True story: I once apologized to The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay for being out of touch, explaining that I’d been under deadline for my year-long investigation into girls' lacrosse helmets. He responded about 10 hours later, apologizing for the delay and explaining he’d spent the day with the Jonas Brothers.
Look, I’m not trying to suggest that every day as a national sports columnist is glamorous and exciting. I’m just saying that when someone brings up the atmosphere at last summer’s Women’s World Cup, Jason’s the guy who says, “I was there.”
He joined us earlier this week.
KG: So I do imagine that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, your average workday started with, I don't know, kicking your feet up on the desk, calling your good buddy Roger Federer and chatting about the best macaron shop near Roland-Garros. Have I got that about right?
JG: You know, other than the fact that Roger would be sitting there right with me, and we'd be having that debate in person, that's exactly, exactly what my life was like — as if you had a surveillance camera there.
KG: How do your days start now?
JG: Listen, everybody's life has been upended. And nobody wants to hear from some sort of pampered sports writer about their struggles during this, you know, serious situation.
But the truth of the matter is that there's never been more happening. Everything is impacted, and the decisions that are being made now are going to have incredible repercussions for not just the coming year, but perhaps for the future of sports overall. I think the way that we played games and certainly the way that we attended games is going to change radically in the short term and, perhaps, significantly over the long term.
You know, when this started to unfold, a lot of my friends sort of looked at me like I, you know, owned a Betamax supply store and said, "Woah, man. I don't know what you're going to do." But there's a lot going on.
"Sports writing for me is no longer a day job. ... I am a lousy school teacher."Jason Gay
KG: So, in the meantime, you've kind of taken on a second job, right?
JG: Yes, yes. Well, the truth of the matter is that sports writing for me is no longer a day job. It is something that happens in the funny hours — you know, in the darkness of the morning with the little birdies chirping or late at night after my family has gone to bed. I am a school teacher, Karen. And this will not shock you to learn that I am a lousy school teacher.
I have a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old at home. And, you know, that might seem like not exactly heavy academic material but, Karen, it's been decades since I've done phonics.
My poor children are saddled with dear old, dummy dad — who barely knows his way around an iPad — trying to get them through this virtual school experience.
KG: You have been surrounded by teachers your entire life. Both of your parents were teachers. Your wife is a teacher. I mean, you must have picked up some tips over the decades?
JG: You know, my parents main instruction about teaching when I was a child was, "Don't become a teacher." And the fact of the matter is that I think teachers are miracles. I think a lot of us have learned this over these past four to six weeks. They're miracles in terms of just the ability to not just teach, but to comfort, console, to build community. I mean, I see it up close and personal with my wife in terms of, you know, the amount of effort that goes into making that school day happen. That's happening at night, that's happening on weekends, that's happening in the early mornings.
This notion that somehow they're just, like, transferring the school house over to the iPad and — that's just absurd. I don't think teachers have ever worked harder. So in terms of, "Did I pick up anything along the way from my parents?" I mean, I think they were just better people than I was, Karen. So that's why I became a sports writer.
KG: All right, so as a substitute teacher, how do you define a successful school day at this point?
JG: No violence, I think is the first thing. I think that if we get to, let's say, a solid, you know, 65% of the assigned material, I feel good about that. You know, look: in sports if you're winning 60% of your games, you're a playoff contender. So I'm taking the same approach.
KG: Well, have you thought about adding any extra, like, PE units? I mean, that's a subject matter you should be knowledgeable about.
JG: Yes. Well, listen: what I do is I wake up in the morning and say, "Oh, today's PE: You need to run around the building 750 times and just get me in a couple hours."
You know, I know people like to goof about, like, what gym class requirements are, and so on. But to be serious here for a minute: when we consider the mental component of this and the physical-mental connection — that's as important an assignment as there possibly is.
KG: And, just to stay serious for just a minute, because we've been joking a lot about how your kids are stuck with you as a teacher, but in reality they've got it pretty good.
JG: And that's an important, important point — perhaps the most important point to make in this is the fortune that we have to be with a school that is giving students the tools and to have the technological access, because far, far too many children, Karen, are not given [those] kinds of support systems.
And, in many ways, it's sort of mirroring the structure and the imbalances that were already there, but we're seeing it in sharper relief. This is a serious problem, and I know many, many cities and school districts are grappling with it, including in my home city of New York.
"You can go to all of the parent-teacher conferences in the world, but there's no substitute for riding shotgun."Jason Gay
KG: What have you learned from all this?
JG: I have learned that I would probably have to repeat first grade. I have learned wonderful things about my children. I mean, you can go to all of the parent-teacher conferences in the world, but there's no substitute for riding shotgun.
KG: Are there any messages you’d like me to pass on to your kids teachers?
JG: We're not cheating. You know, I won't lie. There have been a few moments where I have looked at that iPad and said to myself, 'I know the answer to 10 minus 5.' But, you know, I just figure one day you're cheating on your kids' virtual homework. The next day you're hiring a landscape architect to build their volcano in fourth grade. And then, a bunch of years later, you're photoshopping a kid's head on top of a rower's body and trying to sneak them into college, getting raided by the FBI and winding up in the slammer. So I'm not going there, Karen. So if you can relay: we are sticking to the rules. I am a man of integrity, Karen.
KG: Thanks, Jason. Or, maybe I should say, "Thank you, Mr. Gay."
JG: Oh, please call me "Jason." This is a very informal school. In fact, lunch is coming up, and today for the 18th day in a row, we're doing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Check out Jason Gay's recent Wall Street Journal column "I Teach School Now. It Isn't Going Well."
This segment aired on May 2, 2020.