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Mac McClung And The Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations, With Israel Daramola

Mac McClung is congratulated by a bunch of much more high-profile NBA players after winning the Slam Dunk Contest at the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend in Utah.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It will be clear very soon that I am not bragging, but this week's episode begins with a fairly earnest and thoughtful assessment of the XFL and ends with a roughly equally earnest and thoughtful consideration of Todd Field's Tár. This is very much a thing that I would brag about, but it is simply the fact of the matter. This is what it means to do a sports podcast during this most sports-deficient part of the year, but also it is just what happens when you have Defector's own Israel Daramola on as a guest.

That last part, at least, is worth bragging about. I knew Israel mostly for his writing about film before he came aboard as a writer, but he has since shown out on a variety of topics, not the least of which is the XFL, the latest version of which he gave just the kind of Guy-remembering, heavily qualified celebration it deserves. At a moment on the sports calendar when there isn't really much to talk about but the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and the umpteenth attempt at creating a viable non-NFL football league, Israel was a very valuable guest indeed. I will have no further comment on my protestation that we hadn't talked enough about the XFL, which served to further extend our conversation about the league by several minutes, or no comment beyond that I stand by it, and that it's absolutely and unassailably normal that I wanted to do that. I can't believe I even have to explain this.

What else was there to talk about? The big new MLB bases? We talked about that, too. Heavily viral two-way contract guy Mac McClung winning the Slam Dunk Contest in a win that felt both fully earned and, as Israel explained, somehow patronizing despite all that? We discussed that as well, and decently in depth. If you are doing what is notionally a sports podcast, it helps a great deal when you have sports to talk about. Are you arguing that the XFL is not a sport? That Mac McClung is not a professional basketball player? That I was wrong to bring up the time Chris "Birdman" Andersen missed 11 consecutive dunk attempts?

Luckily, or conveniently, given that we are only notionally a podcast that can stay on any one topic for an extended period of time, things continue to happen in the broader world even when virtually all of sports takes off on its winter break. And so we talked about Israel's work on the story surrounding Atlanta's Cop City protests, and about the slippery and ambiguous pleasures of Tár, which Drew didn't much like and Israel really loved and which I, uh, have not seen yet. In my defense, it's pretty long.

The time we spent making our way through this tasting menu of sports-adjacent scrapple added up to not just a regulation-size, but honestly pretty good episode. There was even time to remember the special disappointment of Kelvin Benjamin and field a Funbag question that raised the prospect of Matt Patricia wearing one of those tropical Trader Joe's shirts.

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