Saturday, September 30, 2017

Game time is for the games

 (This appeared as my column in the Sept. 27 edition of The Anderson News.)

  There was one reason I became a Dallas Cowboy diehard when I was a kid and remain one today.
   Roger Staubach.
   Just like today, it seemed that back in the early and mid-1970s the Cowboys were always on TV somewhere on the weekend schedule and was intrigued as Roger the Dodger zigged when defenses zagged. I knew if they were down but time was left on the clock, the Cowboys and Captain Comeback had a fighting chance.
    As longtime fans of America’s Team can tell you, Staubach led his team to 15 comebacks and 23 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. He quarterbacked the Cowboys to four Super Bowls, winning two.
    Not bad for a pro football career that didn’t start until he was 27.
    You see, Roger Staubach attended the United States Naval Academy, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. He’s the last player from one of the service academies so honored. Graduating the following spring, he began his five-year stint to fulfill his service requirement and eventually volunteered to serve in Vietnam.
    When this son of a career military man learned all that information, Roger Staubach became one of my heroes. He was the winner on the field, straight-laced family man and Vietnam vet. After he retired in 1979, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has been an ultra-successful business man.
    You can’t get much more red, white and blue than that.
    I’ve thought quite a bit about Staubach of late. Also have thought about Rocky Bleier, the Pittsburgh Steeler running back who was wounded in Vietnam. I’ve thought about Bob Kalsu and Pat Tillman, NFL players who died while serving their country.
    I don’t know how any of them feel or would feel about the NFL player protests during the National Anthem of late and certainly won’t try to figure it out.
    What I do believe is that the protests of kneeling or staying in the locker room during the anthem have overshadowed the games. As someone who has loved watching the NFL on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights for most of my life, that’s extremely unfortunate.
    What’s even more unfortunate is that sports are no longer immune to political statements.
    It’s actually been that way for decades.
Muhammad Ali. John Carlos. Tommie Smith. Some would say it goes back even further.
    But in our 24-hour cable culture, the protests – and the anger being shown on many fronts – are much more of a hot button.
    Last year, when Colin Kaepernick started making headlines much more for what he was doing during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” than his limited playing time with the San Francisco 49ers, I saw some anger and a lot of dismissing someone who had not performed at the same level since leading the team to the Super Bowl in 2012.
    Interestingly, Roger Staubach addressed the protests in a phone interview with USA Today last November. He said, “My respect for the military is the best, and it was somewhat interpreted that he was dishonoring the military because of the flag. So I was kind of upset about it, but I wish I would’ve been able to talk to him and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Why are you doing this specifically?’”
    It’s the same question I saw asked several times on Facebook over the weekend.
    Kaepernick said that he was protesting a system that oppressed people of color.
    Of course, he’s out of the league now and had pretty much lost his platform.
    This weekend, the kneeling was undoubtedly a reaction to President Trump’s tweets saying that if a player won’t stand for The National Anthem, the owner should “get that ____________ off the field.”
    Why in the world would the President say that? Few were protesting and the most visible one who had started the movement had become irrelevant. Chances are it would have quietly died out.
With North Korea threatening to launch nukes at our country and so many domestic problems, it’s beyond me that the President would be tweeting about firing NFL players. I agree with the President on some issues, disagree on others, but really, I wish he’d left the NFL alone.
    In addition, there is no reason for anyone to refer to another human being in such terms. It’s uncalled for in my book.
    But there’s also the perception that guys who have been afforded the opportunity of a free college education and make more money in a year than most of us will earn in a lifetime simply because they can run fast or have superhuman size protest at a time set aside to be honoring the country that afforded them that opportunity.
   Obviously, the flip side of that perception is that being materially blessed does not mean one can’t take up a cause.
    But the perception of overpaid whiners is much stronger than the message supposedly being sent.
    From my little place on the sideline, all should be standing during the playing of The National Anthem, not only out of respect for our country, but also those who have fought for the country and out of respect for each other.
    Do the NFL players -- or any other American, for that matter -- have the right to take a knee?           
   Does having that right mean it is the right thing to do? Far from it.
   Rightly, or wrongly, so many have taken the actions as a slap in the face to those who have fought for or served the country and a slap to the country itself.
    As a writer, I keep my personal views out of the story. The exceptions would be in an opinion piece that appears on the editorial pages or in clearly marked opinion columns such as this.
    In my personal life, I feel free to speak as I want face-to-face, on Facebook and any other form of communication. Sometimes I regret expressing those views. But I also know that if I used space designated for reportage to espouse political views, local or national, the ones who write my paycheck would not be happy.
    And they’d have reason to terminate my service.
    Pro athletes and entertainers have every right to promote the causes they believe in all they want. But they also have to expect the consequences.
    Fans also have the right to say, “Enough.” Fans have every right to watch other TV channels or not purchase tickets as many claim to be doing.
    And owners have the right to put a stop to behavior that diminishes their product.
    That’s putting the freedoms we have into real life in the sports world.
   For the record, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the Cowboys kneeling Monday night but they made a point to stand for the anthem and they and the Arizona Cardinals appeared respectful as the anthem was played.
    I find it ironic that NFL players are protesting in the context of a game that depends on every person doing his job. Have one person miss a block or blow a defensive coverage and see what happens.
    A successful football team has to be on the same page and often use sayings like, “It’s about we, not me.” It’s a sports lesson that should carry over to real life.
    Right now, our country is divided like I have never seen and, despite Roger Goodell’s statements about unity, the protests during The National Anthem are dividing the nation further.
    No one says there is not racism in our country. No one says there are not rogue cops. We live in a great country but it’s one with flaws and imperfections.
    It would be foolish to think otherwise.
    Those problems are still with us and can only end with the nation working together.
    I don’t know the answer to the problems. If I did, I would probably be a national celebrity.
    But I do know that protesting at a football game during a time that is meaningful to so many tears us farther apart and isn’t making changes our country needs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

