Critics have long recognized that sports writing is good training for any writer. The sports writer has to use punchy verbs that convey real action, create sentences with a variety of structures and substances, and avoid the minefield of common sports clichés. He has to grab his reader’s interest in the first sentence and hang on to them to the end or they will bolt at the next paragraph break like a runaway two-year-old in the Acme. Ring Lardner was an early sports writer. I never was.
My favorite sports writer is Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal. Here is an example of his style:
“Being named the starting quarterback of the Jets is like pulling a ticket at the deli counter of failure, except you can never be sure when you’re up—you just sort of move around the premises and hope a giant wheel of cheese doesn’t fall on your head. And then a giant wheel of cheese falls on your head, because you are the starting quarterback of the Jets.”
I have no interest in the Jets quarterback, past, present, or future, but I read Gay’s articles just for paragraphs like that. I will now look up every time I am at the deli counter getting my half-pound of Lebanon bologna.
(His WSJ portrait that accompanies his articles, shown above, is only a cheap computer-generated approximation of their classy, iconic hedcuts, each done by an artist, by hand. I hate it, too. WSJ still uses the classic hedcuts for their other authors, so why his is different is a puzzle. See posting Dot-Ink Portraits, 3/14/2012.)
Update: Just after I wrote this (but not yet published), Jason Gay’s articles disappeared from the WSJ. Was I a jinx with the power to derail a career? But he and his articles are back, including a proper headcut, at least in the print edition. For whatever reason, the fake headcut is still on the digital edition. He is covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament.