Russell and Duenes

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

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

with 4 comments

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.




Written by Michael Duenes

March 8, 2015 at 2:43 pm

I’ve Never Bought a Song on iTunes

leave a comment »

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.


Written by Michael Duenes

January 19, 2015 at 7:55 am

Whitey Herzog, Not Earl Weaver

leave a comment »

From 1976 to 1985, two teams dominated the American League. The Kansas City Royals got to the American League playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1985. The New York Yankees won the American League East in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981. In ’76 through ’78, the Yankees bested the Royals each time. Of course, as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I loathed the Yankees for beating the Dodgers in the World Series in ’77 and ’78, but as a huge George Brett fan, I also liked the Royals and hated to see them lose to the Yankees. I still have this image in my mind of Royals starter, Dennis Leonard, sitting in the Royals dugout, looking shell-shocked, watching the Yankees clinch at their expense yet again. Thus, my hatred of the Yankees only grew.

Whitey Herzog, the Royals manager in those late 70’s years, was establishing the brand of baseball he would eventually perfect as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980’s, namely, build your team around speed, pitching and defense, particularly in light of the fact that your team plays on astro-turf, where, as Thomas Boswell once suggested, Herzog’s speedy players could pound the ball into the turf, beat it out, steal second, score on a seeing-eye single, and win the game, 2-1. Herzog didn’t have the bullpens with the Royals that he had with the Cardinals, but then in the 70’s, set-up men and “closers,” were largely unheard of. Herzog is the one who perfected the whole “turn it over to the bullpen in the 7th” strategy.

Earl Weaver also managed some pretty good teams in Baltimore in the 1970’s, but under a different managerial philosophy than Herzog. While both Weaver and Herzog had some pretty good starting pitching and solid defenses, Weaver famously relied on the “three run homer” from Frank Robinson or Boog Powell, rather than small ball and speed, like Herzog. For my taste, Herzog has always had the preferable style, if only for aesthetic reasons.

Which is why I love this Royals team. It’s like I’m transported back to the 70’s and 80’s. First of all, they’re playing the Giants, a team I hate just as much as the Yankees, if not more so now. But most of all, they have that same combination of speed, pitching and defense that Herzog’s teams traditionally had. I’ve always loved teams that have “lights out” bullpens. Though I’m no Cincinnati Reds fan, I had a certain affinity for “The Nasty Boys” of Pinella’s 1990 championship team (and I don’t mind liking them, since the Dodgers got theirs in 1988). The Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda, much like Weaver, relied more on starting pitching and power than defense and a strong bullpen (Mike Marshall was before Lasorda’s time.), so I actually enjoyed it when the Dodgers had Eric Gagne. When it gets to the 7th inning, if the Royals have a lead, they’re usually a lock.

So this is a great Series, bringing up great memories of the baseball of my youth.


Written by Michael Duenes

October 25, 2014 at 7:22 pm

I Don’t Turn On NFL Films to Watch the Place-Kickers

leave a comment »

The Gospel Coalition did an interview with Sports Illustrated writer, Thomas Lake (find it here), and having read his piece on ex-Carolina Panthers’ player, Rae Carruth (“The Boy They Couldn’t Kill”), Lake definitely lives up to his billing as one of our finest long-piece authors. In the interview he said something interesting, something that has no doubt been voiced by others, but has continued to pop up in my mind from time-to-time since I read the interview, particularly now that the NFL season is set to begin. Lake said:

“Football is—we all know by now—terribly violent and in many cases damaging to people’s brains, can leave them with their lives ruined, even in some cases dead much too soon. Basically everyone in America knows this by now, but we keep watching. Why? Is the game too entertaining, we can’t tear ourselves away? I don’t know. It seems like a great national case of cognitive dissonance. I don’t really know what to do about it—do you?”

Lake concludes that, at least for him, the game is indeed too entertaining or compelling. He adds: “Football is one of the last things in America that everyone still talks about. The mass culture has fragmented; everyone has their own niche. It’s hard to talk about things anymore. Everyone has their own TV show, music—but there’s still football. Turning away is unplugging from society.”

Perhaps so, though I wonder if there’s a test case out there, that is, someone who gave up football altogether who could judge whether he became “unplugged from society” because of it. I’m skeptical. But Lake’s words have gotten me pondering the nature of the game of football. These mostly muscle men slam their bodies into each other with frightening force, at breakneck speeds, with intent to inflict physical and mental punishment on the opponent. And that’s just it. When I watch old NFL films highlights, I ain’t tuning in for the show on place-kickers or punters. What I want is something like: “The NFL’s Greatest Hits,” where linebackers and strong safeties are laying the wood to some poor wide receiver or tight end coming over the middle. It’s what we all want to see.

Lake has no answer for why, and neither, really, do I. What I do have, of course, is more than a suspicion that the hunger for bone-jarring hits isn’t burbling up from some well of virtue deep within me. To say I “go back and forth” over whether to keep watching would be false. I keep watching, and have not much intent on stopping, at least at this point. I guess what I’m saying is that the issue has been more in my consciousness of late. Don’t know where it will lead, but thought I’d put it out there.


Written by Michael Duenes

August 16, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Michael Sams Will Be, Indeed, Must Be, Drafted

with one comment

It’s always interesting to see people getting caught in the tangle of their own unbiblical standards. As Douglas Wilson likes to say when it comes to standards: “Not whether, but which.” As human beings, we will have standards, and they will either be God’s standards, and will therefore cause us to flourish, or they will be ungodly standards, which will lead to human stumbling.

Which brings me to the Michael Sams story. We’ve been served up constant cultural bromides to the effect that we need to not only accept homosexual behavior, but to approve and celebrate it. Prior to the upcoming NFL draft, Michael Sams “came out” as gay, and this was inexorably followed by public figures and media types reminding us what a celebratory story Sams has.

But then today I heard a sports radio talkshow host interviewing an NFL insider about Sam’s football abilities, which apparently are not quite as good as we had been led to believe. Indeed, according to the gentleman being interviewed, there are some NFL front offices that believe Sams might not be good enough to be drafted. And this presents quite a conundrum, which the sports talkshow host himself saw, namely: What kind of hit will the NFL take should Sams not be drafted? The host said that because Sams came out as gay, if he’s not drafted, it’s likely the NFL will have a PR problem on its hands. Moreover, he went on to say that if Sam’s draft stock goes down far enough, people will say he was not drafted higher due to NFL front office anti-gay bigotry. Thus, the guy being interviewed said straight out: “Sams is going to be drafted.” The clear implication was, someone simply must draft Sams . . . or else.

So the NFL, along with every other sports league and most other public cultural and governmental institutions, demands that people celebrate homosexual behavior. And in the NFL’s case, the demand for approval may further demand that a team draft a player it might not want to draft, lest the league appear, well, not properly celebratory. That is, Sams’ coming out virtually assured that any explanations of his lack of football ability will not be believed, and will be taken instead as evidence of anti-gay sentiment in the league.

And if anyone thinks this kind of coercion is, or will be, restricted to the NFL, I think they have their eyes closed to reality. The standard is being imposed, and the NFL may not like it, but they are now bound by it. That may not be a big deal, in one sense. It’s only a sports league. But standards that do not come from God, and that are in rebellion against God, as this one is, ultimately catch us in their net, and have ways of subverting the good we hoped to gain by our standards. As Jesus once said: “Wisdom is proved right by all her children.”


Written by Michael Duenes

February 25, 2014 at 2:45 pm