For this Kentucky fan, what is happening in Louisville is not a reason to rejoice

     I have been a Kentucky Wildcat fan longer than I care to remember.  
     I fell in love with the Big Blue when Rupp’s Runts were “moving to the right side of your radio dial,” as Cawood Ledford would tell me. I was devastated when Dampier, Riley, Conley, Kron and Jaracz came up short against Texas Western in March of 1966.
     I remember my first game in Memorial Coliseum – UK routed Oregon State in the 1966 UKIT – and in those years when I lived in eastern North Carolina, found that I could get in my car, get close to water and pick up WHAS radio like I was in downtown Louisville and listen to the Wildcats.
     I wanted to throw a brick at my TV that day when Louisville rallied in the second half, then went on to beat Kentucky, 80-68 in overtime, for a trip to the 1983 Final Four. I jumped for joy 29 years later when Darius Miller came up with that steal that started driving the final nail in Louisville’s coffin and propelled the Wildcats to the NCAA Final in New Orleans.
     But I won’t gloat over what has transpired at the University of Louisville the last two days.
     There was even a time, a very long time ago, when I had one of those “My Two Favorite Teams are Kentucky and Whoever Louisville Plays” stickers on my car.
     But I can’t be giddy about the downfall of the Louisville basketball program.
     Unless you have been totally cut off from the world, you know that Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was put on “unpaid administrative leave” Wednesday. It’s apparently a semantic designation to be in line with his contract, but Pitino has been “effectively fired” at Louisville, according to news reports.
     Athletic director Tom Jurich was placed on “paid administrative leave” but he’s gone too.
     Both moves are the result of Louisville being part of an FBI investigation into funneling money from a shoe company to a recruit. If the allegations are true, U of L Interim President Greg Postel deserves all the applause you can give for having the guts to stand up to a program that has been scandal city since long before he took over.
      As easy as it would be to goad, it’s really not a time for that for several reasons.

1       We know this is the start, but have no idea where things will finish.

     The allegations that took Pitino and Jurich down were the result of a large scale FBI operation. Even though Louisville was not named in the allegations, it did not take a genius to know who was “University Six.”
     What we don’t know what the future holds. Before all the reports from the Louisville press conference were filed Wednesday, news broke that the FBI had raided Nike Grassroots Basketball offices and subpoenaed employees.
     Soooo, it looks like this is far from over and you will see more revelations.
     I’m just not going to speculate on who.

