City Desk

The End of an Era

For more than a quarter century, the Cheap Seats column in Washington City Paper has been the place the District turns for the best stories in area sports. Not the breaking news, or the game coverage, but the tales of the businesses, institutions, legends, and most of all, people behind sports in the D.C. region. You didn't have to care who won or lost to know that Dave McKenna would give you a good yarn when you picked up the paper.

Tomorrow will be your last chance to do that, though; McKenna has opted to stop writing Cheap Seats and move on from City Paper. As McKenna announces his decision in his column for this week's paper, which will be his last:

This will be the last Cheap Seats column. In our 25 years and 51 weeks together, City Paper and I have gotten everything out of each other we’re going to get. I’m grateful for all the people who told me their stories, and anybody who ever read my attempts to retell those tales in this space, and, well, anybody who didn’t read but sued me anyway. Be well...

Editor Michael Schaffer sent staff an email about McKenna's departure today:

This is a really sad day for City Paper. I've worked with Dave in various iterations, separated by a dozen or so years, and I can say he's been one of the most consistently stellar journalists I've ever read, much less edited. In a way, it's a shame that the last year has been so defined by Dave's bravery in the face of legal threats from a billionaire celebrity, because so much of the real magic in his column was his ability to discover and champion the powerless and the forgotten. Yes, he's often seemed to be the only one questioning the most powerful sports juggernaut in town. But when you go through his collected works, also look for one-armed superstar catcher Gary Mays, Kentucky Derby winner turned $8-a-race Laurel Park pony boy Ronnie Franklin, and the schoolgirl athletes whose sorry treatment Dave chronicled.

Anyone who's had the fortune of editing Dave, or just shooting around ideas with him, also knows that Dave's also one of those guys who manages, in just about every interaction, to make colleagues smarter, funnier, more suspicious and more empathetic—exactly what journalists should be. I first experienced this back in the days when a long phone call with Dave was likely to be interrupted by a guitar solo (amplified through a tube amp). These days, said calls are more likely to feature ambient noise from his kids, but the same thing applies. You laugh, you argue, and you underestimate his ability to fact-check the all-Met or NFL-veteran claims of elected officials at your peril. Bottom line: Dave's someone I'm proud to work with. And, even though he's dropping the column as a staff writer, I still want to get Dave's voice in the paper as a contributor (and on the other end of my phone as a friend) as often as he wants.

Pick up tomorrow's paper to see who earns McKenna's final Unsportsman of the Year honors.

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  • Nikki

    Best of luck, Dave. You are awesome!

  • Richard

    Editing Dave during my year at City Paper (2001) was an amazing experience, and Michael puts it very well: Dave made everyone around him "smarter, funnier, more suspicious and more empathetic." Happy trails!

  • The Ghost of Jack Kent Cooke

    Young man,

    You are a credit to your race of ink-stained wretches. We need more like you and cannot bear even the thought of losing you.

    You stood up to that bully toad Daniel M. Snyder, and stood up for truth, justice and the American Way.

    May good health, good luck, and prosperity follow you all your days. I hope you hit the Powerball jackpot so you can tell those who deserve it that they should perform an impossible act upon themselves.

    Well done, lad.


  • noodlez

    A writer of your quality will definitely be an upgrade to whatever source you choose to scribe for.

    Thanks for the thoughtful, insightful and humorous posts that fulfilled my sports junkie fix. My Rushmore of DC sportswriters (in no particular order) are Kornheiser, McKenna and Wilbon.

    Keep on trucking!

  • gina a

    Dave for all the stories told about people and things that othersise would have never seen the light of day, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. For exposing all the inequities in DCPS sports, I am eternally grateful. I don't read any other sports writer so I do hope that you will find another place to publish your amazing columns. Yours was the first page I turned to each week in WCP, and I'll miss it terribly. You are a supremely gifted and talented writer - please let us know where we can find you.

  • Howard Witt

    need to pile on here, echoing michael and richard: dave mckenna is one the most gifted journalists i have ever had the pleasure of editing.

  • styglan1

    Thanks for all the ink and stories, Dave. We will miss you.

  • John Scheinman

    Having been the subject of a "Cheap Seats" column ("The Horse Wagerer") was without question one of the highlights of my career. That I handed Dave myriad losing picks in Triple Crown races for publication on the City Paper website was also a source of great pride for me. He has been a go-to read for so many people for so long, and the City Paper will be diminished by his departure. That I count him among my friends is my misfortune. Also worth noting: His prose style was understated, but his writing skill is formidable. He is a mixture of talent and craft, reporter and storyteller. Finally, I want to thank him for crucifying Tony Kornheiser upon Ken Beatrice's retirement, leading to his own dismissal as turf writer at the Washington Post and opening the door for my own personal towering achievements. McKenna, you mean more to me than you'll ever know.

  • Jane Levine

    Ah Dave, it was my pleasure to be be even remotely connected with you at WCP. Thanks for the great columns and best of luck.

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