Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


February 23, 2016

Taking His Talents Away From the Field

WSJ's sports columnist Jason Gay has a rulebook for life.

Michael Gluckstadt

Jason Gay writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal, hosts the "Free For All" podcast about sports, and appears on the television channel FS1 to talk about sports. So when it came time to write his first book, it was only natural that Gay chose to write about…not just sports.

Jason Gay.
"It's not serious. It's sports. That's why they call it 'sports.'"

Jason Gay.

"It was probably healthy to step outside sports for a bit," Gay tells Gelf. "You can only listen to people scream about the Knicks so much." His book, Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living is a rule book for life, featuring chapters like "A Brief but Hopefully Compelling Case for Marriage" and "Your Phone Is Not You."

But don't worry, sports fans. If you've been following Gay's ever-expanding rulebook for the Thanksgiving football game, he devotes a chapter to it as well. In the following interview, conducted over email, Gay tells Gelf why he doesn't take himself too seriously, what sets WSJ Sports apart, and how writing about kids is completely different than anything else.

Gelf Magazine: Why did you decide on a book that was mainly not about sports?

Jason Gay: Is it tacky to say I wanted to sell more books? Honestly, I felt more people would read it. I just felt the wider the book was, the wider the potential audience would be. But it was probably also healthy to step outside of sports for a bit. You can only listen to people scream about the Knicks so much.

Gelf Magazine: Is this a hint you might be moving on soon from your sports column?

Jason Gay: Yes, I am planning to flee and cover the bond market as soon as I can—it's a lot more exciting than the Brooklyn Nets.

Gelf Magazine: How many rules are there in the universe about Thanksgiving football games, and how many have you already saved up?

Jason Gay: Truthfully, there are only between four and five but I am trying to stretch the hell out of this terrible gimmick as long as I can, so wish me luck.

Gelf Magazine: Do you consider it part of your role as a sportswriter to make people take sports less seriously? How do you try to do that?

Jason Gay: I wish I had some broader mission or sense of my "role," but really the only thing I can do is be my idiot self. A lot of things in sports I find completely goofy. And nothing is goofier than the overwrought seriousness that is sometimes brought to the subject. It's not serious. It's sports. That's why they call it "sports."

Gelf Magazine: Do you ever find yourself taking it too seriously? Is it hard not to when it's in your title?

Jason Gay: Nah. I hope not. I take the responsibility of writing a column seriously in that I know it's a great platform and opportunity. But at this point, I think readers aren't coming to me because they want a sobering take.

Gelf Magazine: What makes WSJ sports different from other sports sections, and from other parts of the WSJ?

Jason Gay: It's edible, for starters. But I think we're a little screwy in a good way. Nobody's reading the Journal sports section to build their fantasy teams or get trade gossip. So we have the luxury of being a little offbeat and strange and taking some risks. Some work, some don't, but it's a nice privilege.

Gelf Magazine: What's your favorite thing WSJ sports has ever run?

Jason Gay: I'd say the editorial courage—and this is straight from the top of the company—to take on Lance Armstrong was very brave and groundbreaking, and the reporters, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell, deserve enormous credit for their hard work. And on the feature side of things, I'm biased because I still love the sport, but the "immersive" piece that Josh Robinson did about descending in a bike race (with incredible video) was flabbergastingly good.

Gelf Magazine: Do you ever worry about landing in Rick Reilly territory with your column?

Jason Gay: Aw man, you know I love you, but I can't do the dump-on-other-writers thing. Maybe this makes me a dork but I've got no beef with anyone. I'm perfectly capable of being a crap writer on my own, believe me.

Gelf Magazine: Were you surprised by how many people disagreed with your essay on how kids' sports teams should be run?

Jason Gay: Sort of. But it was a good reminder of how kids—and parents—are always tricky as a topic. Some people can't laugh at all about it, and it was useful to have this knowledge reinstalled. But I love that essay and stand by it. There is way too much attention paid to kiddie sports.

Gelf Magazine: What have you learned in your experiences with different media, about yourself and about sports broadcasting? Thinking of FS1 and of your podcast.

Jason Gay: That it's a really different skill set. I've been amazed by the people who are good at it, there's a naturalism and a connection that is in many ways unteachable. I feel I'm better at it than I was, but I'm not one of those people who is just born to do it.

Gelf Magazine: Will you ever beat Gelf co-founder Carl Bialik in a singles tennis match?

Jason Gay: I'm waiting for the day that Carl has two small children under four, and is sleeping between two and three hours a night. And then I will challenge him to a match that begins at 10 PM. Even still, it will be very close, and Carl may still pull off another victory. He's the Federer of Wiliness.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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