robinson, you know, Mark Twain said history does not repeat
itself, but it does rhyme. And there is a lot of rhyming with the period
of Jackie Robinson. It`s not the same, but there are a lot of echoes in
terms of like, is it a distraction?
Maybe it is objectively, but guess what? Get over yourself, NFL.
REID: All right. Stay right there, David. Stay right there, everybody.
Up next, we`re going to have a question that everybody is asking. Which is
this: why is it necessary to come out at all? We will show you Michael
REID: The NFL scouting combine starts next weekend in Indianapolis. It`s
an annual spectacle for the most hard-core football fans, where every NFL
prospect is poked and prodded and interviewed for a coveted spot in the
national football league.
The University of Missouri`s Michael Sam will be among them, and one
question he may be asked by a team is why do this? Why was it necessary
for you to reveal that you were gay before you even get drafted and before
you suit up in an NFL uniform? Sam addressed that issue in his interview
with ESPN`s Chris Connelly last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SAM, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI: We suspected that all the scouts
knew, because I did make it public to my team, and once scouts came and
asked about me, you know, they told about, like, Michael Sam is gay. And -
- but I didn`t know how many media actually knew. And I was afraid that it
would leak out, without me actually owning my truth. I wanted to let the
world know and tell them that, hey, I`m gay, let me tell my own story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, Wade, I want to ask you, because you`ve had this experience.
You came out publicly after your playing career was finished. But is that
really the dynamic that you expect to go on with him and his team? I mean,
when you came out, what was the reaction of your teammates and people you
DAVIS: I had so many players who were upset with me, but they were upset I
didn`t trust and believe in them enough that they would accept me. I had
guys saying, man, Wade, you could have told me earlier, like, I would have
loved you like you`re my brother, you`re a part of my family, which is the
And I think, like, Michael Sam wasn`t out to the public, but his teammates
loved him and embraced him, the team played better, he played better. We
really have to re-imagine what we think a sports culture is like, because a
lot of us really just don`t know.
That`s the real problem. We think because guys aren`t out to the public,
that they`re not accepted. But, like, no, if your family knows, isn`t that
the most important thing to you? And shouldn`t that be enough?
REID: Right. And isn`t part of the reason, Jelani, because we do have
this sort of perception, this is the most macho sort of sport, right? So
there is this perception that if you are publicly gay, people will start to
question your machismo, whether or not you can be a brute on the field.
COBB: Right. I mean, I think that -- I mean, there are kinds of ideas I
think that play into this in terms of masculinity. And one of the most
striking things is having this conversation in the context of this report
about Jonathan Martin, and you know, people kind of saying, well, look,
they don`t come much bigger than him. It`s like, well, why can`t this guy
stand up for himself, and why can`t he, you know, and so on, and almost
kind of impugning his masculinity.
REID: And it`s the fans, it`s not to your point, it`s the fans, not the
COBB: I would say really quickly about that, Jonathan Martin is actually
the logical outcome of the society in which Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin
exist. And I know that as a man who`s 6`3" and about 260 pounds. It is
drilled into your head that, be careful, don`t intimidate people. You
never want to use violence. You might hurt someone accidentally and so on.
And I can completely understand how somebody comes out on the other end of
that saying, that you really are so conflict averse that a situation like
REID: Right. And so, what does it mean for the NFL`s image, that you now
are attacking, both in the case about Jonathan Martin and in the Michael
Sam case, these stereotypes that the fans have about the NFL.
CLARK: Well, I think that it`s really an important step forward, in a
sense that what strikes me as most interesting, in terms of a branding
perspective, because I work for a lot of major corporate clients.
Ultimately, if Michael Sam becomes the NFL superstar, if he becomes an
equivalent of Tom Brady, it`s possible he may have handicapped himself a
little bit in terms of his ability to secure a wide group of sponsors.
CLARK: However, if he is statistically speaking, if he`s a good player, if
he`s an average player, he`s actually turbo charged his brand, because even
if he were to access some endorsement deals, there are going to be brands
that want to affiliate with him, specifically because he came out. He`s
viewed as a hero, he`s viewed as courageous, as someone who speaks his
And so, I think it`s really helped his career. And I think that the NFL
ultimately, over the long-term, is going to benefit from the fact that he
did it, because you want to wipe away any associations of homophobia or
being old school. We`re moving into the next century. The fact that
Michael Sam is there, and if they`re supporting him, it makes the NFL,
which is having so much trouble, as you were alluding to earlier, traumatic
brain injury and things like that, it makes it look like a much better and
more modern institution.
