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Kentucky Is A Joke and So Are Many Major “Student” Athletics

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I confess I’ve lost almost all interest in college basketball, and college sports in general. I still watch here and there because I enjoy sports, but my heart’s not in it at all. Sure, part of it is that other interests besides sports have needed my attention (e.g., having 4 kids under age 8), but the essential fraud of college sports has really done a number on me.

I’m not sure why my level of cynicism has increased so much in recent years, for it’s not as if corruption, cheating and academic fraud are anything new to the NCAA. I suppose my general dislike for John Calipari and the undefeated NBA team he’s got over there at Kentucky have pushed me over the edge. I don’t care what he or anyone else says: Kentucky’s basketball program is a fraud and a disgrace to Kentucky as an “academic” institution, and so are all the other programs just like it. You simply don’t admit “students” to your school who are clearly non-students destined for the NBA in a year or two.

Of course this pertains not just to college basketball, but all major college sports, which is why I’ve watched so little of it recently. Maybe I’m a blowhard for saying so, and I’m taking myself too seriously. But I’ve always been a big sports fan, and having graduated from UCLA, college basketball has run in my veins to some degree. Yet if it was UCLA who was 31-0, rather than Kentucky, I honestly believe my disinterest would be virtually the same. It’s just a joke. I know many others say this, but major college sports are little more than a minor league system for the big leagues, and academics doesn’t really come into it. These sports point up the general academic fraudulence that, in my view, permeates large portions of university undergraduate life.

Yes, the caveat needs to be made that there are plenty of athletes on NCAA athletic scholarships who major in engineering or some other challenging major and will take their academics seriously. I understand that, but I don’t think it changes the overall picture of major college sports, which is a huge money-making industry. ESPN’s Jay Bilas pretty much said it all in commenting on the NCAA’s “punishment” handed down to Syracuse recently: “People think, ‘What’ll happen is, schools will now recruit the lesser athlete, but the better student.’ They don’t do that. They’re not going to recruit the lesser athlete. They’re going to recruit the best athlete. That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to win games and get athletes to play.” End of story.

On another sports related note, last night I watched one of the most stunning documentaries on the football brain damage issue I’ve ever seen: The October 8, 2013, PBS “Frontline” episode on “the NFL’s concussion crisis,” League of Denial, which you can watch here. If you find yourself wanting to watch something for about an hour-and-a-half, I’d highly recommend this. Indeed, I’d watch it again, it was that well done.

I had already pretty much decided that I didn’t want any of my boys playing football in their youth, but this cemented it. Former New York Giant and NFL Hall of Famer, Harry Carson, made the case all by himself in this film. And the pack of lies and obfuscation the NFL has promulgated, and continues to put forth, in my view, is just appalling. Anyone who has watched the NFL with an ounce of common sense can tell you that the NFL’s “doctors” were full of it.

Which got me thinking of something related to our culture’s cult of “science” in general. We’re told ad nauseum that science is “based on fact” and tells us the truth, while religion and morality is just a bunch of “opinion.” Science is “evidence based” because we observe things objectively. So we should all put our unwavering faith in science. Yet it was abundantly clear that observation and “evidence” meant nothing to the NFL and its doctors. They didn’t want to hear it. In other words, for the modern scientific enterprise to have any validity at all, it presupposes and depends on a bunch of non-scientific things, two of which are high regard for truth-telling and open-mindedness. Such values are not scientific and don’t come from science. Rather, they are pre-scientific metaphysical and spiritual necessities. Without them, there is no science. The human element cannot be removed, and scientists, particularly the NFL’s scientists, all have their personal, economic and other commitments, which were on full display. The documentary was sobering on so many levels. My wife was riveted, and she watches about 15 minutes of football during the Superbowl each year and that’s it.

