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Writer at Work: Sports Columnist Jason Gay

Jason Gay is a sports and humor columnist for The Wall Street Journal. (He is also Gilman’s health educator Bessie Oster’s husband.) As the final Writers at Work series speaker of the school year on Tuesday, March 19, Gay centered his talk on the importance of youth sports, noting that participation continues to decline. He highlighted the benefits that come from playing team sports — built-in exercise, increased self-esteem, an openness to work with others, and development of real-life problem-solving skills. He mentioned that employers often look for candidates who have team sport experience for these reasons.

Gay touted the benefits of recreational leagues specifically, pointing out that they are affordable and accessible to anyone. But kids aren’t playing recreational sports as much as they used to, Gay said, and he proposed that it’s due to “failure of funding” as well as the “wild growth of travel and club sports, which collect the best and most motivated talent.” He went on to say, “Travel teams used to be for the select few. Now you start at 6 years old. It’s eating away at rec leagues.” The result: Less serious competitors, athletes who are slower to develop, and families that struggle to pay the high expense of elite teams are becoming alienated from youth sports altogether.

The motivated and talented athletes playing in highly competitive travel leagues can experience negative outcomes too. Specializing in a particular sport at such a young age can lead to early burnout and more injuries. “Every sport can benefit from less intense environments,” Gay asserted. He posed the question to the audience of Upper School students, “So what can we do?” As a start, he suggested that they support rec leagues with their participation, whether as a coach, an umpire, or even a fan.

He concluded his presentation by encouraging students who wish to pursue sports writing to seek out inspiration and explore the many avenues available, including podcasting, video storytelling, and social media.

During a small-group discussion that followed, Gay talked with boys about his process for researching a story, his background working on his high school newspaper, his thoughts on NIL, the rise of sports gambling, and the role that sports news plays in the larger media. When one student asked if Gay considered chess to be a game or a sport, he phoned a friend for an expert opinion (WSJ’s chess writer Andrew Beaton), who confirmed it is, indeed, a sport.

Thank you to Tickner Writing Fellow Arnisha Royston for organizing Gay’s visit as well as other speakers in the series this school year.

Watch the assembly


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