REID: So, Dave, tougher question for you. What if he doesn`t make a team?
What are the implications, what if he doesn`t make a team and the teams are
saying, look, he didn`t fit in our squad? They have other reasons for not
signing him. He doesn`t make a team, but now, we have this hanging out
there, he came out as gay and then doesn`t make a team. Does it now go all
to his sexual orientation rather than the league making a decision not to
ZIRIN: Well, yes, because they`re going to have to sell the idea that the
SEC defensive player of the year, and keep in mind, eight of the last nine
SEC defensive players of the year were drafted in the first round. A lot
of people argue that going from the SEC to a team like the Jacksonville
Jaguars is a demotion, in numerous ways.
And here is Michael Sam, SEC defensive player of the year, and he can`t
even make an NFL club? And they`ll try to sell that on the basis of
No, no, no. That crow won`t fly. They`re going to have to figure out a
way to actually understand that this is the 21st century, and that will be
much more of a challenge for the NFL, because it`s one of those things
where everybody says, in theory, oh, no, no, we have no problem with this
But general managers are so risk averse and the league is so conservative,
that it is going to take someone having a degree of courage to make this
choice and say, I actually do care about the content of his character, not
just on Martin Luther King`s birthday, not just because there`s a
microphone in my face, but in actuality. And that is going to take, I
believe, some real courage.
REID: It`s amazing, Rinku, that just again, once again, you have sort of
the people at the top, sort of the suits are a lot more risk averse and
conservative than even people on the field. Even though, let`s be clear,
it hasn`t been universal. There have been some players that have thrown
some shade at Michael Sam as well.
But we do see, the league itself is a lot more afraid than the players seem
SEN: Well, that reflects what often happens in our communities, which is
that a kind of subculture emerges around the lived realities of the people
who live in that community or are a part of that community, the players on
a team, the tenants in a building, the kids who go to a school. And when
people have to, in fact, work it out, they do work it out. It`s that the
system, so behavior starts to change, but the rules don`t, necessarily
So, we`re in a situation at the NFL, it seems like now, where a good deal
of behavior has actually changed in football teams. And Michael Sam has
been experiencing that change. It`s a change that comes out of the reality
of the people that you`re with.
And the question is going to be, will those kinds of intentions and
behaviors get institutionalized now throughout the league.
REID: Right. And you know what? Go ahead, Wade.
DAVIS: And I think athletes are used to this. Like, athletes exist in
spaces where guys from different races, different classes, and they make it
work because it`s a family and it`s a team.
REID: Right. OK. Well, everyone stay with me because coming up, I want
to dig deeper into the new report out on the Miami Dolphin`s bullying
REID: NFL prospect Michael Sam`s revelation that he`s gay has been greeted
largely with support and congratulations. But he has his share of
skeptics, some of whom work for NFL teams. Experts predict that Sam could
be chosen in the second or third round or at least by the fifth round in
the NFL draft in May.
However, one NFL general manager told "Sports Illustrated", senior writer
Peter King that Sam would not be selected at all. Others told Kim
anonymously that Sam`s draft stock will suffer.
Now, keep in mind, we`re not talking about some third string scrub, we`re
talking about Michael Sam, who racked up 11 1/2 sacks last season, an
average, and was voted team MVP of a Missouri squad that went 12-2 last
season, and he was co-defensive player of the year in the toughest
conference in the NCAA.
So, Dave, you said that everyone in that position previous to Michael Sam
has really gone first round. The previous picks before he came out where
he goes second through fifth, you`re in Vegas, Mr. Vegas. What is your
prediction now? How high does Michael Sam go in the draft?
ZIRIN: I think he will be drafted, because he becomes an instant value
pick once you get past the second round. So, a smart team will pick him in
the third, fourth, or fifth round.