2    Many people are legitimately hurting right now.

     At one time, I never thought it would be possible but some of the finest people I know are diehard Louisville Cardinal fans.
     One of those fans kisses me good night and wakes me up with another every morning. Yes, my wife is a Cardinal fan. I love her very much and our smack talk is always good natured, ending with a “just hush” or something like that. We pull like crazy for our teams but 10 minutes after the game, we are back in the same room.
     I do not feel much sympathy for Pitino or Jurich if the allegations are true.  I do feel for students who are trying to work toward their degrees having the cloud of an athletic scandal dominate their time at U of L.  It’s bad enough that the school is said to have a $48 million shortfall and resulting cuts. I feel for Louisville’s passionate fan base. While it’s not a huge base, it is undoubtedly one of the five most rabid in the nation.
     They deserve better than the constant scandal that has clouded U of L in recent years.

3    It affects me.

     I am not a U of L fan. I can watch any number of college basketball games any day of the week during winter.  So whether the Cardinals are on or not really has little effect on me.
     However, Louisville appears to be a candidate for the so-called “Death Penalty” to shut the program down a year or two.
     Think about that a minute.
     Since U of L is the main tenant, The KFC Yum! Center would be largely vacant for a year or two. You just can’t schedule enough concerts in there to pay the bills.
     Several months ago, Kentucky State Auditor Mike Harmon told Louisville Business First magazine, “that the KFC Yum Center has placed a considerable burden on Kentucky taxpayers, with 75 percent of the operating income generated for the arena coming from either a tax increment financing district implemented by the state or an annual contribution of nearly $10 million from Louisville Metro Government.”
     If the main tenant is gone, guess who foots the bill? Regardless of your team allegiance, that would hurt.

4     I am a Christian
     Those four words have been taking even more meaning over the last few years, probably because I am older and more reflective.
     I don’t believe those words mean I can’t have some good-natured fun with people, knowing it’s in fun, but it also means I should be sensitive to others.
     What happened at Louisville is the result of greed and hubris. There can be no other explanation. The Book of Proverbs says, “The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27). That’s not something to rejoice over.
     Granted, what happened at Louisville is a result of the misplaced emphasis on sports and our society’s worship of people who can run faster, jump higher or shoot the three, but those those people who are hurting are people.
     And, from my corner of the world, that’s more important than what shirt they wear on Saturdays or how many Final Four trips they have.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Harmony in the midst of chaos

I have written this blog over and over in my mind for the last three or four weeks, but my mind kept racing with the latest in the 24/7 news cycle that has become a staple of life in 2017.

So much chaos. So much confusion. It's almost like someone has taken an out of tune guitar and insists on blaring it full blast, then adding a beginning band, clashing cymbals and all, to parade before our lives.

Triumphant Quartet at Sand Spring Baptist Church, June 15, 2017.
Recently as I reflected on that cacophony, I could not think but how I had been blessed by four concerts since mid-June, all of which reminded me of how wonderful harmony really is in music and in our lives.

If you know me at all, you know I love music, especially gospel, country and bluegrass with some 60s and 70s rock mixed in. As a kid, my life revolved around our farm, playing baseball and heading to one of those “all day singin' and dinner on the ground” gatherings that it seemed like every church in Anderson County, Kentucky sponsored in the '60s.  I remember seeing professional groups like The Prophets, The Blackwood Brothers and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps.

That influence flourished when I was a teen and became a fan of The Imperials, who had sung backup to Elvis, and The Oak Ridge Boys, at the time one of the hottest gospel groups around. There was, and is, just something about that wonderful four-part harmony.

Now in my late 50s, I experienced a two-month run that saw my musical tastes filled by Triumphant, The Oak Ridge Boys (twice), and Ricky Skaggs with his band, Kentucky Thunder.

Four shows. They showcased different kinds of harmony, but amidst the chaos of the world, I needed it.

I don't want to take the contrast too far since all are entertainers who provided a few moments of musical escape from a world that has become infested by the discord of hate.

But when I kept thinking about it, there might have been a reason their harmony was such a blessing: They all shared the message of Christ, which is true harmony in life.

