Dan Snyder lawsuit: Who is Dave McKenna?
- McKenna, far right, a Zelig for our time, jams with Alex Chilton, far left (photo courtesy Dave McKenna)
It’s clear that McKenna cares not a whit about making the sort of moves that would net him a bigger and better-paying megaphone at other media outlets. (This was a once-common attitude back when every major city boasted one or more healthy “alternative” weeklies, but its incidence among writers has shrunk as such newspapers have.) His work reflects that, and reveals McKenna to be a sui generis sports polymath. In his weekly columns and even on his more frequent blog entries, he shows little interest in the standard what-happened and what’s-gonna-happen modes of present-day sportswriting. He has found a spot in the local sports media ecosystem as a guy most likely to profile a Maryland-based racehorse that is, in his words, “one of the most prolific losers in thoroughbred racing history.” His grasp of the minutiae of, say, the structure and history of local high school sports programs is frankly terrifying to an outsider.
In this regard, there aren’t many like him. When it comes to the deep local sports knowledge, at least, one analogue exists in Chicago, where Les Grobstein, a sort of more socially-adept Rain Man when it comes to Windy City sport lore and stats, who hosts an overnight sports talk radio show. “If all journalism is local,” says Shafer, “Dave is the real thing.”
McKenna’s distance from that which obsesses the big names of sportswriting and the shouting heads of ESPN leads one former target to place him in a particular cultural context. “He’s a great, little, independent film,” says Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who has been called out by McKenna over aspects of her ties to Lance Armstrong. “Sportswriters and writers really admire his work. It’s very strong, and very original.”
But laced with the tendency towards offbeat storytelling is his interest in the off-the-field aspects of pro sport—be it the Wizards’ dabblings with selling tickets through Groupon or, well, any one of these columns and blog entries about the Skins and Snyder’s business operations. (His appetite for such stories is decidedly un-sportswriter-like, and reminiscent of someone who came to sportswriting after a time writing about or otherwise focusing on the world of business.) The legal filing from Snyder’s legal team contends that McKenna has written more than 50 items subjecting Snyder to “derision, ridicule, and/or vilification”— pieces that generally deal with the off-the-field rather than on-the-field — since the spring of 2010.
That legal filing, of course, led to a fresh round of Snyder-bashing, and gave new life to McKenna’s article, which was already an article of faith among long-suffering Redskins fans. But this doesn’t faze Snyder, says his Los Angeles-based lawyer Patty Glaser, who has previously represented Conan O’Brien and Keith Olbermann. “Dan knew exactly what he was getting into,” she says. (Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie did not return a call seeking comment on this point.)
“We are interested in an appropriate response from the publication,” she says, “which, in our view, is a retraction of [certain statements] and an apology if anyone took offense at a couple of comments made that, in our view, were reprehensible.” (One such reprehensibility is this now-famous depiction of Snyder that the suit finds to be anti-Semitic. I am Jewish, and I do not agree, and it’s not a particularly close call. But for a more detailed look at the suit’s other claims, check out TBD’s prior analysis of the suit.)
The thing about McKenna is that there are far fewer sportswriters taking interest in the business-y aspects of sports than you might think. As a topic, the intersection of sport and business hasn’t yet been glommed onto in the way that, say, the intersection of showbiz and business are. Yes, there is a trade publication called Sports Business Daily, and there are some reporters that focus on it, like Richard Sandomir at the New York Times and Darren Rovell at CNBC. But there is no Nikki Finke, the relentless blogger who founded Deadline Hollywood, in the sports world. That is: a star blogger, prized by readers and feared by story subjects (in Finke’s case, readers and targets are generally the same people, but never mind) in equal measure, who focuses on the bottom-line and backroom shenanigans over what’s on screen, and who does so ferociously enough to create a distinct gravitational pull within that business.
Funny, that. Sports and money are certainly two of the hottest topics on the planet — and certainly the first runners-up when it comes to hot topics for men — but precious few have delved into the intersection of the two at a local level with the verve that McKenna has.
The real drag of the Snyder suit would be if it if scares away a potential McKenna from writing about sports as he does, in a different city, where yet another monstrously-ego'd owner is busy driving a sports franchise into the ground and making a number of colorful moves on the business side in the process.
Corny as it may sound, fans deserve someone on that case. Anyway, as McKenna discovered long ago, what happens in the business of sport often is a hell of a story.
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