Unfortunately in the NFL, there are a lot of teams that no one would call
smart. So it will take a small minority of organizations that actually do
have an established locker room culture. I`m looking at you, Chicago
Bears, that`s been on the front lines against bullying, on the front lines
against these artificial, prehistoric anti-diluvian versions of manhood,
that says being a man is the ability to make someone else feel less than
There are teams, minority of teams, but still teams that take that issue
seriously, and I guarantee you that one of the teams that`s been OUTFRONT
criticizing Richie Incognito will be one of the teams that drafts Michael
REID: OK. So, Wade, Dave used the I word, Richie Incognito. We`re
talking about, you know, obviously, there is some element of hazing on the
rookies that come in. If Michael Sam gets drafted, obviously, clearly
probably not in Miami, wherever he goes, does he face more rookie hazing,
because he`s now given him something to haze him about, or does he face
less because his teammates are worried that it will get out that they hazed
him and being attached to him being gay will make him even worse?
DAVIS: To be totally honest, veterans hate rookies, regardless whether if
you`re gay or not, it`s just one of those things where veterans hate
rookies, and he will be treated like every other rookie. And they`re going
to tease him because he`s gay, but you`re going to find out that Michael
Sam has been through this before, like this is not his first time at the
Rodeo. He got teased in Missouri.
Michael Sam is also going to protect his teammates. He`s not going to run
to the principal`s office and say, hey, someone called me this, someone
called me that, because it`s his family. An outsider may go, oh, that`s
brutal, this is really that, but it`s a part of a culture that he`s existed
in for a long time, and at the end of the day, will protect him.
REID: Right. But what about you know, everybody`s got an ego, right? You
got a lot of guys that may go higher than him on the draft that are on the
same thing, what about the potential of resentment because he`s getting so
much attention? Like how much attention does just that, forget the LGBT
issue, but just him getting lots of attention as a rookie? How is that
DAVIS: Any first round guy or second round guys that gets extra attention
gets it a little worse, you know, like from getting their eye brows shaved,
all of those things.
But players know not to cross the line. And there are certain teams that
don`t allow that at all. In Tennessee, it wasn`t allowed. In Seattle, it
wasn`t allowed. So, it all depends on the leadership. And there`ll be
some coaches that will say, you know what, this won`t happen. And it
doesn`t matter if he`s first round, fourth round, gay or straight.
REID: So, what about the hazing of the team? What about the image to have
that team. How do you think he enhances or not the image of whatever team
signs him. Do they now get the focus, oh, you`re the team that`s got the
gay guy on it. And what is the branding implication of that?
CLARK: Well, I think that there are definitely branding implications.
Back a decade ago when gay marriage was first being legalized, I was doing
consulting work for mass equality, the organization behind it, and we did a
series of focus groups.
And one of the things we realized that was most striking was we talked to a
bunch of blue-collar guys, folks you might think, they might be
uncomfortable with homosexuality, they might have some problems with it and
what we realized was that of the ones, and it was actually a large number
that were comfortable with gay marriage, the view that they had was, you
know what, I`m man enough that I don`t care one way or another. It`s not
my business. And it would be a little weird if it were my business.
And so, I think that`s the tack that a lot of these teams, the team that
ultimately drafts Michael Sam will take and should take.
REID: I`m also curious, Jelani on the implications -- just in terms of
kids who follow football and look up to these guys. I mean, we do feel
like we`ve crossed the Rubicon culturally where we are starting to de-
escalate the surprise or the negative stereotype or the stigma to being
gay. And isn`t that helpful if you have someone like a Michael Sam that`s
a successful pro-football player. What does that do for the kid out there
in the community playing peewee football?
COBB: I think that kid gets a broader definition of what masculinity is
first, to start with. And at some point, the conversation that kid will
have will be around stats, around statistics, and around, you know, who`s
going to the playoffs. And I think it may take a while to get to that
But I think incrementally, we`ll see, kind of see ourselves moving in that
There`s one other thing, though, that going back to the Jackie Robinson
analogy, and in the middle of that first season with the Dodgers, he fell
into a slump. And what people attribute it to was the fact that he had all
of these dynamics that were going on. So, it`s not even so much a matter
of, you know, was he a distraction to the team. It was the fact that there
was one player on the field who had to deal with questions that nobody else
on the field had to deal with. And he eventually broke out of that and
went on to the Hall of Fame career that he had.