-D

 

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Written by Michael Duenes

March 8, 2015 at 2:43 pm

May Your Beauty Come From the Utter Rejection of Everything that “50 Shades of Grey” Stands For

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As is well known to most, the movie 50 Shades of Grey is coming out on Valentines Day, mostly to celebration and excitement. I could say a lot of things about this, but I think I’ll just say that it saddens me. This book and movie grieve me because I have a wife whom I desperately love and seek to honor and cherish. And she is worthy of such honor, for she is beautiful, and yet her beauty is only increased by the fact that she is modest and protective of her femininity. She is very smart and capable, and uses these qualities in a variety of ways, including adorning our home with beauty, acceptance, comfort and fine food. My wife is faithful, hard-working, thoughtful and respectful; she speaks and acts with purity and humility, and carries herself with dignity and prudence. She covers our family with grace. Suffice it to say that not only does 50 Shades exalt none of these things, but it revels in their opposites: shame, degradation, humiliation, ugliness, selfishness, impurity and faithlessness.

The giddiness surrounding 50 Shades further saddens me because I think of the fact that my daughter will sooner than I realize be navigating the shoals of the kind of utter debasement and wickedness that is not only accepted, but positively rejoiced over in this book and movie. The beauty of God’s ways regarding sex and sexuality are stunning and captivating, and so very worth giving oneself to, and I hope and desire that my daughter will embrace them, for her own eternal joy and for God’s glory. And the thought that God’s ways are savaged, mutilated, marred and debauched by the making and celebration of this film is soul-grieving stuff. It is sad because it destroys souls and turns people away from the God who lovingly created them for Himself, for purity and joy and glory. I hope and pray that my daughter’s beauty will always come from the purity and reverence of her life, from the godliness of her soul, from her wisdom that comes from knowing Jesus, from her respect and value for her own true femininity, and from the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit in communion with the Lord . . . indeed, from the rejection of everything that 50 Shades of Grey stands for and celebrates.

– D

Written by Michael Duenes

February 8, 2015 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Duenes, Literature, Movies

Death Reigned From the Time of Some Made-Up Guy Until Moses

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When I read Romans 5, I am compelled to believe that there was a man named Adam. Indeed, one phrase of St. Paul’s stands out to me: “Death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” (v.14). Moses is never considered to be a mythical or an allegorical person, so it would seem odd for St. Paul to be saying that death reigned from the time period of someone who didn’t really exist, Adam, until the time of someone who did, Moses. Or is St. Paul not talking about a real period of time either? Further, the text speaks of a particular kind of “offense” committed by this “Adam.” Does it seem reasonable in this context that “Adam” is just a theological construct, a fictitious man who needs to be inserted into the equation by writers who know he’s fictitious, just so that those writers can find a convenient narrative for describing sin?

This being Groundhog Day, I can’t help but think of Bill Murray delivering some of the greatest lines ever: “Ned, I would love to stand here and talk to you, but I’m not going to.” (Ned) “What are you doing for dinner?” (Murray) “Something else.”

My wife and I are definitely bibliophiles. Having brought home a treasure trove of some great, old books that a kindly lady was giving away for free, we were going through them like pirates going through their booty. Of course, we wish we could read them all in the next few days, and so my wife remarks that instead of having five stomachs like a cow, we need multiple brains. Yes, that would be grand.

 

Written by Michael Duenes

February 2, 2015 at 8:00 pm

I’ve Never Bought a Song on iTunes

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A11288.jpgI cannot remember the last time I actually bought some new music. I’ve never purchased a song on iTunes, and of course, I haven’t bought any music CD’s in years. Most of the music I listen to, I listen to on free Spotify, free Pandora or youtube, and I listen to it in my house on my computer or my iPod stereo, not while I’m out doing things. I suppose this makes me an oddball these days, but I don’t listen to much new music. I prefer the old stand-bys. It’s just weird to think about listening to so much music, but buying none of it, particularly when I’m old enough to remember buying lots of it.

“Delight,” “consumed with longing,” “love,” “sweet,” “joy of my heart,” “love above fine gold,” “wonderful,” “rejoice,” “love them exceedingly” . . . these are all words used by the author of Psalm 119 to describe his love and affection for God’s inerrant and inspired words. The word “delight” is used numerous times.

ESPN’s “30-for-30” episodes are a great example of the power of well-made films. My first introduction to them was the episode on the invention of the “high five.” And then I by chance came across the episode recounting the horror of humans being crushed at the Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield in 1989. I don’t really follow soccer, but I was riveted by the gripping tragedy that occurred there. I was almost ready to read a book about it, the film was so engrossing. You owe it to yourself to catch some of these episodes, even if sports isn’t your thing. They’re just so well done. Go here for a flavor.

