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Great Irish Champions, With Dave McKenna

Irish boxer Katie Taylor exulting after defeating Chantelle Cameron in a title bout in Dublin on November 25, 2023.
Mark Robinson/Getty Images

I had an idea for this blog and everything. It wasn't going to be the whole post, but I remember thinking, as we went into our recording of this episode with Defector's D.C./Indomitable Irishry bureau chief Dave McKenna earlier this week, that it would be nice to flag in the post the moment that Dave began talking about D.C.-area Catholic high school basketball. It never occurred to me that such a moment wouldn't arrive; indeed, in nearly every conversation I've had with Dave in the past, that moment has arrived. It comes at moments you do not expect, but it always comes—you are talking about sandwiches, or politics, or the weather, and then invariably and quite suddenly you are unpacking the legacy of Morgan Wootten and handicapping the race to become DeMatha's next coach. It's thrilling, or anyway never less than startling.

And yet, in what is either a testament to us having a lot to talk about in this episode or to Drew's steady hand on the tiller, that moment never came. The timestamp does not exist. The episode is nearly an hour long, and pretty packed at that, but we talked about other stuff. It was pretty thrilling, in my opinion. Also occasionally startling, actually, pretty much right from the jump. It's still a Dave McKenna episode, in short. Just notably lighter on the Metro D.C. parochial school stuff than expected.

Which makes sense, because there was a lot of other stuff to talk about. The first chunk is given over to the bleak AI clown show at Sports Illustrated, and more broadly to the threat of AI writing to people with jobs like ours and to people who would like to "know things." This also began a pattern, which runs throughout this episode and I guess also through a number of other episodes, in which we tried to figure out just what is wrong with our nation's rich people. It is hard, in conversation but also in a more considered bit of writing, to pull together any kind of structural critique or analysis of why our high-capitalist looters loot in the way they do, and to figure out how they make their specious and short-sighted risk assessments as it relates to that work, and also how they sleep at night. We did our best, but whether the boomlet in AI-driven writing is, as McKenna believes, a harbinger of the end or, as Drew and I believed, a shitty rich-guy fad, it is clear that there will be more to say about it in the future.

But you can't build a whole episode out of that sort of thing, in general or when Dave McKenna is on the other end of the line. And so we got to The Irish Material, which is something of a specialty of his; you can listen to Dave's new BBC podcast on the most legendary curse in Irish sports here. In our case, we touched upon McKenna's celebration of the world-beating Irish boxing champion Katie Taylor amid the bleak spectacle of the recent reactionary riots in Dublin, and considered decommissioned MMA champion and spiraling shitheel Conor McGregor's role in the later. This would ordinarily have been the spot to turn to Dave's other obsessions, but in lieu of a conversation about tube amps (like, for your guitar) or Elgin Baylor's legacy, we turned to ... well, another of his obsessions, actually. That discussion was about the Washington Commanders, the doomed and tragi-heroic tenure of Ron Rivera, and the long shadow that defective Napoleon Daniel Snyder still casts over the organization.

We'd briefly touch on Ridley Scott's Napoleon later on, but from there the conversation flowed more naturally back towards Our Troubled Rich, with Dave unfurling his theory of owners and all of us doing our best to parse out the fine points of ownership brain disease as a condition in itself and as a reflection of the broader acid loathsomeness of the very rich and habitually unaccountable. Only the Funbag could have gotten us off this topic, and only the Funbag really did. But it did, which opened onto a conversation about McKenna's boundless love for the reckless and imperiled Sam Howell, and hinted at without quite resolving into a unified theory of The Types Of Bad Quarterbacks. We also talked about which athletes' brains we'd like to inhabit, and for how long. I've been thinking about what it would be like to order dinner as Michael Jordan ever since.

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