So I think in some ways, we have to look at what it will be like for him,
for Mr. Sam, in that position and having to actually deal with all those
expectations on that stage.
REID: And, Rinku, we are, obviously, talking about football. We`re
talking about this issue of masculinity. But this is actually an issue for
women as well, and women of color, in particular. You know, this is still
a challenge, right?
So, this week, we had Ellen Page. Just to take a quick turn for a moment.
Hollywood actress, another field where your image is everything and
projecting that image and believability on the screen, et cetera, is
So, this young woman, Ellen Page, actress, very popular, came out of the
closet as well this week. So, she faces the flip side of that, because now
you have the architects of femininity at issue. So, I mean, in a broader
context, are we now in a world where it`s not only easier to come out, but
it`s also helpful to others because it gives you a redefinition of
masculinity and femininity?
SEN: You know, I think we have to remember, in spite of all the progress
we have made as a society, it is still really hard to be out as an LBGT
person. You cannot be guaranteed that you can be as out in one context as
you are in another -- out to your family, as you are out at work, for
So I think the coming out of someone like Ellen Page or of Michael Sam is
it sends a really enormously important me think, still, not just to kids,
but also to adults. And I think that they will -- when people come out,
they do often pay a tax for it. So, Dave referred to the kind of tax that
Michael Sam might pay. Ellen Page will pay some taxes in the kinds of
roles she gets offered, I bet.
And now not everybody pays a tax, or some can pay a smaller tax, because
they have some kind of privilege, they`re top-ranked college football
players or they`re already Hollywood stars, but all the rest of us who have
to manage life without that kind of prominence and without the platform
that allows us to kind of be who we are and be that in public, all the rest
of us are still struggling.
So, the more -- that`s why I think every time someone comes out in a really
public way, it does matter, it is important. And it`s not something that
we should just dismiss as unimportant, because now we`re all so post-
REID: Very important point.
And I want to thank you so much, Rinku Sen, as well as Dorie Clark.
And up next, a classic case of bullying in the NFL. We`re going to give
you details of a fascinating report. And as we go, let`s hear Ellen Page`s
coming out story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELLEN PAGE, ACTRESS: And I am hear today, because I am gay. And because -
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
And because, maybe I can make a difference, to help others have an easier
and more hopeful time, regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and
a social responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: If you didn`t think the allegations that former Miami offensive
lineman Jonathan Martin was repeatedly harassed by his teammates Richie
Incognito, and two other offensive lineman for the Dolphins were that big
of a deal, then the independent report commissioned by the NFL and released
on Friday night might change your mind.
The 140-page report chronicles the persistent and graphic harassment that
Martin, a fellow player, and an assistant trainer endured in the 2013
season. The level of language used by Richie Incognito, John Jerry, and
Mike Pouncey in statements, texts, and voice mails to Jonathan Martin is so
vulgar, that we will not show it on air.
What I can show you is the page included in the report from Richie
Incognito`s so-called fine book, which was used to keep track of the fines
that the offensive linemen imposed on each other.
According to the report, hours after Jonathan Martin left the team,
Incognito assessed himself a $200 penalty for, quote, "breaking J-Mart",
and ordered another team who had verbally taunted $250 for not breaking
first, and wrote five separate fines against Martin for acting like a word
we won`t say on television.
Now, some might dismiss this as this guy being guys. But one week after
Jonathan Martin left the team, Incognito texted teammates to destroy the
book, because according to the report, Incognito wrote, "They`re going to
suspend me. Please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning."
Incognito was unsuccessful in his attempts to destroy evidence, evidence
that clearly shows that Jonathan Martin and others were harassed.
Joining the table now are Katon Dawson, a Republican consultant and former
chair of the South Carolina GOP, and back with us is Mychal Denzel Smith, a
writer for TheNation.com.
First I want to go to Dave, just to quickly summarize this report, because
a lot of people have said, oh, it was just hazing, it was just guys being
guys. What does this report actually say about the treatment that Jonathan
ZIRIN: It says a lot. It says that, first of all, it extended way beyond
Richard Incognito in terms of the perpetrators and extended beyond Jonathan
Martin in terms of the victims. It`s a view of an NFL locker room as an
absolute caldron of racism, homophobia, and violence.