Back on June 15, I was blessed by Triumphant Quartet at Sand Spring Baptist Church, just a few miles down the road from my house. If you are not familiar with this outstanding group, it was brought together by Louise Mandrell for her show at Pigeon Forge, about 15 years ago. The opener that night was His Heart Quartet, one of the finest regional groups around.

During the concert, Triumphant bass singer Eric Bennett, a former pastor, shared about the message of one of their latest songs, Chain Breaker.

If you've got pain
He's a pain taker
If you feel lost
He's a way maker
If you need freedom or saving
He's a prison-shaking Savior
If you've got chains
He's a chain breaker.
--Zach Williams

I don't know of any other lyrics more appropriate for today's world.
Do you?

Nine days later, my wife and I saw The Oak Ridge Boys, my 33rd Oaks concert, at Renfro Valley. It was  vintage Oaks with a ton of country hits and some good old Red, White and Blue flag-waving through the night. 

But maybe the biggest cheer of the night came when Joe Bonsall said, “We're going to sing some gospel!”

The Oak Ridge Boys at Renfro Valley, June 24, 2017.
The Oaks are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame but have never forgotten their gospel roots and they unabashedly talk about their faith. And as Duane Allen stepped forward, they delivered one of my favorites, “I Would Crawl All the Way to the River,” a rocking gospel song from their Fancy Free album – the same as “Elvira” – that sounds like it could have been sung right after chowing down on fried chicken and mashed potatoes in the 60s.

Two months later, we saw the Oaks again at the Kentucky State Fair, their 42nd consecutive year in Louisville. And a tradition inside that tradition is an a capella performance of “Amazing Grace” as an encore. I have no idea how many people were seated on the turf at Cardinal Stadium that night, but I can tell you that hearing several thousand people join in the marvelous harmony of the great old hymn can make you forget about the troubles of the world outside.

I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see.

I believe we live in a world terribly blinded by Satan's lies and the only answer to overcome is the Amazing Grace of God.

Back on July 29, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary with another trip to Renfro Valley. This time, we saw another of my favorites, Ricky Skaggs. As much as I love bluegrass music, it's hard to believe that was the first time I had seen him other than a few songs at the Grand Ole Opry. I knew Skaggs was a committed Christian, but was not prepared for a show in which a large percentage of the songs were decidedly Christian in message in the beautiful harmonies that define bluegrass vocalists. 
Ricky Skaggs at Renfro Valley, July 24, 2017.

Then, after the show, Skaggs went to the foyer for a meet-and-greet. Directly in front of us was a couple with a large manila envelope containing several keepsakes. They started talking with the star and instead of pushing them along, he listened.  For several moments, one of the biggest stars in country and bluegrass music was listening to some fans about something that had happened in their lives. He even jotted down a few notes.

The music was outstanding, but I was struck by Ricky Skaggs' genuine show of concern.

In this world we live in, we need harmony. Real harmony with those around us. As much as I love hearing a great bass or tenor, I want to live life as God wants even more.

Just taking the time to be in tune with God and caring about people is a way to start.

I can assure you it would create miles of good will in 2017.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is a developing gem worth checking out

(Note: This column originally appeared in The Anderson News.)

The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is located on U.S. 25, just north of Renfro Valley.