I have always enjoyed writing handwritten notes, but I think such notes take on added emphasis in our day of texts and emails. Handwritten notes let the recipient know that they are valuable enough to you for you to take the time and intention to sit down and write something out in your own hand. They give that personal touch which says, “You, in particular, are someone of unique importance to me, and I want to show you that, in some small part, by giving this part of myself to you.”

I think it’s important to remember that the marital union, the promises that husband and wife make to each other, these are the foundation of love, not the other way around. In other words, our frail and fleeting human love does not give rise to the union or the promises. It’s the promises, in the power of Christ, that allow the love and union to grow and flourish. This is something the world rarely, if ever, acknowledges. We are told that when the storm of emotions which we call “falling in love” is gone, the relationship is as good as dead. But this is a lie. The truth is, it’s the commitment, the promises, that give rise to love, and that allow it to grow and flourish even in the midst of struggles, conflict, losses, and suffering, which will inevitably come.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 19, 2015 at 7:55 am

The Central Park Five

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The level of this deadly “readiness” to do evil in all of its forms . . . is very high in almost everyone. It is no mere abstract possibility but a genuine tendency, constantly at work. It does not take much to get most people to lie, for example, or to take what does not belong to them, and shamefully little to get them to think of how nice it would be if certain others were dead. . . [T]hese “readinesses” for various kinds of wrongdoing will be constantly provoked into action by threatening circumstances. And when we act, others around us will, of course, react. And then we will react to them, and so forth, until we and others are stunned into quiescence by the spiraling disasters.     – Dallas Willard

Few films I have seen illustrate the above reality more than The Central Park Five, the 2012 documentary by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and David McMahon. The documentary chronicles the experience of five Harlem youths (now men) who were wrongfully charged and convicted of the brutal beating and rape of a young, white, Wall St. investment banker as she jogged through Central Park one night in April, 1989. For those of my readers who are old enough, you’ll remember that this got heavy national attention. There was a group of some twenty young black and hispanic boys who entered Central Park that April night. They proceeded to accost and/ or beat up several people in the Park, but the rape was not part of their actions on this particular evening. Indeed, the five boys who were ultimately convicted of the rape were not in that part of the park when it happened. Rather, the rape was committed, we ultimately find out, by a serial rapist named Matias Reyes.

Let me begin by simply commending this documentary to you. Without reservation I give it five stars. The average Joe should see this film for its insight into human nature. But from now on, no law school student should be able to attain his or her J.D. unless he or she has seen the film and engaged in robust discussion of what is portrays. If I ever end up teaching some kind of pre-law courses at a Christian university (which I hope to do some day), this will be required viewing. For this film brings home to the viewer the “spiraling disaster” that comes of innate human sinfulness and folly. It is especially powerful because it shows us how our “readiness to sin” is stoked by the circumstances and realities of the world around us.

We dare not judge quickly, however, for we all may find ourselves somewhere in this cautionary tale. We begin by setting this rape in the larger context of a New York City coming out of a decades-long struggle with crime, as well as social and economic degradation. Racism has plagued the city, and thus, as the film points out, there is a sense of horror at the thought of a wealthy, white “upper East Side” woman being attacked and raped by “minority” youth. Indeed, a black woman had been raped and thrown from her roof in Harlem around the same time, and yet this received scant media attention. But when the white woman is raped, in sacrosanct Central Park, no less, the media’s rush to find some object of judgment is swift and powerful. And, if we’re honest, understandable.

The NYPD and New York City D.A.’s office had to be aware of this. Clearly they need to find the perpetrators, and find them in a decisive way. Apparently there was not much of a police presence in the park that night, but whatever their presence, they come upon these five boys, and the chain of events is set in motion. The documentary takes you through the handling of the boys initially, but the upshot is that the police and the prosecutor, Elizabeth Lederer, get into these boys well enough to get them all to confess, in some form or fashion, to a crime they didn’t commit.