And I would actually encourage people who have ever experienced those kind
of issues to not even read this report. It can be that upsetting. It has
trigger warnings all over it. It`s that upsetting to read.
There are threats of actual physical violence. There are descriptions of
what should not be called bullying, but what should be called assault.
It`s a PR nightmare for the NFL, but even worse than that, I have to tell
you, it`s a nightmare for anybody who believes that an NFL locker room is a
place that they would some day want to send their children.
REID: And, Wade, I mean, you`ve described a very different NFL. You`ve
described thing that`s like a family, that people are feeling like
brothers. But this report is really not that NFL at all that you`ve
DAVIS: I think, it was even Jonathan Martin who said himself, he reached
out to other players on other teams and said, is this what the NFL is like,
and they all said no. Like, again, this is -- if you looked into a family,
right, and you were like, wow, your family is dysfunctional. But I think
that there`s function in all of our families. And the NFL is a family, but
it doesn`t mean it`s dysfunctional.
Like I`m not excusing anything that happened there. But like we have to
keep in mind that this is the exception, it`s not the rule. I mean, there
are so many guys that -- and I`m a gay man, so if I had issues in the
locker room, I would tell you. Like, I would be the first one to say, wow,
is this horrible.
But most guys will tell you, we protect each other, we take care of each
other. And most guys will be go, hey, you went too far. The guys will go,
you know what? My bad.
REID: Katon, thank you for joining us, the new member of our panel. I`m
going to have you speak for Joe and Jane America. Do people really care
about this stuff? Do people really see Martin as a victim or do they say,
he should have been stronger?
KATON DAWSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is a multi-billion dollar
industry of 31 entities in a nonprofit setting, which is the NFL, and it
collides into the locker room. It is a very violent sport. It`s a
physical sport. It`s a male sport that is driven by the price of tickets.
Fans want to see you play. They know who you are.
All the way back to when I was in college, when anabolic steroids started,
OK? They wanted players to get bigger, faster, better, because it`s really
the entertainment business.
So, the NFL has got a couple of problems here. They`ve got a helmet
Wade, you wore them, you know how violent it is. They`ve got headache
problems. My friends who played in the NFL now are sick. So when you
start looking at it, it`s a business. It sells tickets. People demand the
action, and with that comes these irresponsible behaviors.
And is it acceptable? Absolutely not to regular people, but to the players
and to Wade`s credit, the players see it differently. They see the locker
room differently, they say the harassment differently.
I think the general public is outraged with this report of the behavior.
So I would say the NFL has one more time an issue to go deal with as an
institution where the multi-billion dollar aspect collides dead in the
middle of a male locker room.
REID: You know what else is colliding? It`s interesting because now, sort
of the Michael Sam story is sort of colliding with the Jonathan Martin
story. There was one piece in this report I want to read.
And it says essentially this. It says, "With the recent announcement of
Michael Sam, a defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, who is
expected to be selected in the 2014 draft that he is gay, it is even more
urgent that a tolerant atmosphere exist throughout the league. The
frequent use of homophobic insults undermines this goal."
So, I mean, basically, Mychal, you have an NFL that has these two things
happening all at once. This report -- this scathing report on at least NFL
culture in this one locker room, negative, homophobic, you know, overly
just aggressive. And on the other hand, you have this potential for
Michael Sam to completely change the narrative.
MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH, BLOGGER, THENATION.COM: Yes. And this is what makes
people fearful for Michael Sam, is that these type of things can happen,
and this is the type of environment that he will be entering. And I think,
to what you`re saying, a lot of people do view this as just guys being
guys. And that`s exactly the problem.
That we have such a definition of manhood and masculinity, I think it`s
really telling that a lot of this report, the way that they denigrated
Jonathan Martin was to use slurs, homophobic, but also graphic language
that it`s damaging to women and women`s bodies, and there`s this sense of
trying to prove one`s masculinity, in a certain way that is damaging to the
livelihood of other people, that are deemed weaker. And that`s why people
are fearful for Michael Sam to enter into that variety.