It’s almost impossible to measure what impact the state of Kentucky has had on the music industry but the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and museum is a place that tells the stories of singers, instrumentalists, song writers, and others from the state who have played even a small part in the rich and diverse music heritage the state enjoys.
Located on US 25, about a mile off I-75 and just past Renfro Valley, the Hall of Fame is one of those must-sees for anyone who has turned on a box radio, seen a concert or watched videos on MTV. It’s almost 20,000 square feet of honoring music in Kentucky.
Music. All kinds of music.
The Ol' Home Place pays homage to Kentuckians in the music industry.
            Whatever your taste, chances are there is something in the Hall of Fame honoring someone who has been successful in the business.
My wife and I made the trip to the Hall of Fame on July 29, spending a good portion of our afternoon with Hall of Fame manager Avery Bradshaw for a tour that was much more than we expected.
The Hall of Fame museum is housed in what was at one time a barn and stable owned by John Lair, who turned the Renfro Valley Barn Dance into a nationally known showcase for country music. The Lair family donated the building which is located just up the road from the Old Barn and New Barn at Renfro Valley. The restored building and an addition was opened in 2002.
But even with the heavy roots in country music, the Hall of Fame exists to honor anyone who has played a small part in Kentucky’s music heritage.
Is pop music your thing? There is a display paying homage to Kentucky natives Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell of the Backstreet Boys who were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Are the 60s your favorite music? Mary Travers, the Louisville native who made it big with Peter, Paul and Mary, is another inductee. So are The Everly Brothers, from Muhlenberg County.
Rhythm and Blues from the 50s? The Moonglows, who traced their origins to Louisville, were inducted the same year as Richardson and Littrell.
The story of Florence Henderson began in Owensboro, KY.
The list of inductees varies from saxophonist Boots Randolph (Paducah), to gospel singer Larnelle Harris (Danville) to singer and Owensboro native Florence Henderson, better known as TV supermom Carol Brady.
And, of course, being next to Renfro Valley, the country music roots are deep, whether it is inductees Grandpa Jones (from Henderson) or Loretta Lynn, from Butcher Holler in Johnson County. Woodford County native John Conlee, who grew up close to the Anderson County line, is a member of the Hall and there’s even a mention of Anderson County native William B. Houchin, a fiddler from nearly 100 years ago.
With such connection to country music, it would be easy to think the Hall of Fame simply honors those from the state who have made their name picking and grinning.
 “That is probably the biggest thing we hear,” Bradshaw says of the misconception. “This started out as the Kentucky Country Music Hall of Fame, but Kentucky has had so much influence on rock-and-roll and jazz. Soon after it opened, the name changed.”
Kentucky legends Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs.
Bradshaw is only 20, but already has a wealth of experience in the music industry. The Mt. Vernon native is a banjo picker who has appeared at Renfro Valley and he’s also spent time as a disc jockey at Mt. Vernon radio station WRVK. In June, Bradshaw was in Lawrenceburg as part of his gig running the sound system for the gospel group His Heart when it appeared at Sand Spring Baptist Church.
For a while, the Hall of Fame had its own board but it has since been taken over by the Rockcastle County Tourist Commission which is giving the museum a major facelift. A true music lover could spend hours in the building and not digest it all.
Like most museums, there are interesting artifacts ranging from an old Bible used in the Brush Arbor Movement of 1824 to countless items from Renfro Valley to a dress worn by gospel star Dottie Rambo to an autographed drum that was played by the Kentucky Headhunters.
“We have a room for presentations to school groups,” says Bradshaw. There are several video presentations and interactive displays available.
I got to pick a banjo while at the Hall of Fame, but wasn't grinning.
The museum, in conjunction with the Daniel Boone Society, is preparing a display devoted to music and artifacts brought to Kentucky by the state’s earliest settlers. There is also a small area devoted to the impact of the religious revivals, such as Cane Ridge, in the early 1800s and also of how music developed in Kentucky after the Civil War.
A visitor can even take a seat in a rocking chair to pick a banjo during the visit.
Bradshaw said that entertainers playing at Renfro Valley are generally unable to have meet-and-greets or album and book promotions at the Hall of Fame due to contractual obligations but it is not unusual for some of them to make their way over to the museum. He said some members of Bluegrass band Dailey and Vincent recently stopped by before a show.
My wife, Stephanie, looks over a tribute to HOF members, Exile.
For this music lover, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame was a trip down memory lane. I saw mentions of childhood heroes such as Louisville’s Randy Atcher up to some of my recent favorites like Steve Wariner, a native of Russell Springs. But the tour was much more educational than I expected, with many of the explanations concerning artifacts and displays revealing unknown tidbits about an industry that Kentucky has influenced.
It was well worth the two hours my wife and I spent touring this little gem located about 75 miles from Lawrenceburg.
We could have spent two more.

If you go

Artifacts from Loretta Lynn.
The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is located on U.S. 25, just north of Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for those 60 and over, $7 for children 12-and-under with children under 5 admitted free. There are special rates for groups of 10 or more. School groups can also take advantage of discounted rates.
Photographs are welcomed but no video-taping is allowed.
For more information, see the or see the organization’s Facebook page.