Why would the boys do that? Do people really confess to beatings and rapes they didn’t commit? One need only sit through a Criminal Law or a Criminal Procedure class in law school to find the answer, but it really shouldn’t take all that. The average person, myself included, has no idea what it is like to be subjected to police interrogation tactics. The level of pressure and fear can be enormous, and when that’s the case, people will act according to their short-term, selfish interests, which is what these boys did. As the film demonstrates, they were young, they were inexperienced, they were foolish, and they wanted to go home. So they confessed.

Most of them wrote out their confessions, but the D.A., Elizabeth Lederer, went further. She video-taped their confessions, and the City of New York went to trial with that, and just that. They had nothing to put the five boys at the rape scene. The cops had taken semen from the scene, but not a lick of it matched any of the five boys. Indeed, none of the DNA evidence matched any of the boys. The crime scene did not point to five boys attacking the woman, and the confessions were a mess of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. All of this could have been figured out by police or district attorneys who were looking for the truth. But they weren’t looking for the truth. They were looking for something else, the kinds of things that we all look for: Pride, reputation, ambition, social approval, comfort, security and the like. These things get mixed up with our good motives, and to paraphrase the apostle Paul, we do not understand that which we do. They had a story, and they needed to stick with it. Individual policemen were going to lie, if need be. It gave them a “home run” with the press, with the public, and with their own sense that they had gotten the bad guys. They were tough on crime, and New Yorkers, and the New York press, which dubbed the rape “The Wilding,” were going to know it.

One of the jurors who voted to convict the five boys speaks up in the film. The jury took ten days of deliberation before returning the verdict, and this juror saw the significant inconsistencies in the boys’ confessions and tried to get the other jurors to consider them, but they would not be swayed. After all, the boys had confessed, hadn’t they? And this overcomes everything else, because, in our misunderstanding of human nature, we think that no one ever confesses to serious crimes they haven’t committed. Yet ultimately, this juror simply “gave in.” He was tired, he wanted to get out of there, so he voted to convict.

The most powerful part of the film, and its most damning indictment of our sinful human nature, is its treatment of what happens after the boys are exonerated. We find the police justifying their own inept and wrongful conduct, and one of the prosecutors justifying herself by maintaining an assertion toward the five boys that, by the true rapist’s own testimony, was baseless. And why? Because, as one reporter in the film says: “This was institutional protectionism that was going on.” As another reporter points out, the D.A. who got it wrong, and who made a name for herself through the case has “got a lot to lose by saying, ‘I got everything wrong and I railroaded these kids into jail.'”

Regarding the press’ wrongful judgment of the crime, and failure to admit their wrongness later on, one reporter says: “I don’t think the press faced its mistakes. I don’t think the police department faced the truth of what had happened. Because the truth of what had happened is almost unbearable. By prosecuting the wrong people for this Central Park Jogger case, Matias Reyes continued to hurt, maim and kill, and they could have had him, but they got stuck with a mistake. And they’re still invested in that mistake.

One commentator said it best: “I want us to remember what happened that day and be horrified by ourselves, because it really is a mirror on our society. And rather than tying it up in a bow and thinking that there is something that we can take away from it and we’ll be better people, I think what we really need to realize is that we’re not very good people, and we’re often not.” Or as Dallas Willard also says: “It’s a vision sufficient to impart a vivid realization of our terrible readiness to mistrust God and hurt others and ourselves as we take things into our own hands. This sharp, heartbreaking realization of our condition silences all argument and hair-splitting rationalization.”

I cannot get this film out of my mind, likely because it causes me to shudder. I must face the sinful rationalizations and narratives in which I am “still invested,” and which might cost me a great deal to give up. I see that, I, too, am not a very good person, and I’m often not. I see in myself, in the daily choices with which I am confronted, my “terrible readiness to mistrust God and take things into my own hands,” and it is indeed terrible, though I often know not how terrible. “Lord, keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me.” (Ps. 19). I myself have aspirations of being a prosecutor or a defense attorney, and though I may not try any “case of the century” like this one, I would be naive and foolish to think that the choices faced by the attorneys in this case will not come to my doorstep. Character matters, and I’m reminded of what my Criminal Law professor, Michael Kaye, said about the tremendous power that judges, law enforcement personnel and attorneys have; power to put people in prison, sometimes for the rest of their lives. It is the character of Christ I will need in such circumstances. The preparation must come now, before the time of testing is upon me.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Duenes, Ethics, Movies