REID: Right. I mean, it`s also damaging and confusing, for a young black
man, what are you supposed to be, right? You`re supposed to -- Jonathan
Martin is not tough enough, Michael Sam, it`s on the other side. It`s
COBB: It is. I mean, I think -- I`ve spoken about this, and I really
empathized a great deal with the situation that Jonathan Martin found
himself in, but it is precisely the message that was drilled into me as a
young person, which is always kind of err on the side of being not violent
or not being aggressive, because, you know, I stopped growing when I was 15
years old. And people pulled me aside and said, you can`t get into a fight
like the other kids, you know, you might kill somebody.
You know, that kind of thing, and it internalizes this idea that you always
have to de-escalate concerns. And I understand exactly how a situation in
its logical conclusion comes to where Jonathan Martin is. One thing I will
I disagreed with, when he was condemning himself, he thought it was because
of his school or his upbringing, maybe his upbringing wasn`t tough enough
and so on.
I went to New York City public schools in the `80s, I can assure that this
was not a dynamic that has to go with class.
COBB: This has everything to do with people wanting their son to not wind
up like Jordan Davis.
OK, hold that thought. Up next, the Miami Dolphins locker room of the
future. The team owner will spell out his vision, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN ROSS, MIAMI DOPHINS OWNER: Basically, I don`t want to make any
excuses. I want to know that our workplace going forward will be the best
workplace that you could find in the NFL.
I plan on being very proactive and in doing so, I have asked and formed a
committee, I have five people that are members of that committee. I look
to expand it to seven to nine, to protect me and them, the players, from my
overreacting and having a code of conduct that suits the 21st century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was Miami Dolphins owner, Steven Ross, back in November of last
year. Ross was publicly addressing Jonathan Martin`s departure from the
team for the first time while trying to assure everyone the Dolphins
workplace would change.
So, Katon, you talked about this business of the NFL. That was a business
owner trying to protect his brand.
DAWSON: Well, not only trying to protect his brand. Right now, the NFL
needs Michael Sam`s, too. At the same time, it has an image problem, all
the way down to what we said. But, again, it`s a multibillion-dollar
business. This is a business. And the collateral damage sitting there are
the players and the people who making a living off of it.
And the fans, it`s why it`s full every Sunday and Monday.
REID: Yes. I mean, Wade, at this point, would you let your son play
football? Would you want your son going into the NFL?
DAVIS: I would, because I had a very different experience. I think the
larger situation around Incognito and Martin is that this is a mental
health discussion as well. Like, the fact that people look at Martin as
not a hero, but as a villain, like, it takes a lot of courage for someone
to say, like, hey, I`m dealing with a lot of depression, so can we have a
talk around this stigma that`s associated with mental health. So men feel
safe to speak up and say, hey, I`m going through some things.
REID: He almost got caught up in like snitching culture. You have some
people who have really commented that Jonathan Martin is in the wrong.
COBB: I think it`s kind of absurd, but those people don`t have to deal
with what he`s dealing with on a daily basis. And even outside of that
kind of cultural ideas, this is a plain, straightforward legal issue about
workplace, improper behavior in the workplace. So if we dismiss all the
kind of people who are in the stands, people who are or on the Internet or
Twitter or whatever, none of their opinions really matter. We`ll talk
about what is them all (ph).
REID: Right. And, Dave, I heard you`re chiming a little bit on that. Did
you want to expand on this?
ZIRIN: Oh, just that this is a workplace. It`s not only a workplace, it`s
a union workplace. So, when people talk about the code and the locker
room, there`s a part of me that just feel like it`s an excuse so people in
their 20s and 30s can live in a period of extended high school arrested
development. And maybe there`s a connection between that locker room
culture where 35-year-olds act like 16-year-olds, which is why so many NFL
players have such a tough time after retirement.
And as we talk about this as a business, let`s also keep in mind, it`s a
nonprofit. It gets billions of dollars in public money every year. We are
stakeholders in this.
So, if we don`t like the culture of the NFL as fans, as public, I see us as
having every single right of saying so.
