Even though his words show up in black and white, it’s clear through his columns that Wall Street Journal sports writer Jason Gay ’92 bleeds cardinal red. You may have caught one of his typically hilarious columns this past October titled “Wisconsin Must Beat Michigan to Save the World,” which reiterates his faith in the football Badgers and disses their opponents.
Gay was involved in theater at UW–Madison, and his passion for the dramatic is evident in his coverage, whether he’s writing about the Badgers, the Olympics, or the Tour de France. He authored the best-selling book Little Victories in 2015 and the following year was named Sports Columnist of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists. Through it all, he still finds time to revere Barry Alvarez and despise the Michigan Wolverines — two themes that consistently appear in his writing.
How did your experience at the UW prepare you for a career in writing?
Oh, gosh. I wish I had some great story. Truth is, I wasn’t such a great student at Madison. I did enjoy the beer! My career is an accident. The Journal should fire me, honestly.
Where was your favorite place to write on campus?
In my room, at 4:30 a.m., with a morning deadline approaching. I had a big, square Mac with a disk drive. I sound like I am 97 years old.
You’re an avid cycler and often write about it. Did Madison’s prominent biking community influence that passion?
I bought a Trek Antelope mountain bike — white with radioactive green — at Yellow Jersey on State Street. I loved that bike with all my heart, even when someone stole the rear wheel outside class. I am still trying to find that wheel.
Your column tends to be a torchbearer for Badger athletics on a national stage. When you were a student, UW football and men’s basketball were in poor shape. How exciting has it been to cover the Badgers’ continued rise?
It feels like I am getting away with something. I’m grateful to all the Badger fans out there who read it and share it with their friends. I’m also grateful to the millions of [readers] who despise the University of Michigan.
On his website, jason-gay.com, Gay shares his personal list of little victories:
- Putting on pants before 2 p.m. on a Saturday
- Agreeing on where to go for brunch
- Surviving your family vacation
- Making it through the office holiday party
- When they play “I Will Survive” at weddings
Are there any interoffice tensions between Badgers and Wolverines in the Wall Street Journal newsroom?
Well, to them, there’s no rivalry. They believe they are better than me.
Give me your guess on which Badger team will be next to win a national title.
I think we are going to win every title for the next 10 years. Barry told me to say this.
On to something more serious: with the current polarizing influence of politics and social media, do you feel like your role and responsibility as a journalist has changed?
There are plenty of people out there being terrible to each other. I just want to make you snort milk out of your nose at breakfast.
What advice would you give to young writers and reporters looking to break into the increasingly volatile media market?
Stay away from people who went to Michigan.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
Published in the Spring 2019 issue