REID: And, you know, Mychal, I wondered, what is the implication of
changing. What has been -- you know, when I was a kid, it has had a
certain culture we expect. This sort of hyper masculine culture has been
taken for granted. That`s the way it ought to be. What are the
implications of changing that, potentially?
SMITH: I mean, it probably becomes a deferent game, and we have to, you
know, accept that, is that what we want -- but, the price of that is -- I
mean, on the other side of that is the human cost, right?
So, we`re looking at all of these issues of toxic masculinity, of mental
health issues, of workplace issues, like the NFL is not the only one
dealing with that. That`s a societal -- like, that`s a systemic thing that
suggested throughout our culture. But because it`s such a popular
manifestation of all of that, we get to look at it and it be a test kitchen
for changing all of these things and then saying do we live with this? I
hope we`re able to.
REID: Yes, changing things, but Richie Incognito is still playing. I
mean, he`s out there tweeting, you know, stop the hate, happy Valentine`s
DAVIS: He won`t be playing again. There`s too many players that would
never want to play with Richie, and there are more players -- there was a
poll and more players sided with Jonathan Martin than Richie Incognito,
which speaks to guys get it, like they`re not as barbaric and ignorant as
we think they are.
REID: Right. So, I mean, do you think more likely, Dave Zirin, that
Richie Incognito makes the team and plays again or Jonathan Martin does?
ZIRIN: I`m in Vegas, so I`m making predictions. Jonathan Martin,
Indianapolis Colts, leader of that locker room, his former quarterback at
Stanford, Andrew Luck, and a coach in Chuck Pagano will not put up with
this. And a shame on Miami Dolphins for not firing their coach, Joe
Philbin, and their offensive line coach, who is still employed by the team.
That team needs to clean house.
REID: Well, Dave, I can`t let you go without asking why you are in Vegas.
What are you doing there, man? You`re not here with us.
ZIRIN: I wouldn`t -- yes, I wouldn`t tell you if it wasn`t cool. Ang Lee
as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is trying to do a movie based on the
Muhammed Ali-Joe Frazier fights trilogy. He asked me to come out here with
him, to interview old confidants of those two men, to try to get into the
inside of what`s going on there.
Pretty darn cool, Joy. I know you`re into Ali.
REID: Very much so. And they couldn`t have asked for a better consultant,
a better guy to do it.
ZIRIN: They made a huge mistake. They made a huge mistake.
REID: Well, it`s too late now, Dave, because you`re already there.
ZIRIN: I know, right. I`m here.
REID: It`s a beautiful thing. Well, thank you so much, Dave Zirin. I
really appreciate you taking the time to come here from Las Vegas.
ZIRIN: Thank you.
REID: All right. And we also want to thank Jelani Cobb, Kate Dawson,
Mychal Denzel Smith and Wade Davis.
Up next, a special announcement from Nerdland.
REID: If you watched the show yesterday, or if you follow this show`s
host, Melissa Harris-Perry on Twitter, and you should, you may already know
the exciting news that on Valentine`s Day, Melissa and her husband James
welcomed a new member of their family. Hey, baby girl Perry.
Melissa Harris Perry will be on maternity leave for the next few weeks
while she and their family welcome their new daughter into their world, but
even though she won`t be here hosting Nerdland, she`s going to stay
involved with you and the show, as part of the first ever Nerdland scholar
challenge. One thing, the thing that we are calling the mother of all
Melissa will be leading this four-week online challenge, which will
investigate how motherhood is tied to our nation`s politics. She`ll take
you to women`s enfranchisement, to Wendy Davis, to deep dives of
citizenship, parenthood, and politics. Sign up now and you`ll get to
discuss the issues with MHP on our challenge group on MSNBC.com and yes,
there will be homework.
You can reserve your spot in the challenge right now by going to the show`s
Thanks so much for joining us this weekend. In Nerdland, and, Melissa,
thanks to you. And we will definitely pay well wishes to your family as
you guys start your new chapter in your life. And Melissa knows that
sometimes folks may want to be generous and send gifts, but she does ask
instead of sending anything to her family, please consider donating to a
local organization instead, like the Diaper Bank of North Carolina. You
might remember that organization from our previous foot soldier segments.
All right. That`s our show for today. Thanks again to you at home for
watching. I will see you here next Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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