Interview - Jon Bois

Sports and I don’t go together. I doubt I’ve kicked a ball or made a basket since my last gym class in grade 11 and the most interested I can muster for any championship is the Winter Olympics hockey finals every four years—and even then, only if the Canadian men or women’s team is involved. If there’s a competition I follow with Superbowl levels of enthusiasm, it’s whatever election is going on at the moment.

So when I say I follow a certain sportswriter almost religiously, you know how big that is.

Louisville-based Jon Bois  has been writing for the sports blog SB Nation for the past few years with a unique focus on the absurdity of professional athleticism both on and off the field. He also writes for the recently resurrected site Progressive Boink on occasion. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview him via email on the subject of fumbles, nerdery and animated sports GIFs.

DL: While you certainly do your share of in depth analysis on SB Nation, it's obvious your sports coverage tends to focus more on the absurd: big blunders, insane plays, the goofy little things players, coaches and fans do. Why the absurd over the serious?

JB: In part, I just love goofy shit. And in part, laughing at goofy shit requires zero expertise. I think I'm more of a sports enthusiast than a sports expert. I love reading and watching people who can break down an offense, make well-informed predictions, et cetera, but it's a gift I just don't have to the degree some other folks do.

                                                                                       Chris Bosh puts on his war face.

DL: Between comparing quarterbacks to video game weapons and your pieces on Progressive Boink, it's evident you approach sports not just as a big fan of athletics but as a bit of a nerd as well. Is this your natural disposition toward sportswriting or do you feel this approach is more accessible to a wider (read: non-sports fan) audience?

JB: I am definitely an enormous nerd. When I first starting writing online (which, damn, that was almost 11 years ago), I wasn't writing about sports very much. I just happened to dip into sports-related things once in a while. One of those projects, The Dugout, took off, and I realized that sportswriting was my ticket to be able to write in front of more people, and perhaps even get paid for it. 

Out of respect for people who read me for the sports, and because I love sports, I try not to be too annoying about dragging the subject matter into other areas. But things like old video games are a part of me, and whenever I think I can reference them in a way people might enjoy, I love to jump at it.

DL: Why GIFs, as opposed to videos, pictures, etc.? You've mentioned an animated GIF's ability to capture a moment, but I'm interested in why you feel this works so well for the crazy stuff mentioned above.

JB: GIFs are great because they ask very little time of the viewer. I'm not asking you to hit play and sit through an ad and watch a minute-plus video, I'm just asking you to watch something for three seconds. Sometimes some explanation is required, and sometimes zero context is necessary. I can't think of a more efficient way of condensing and presenting a moment over the Internet.

DL: Which athlete or sports figure do you feel has provided you and will continue to provide you with GIF-fable gold?

JB: Oh, there are many. Jack Wilson, Shane Victorino, Chris Bosh and Philip Rivers have all provided several moments of GIF greatness. In Bosh's case, he's goofy as Hell. Those other guys are just shitty at sports and it's really funny.

                                                                              "Worst. Day. Ever." -- Philip Rivers

DL: You wrote about 2011's greatest sportscasting moments last December. Any plans to do more on the occasionally wild and off-the-cuff world of commentary?

JB: I would love to. That sort of thing takes a lot of crowd-sourcing. I probably watch three or four sports games in any given week, which leaves twenty-seventy-billion on the table I never watch.

Sportscasting is something I find absolutely fascinating. In large part, these are Ordinary Folks we're talking about. Many of them aren't egotistical celebrities in the least. And yet, they talk to a legion of people, three hours at a time, four times a week. That's the sort of thing Alexander the Great could only dream about.

I'm also fascinated by how hated some of them are. I'm probably just overly complacent, but I never get angry at a play-by-play or color commentator if they say something dumb. I just stop paying attention.

                                                                           Jack Wilson, ladies and gentlemen.

DL: What's your favourite kind of piece to write and, additionally, which specific piece do you feel is the most indicative of your work and perspective?

JB: I love trying things that I've never seen anyone try before. It might not work, and it might actually end up completely stupid (stupid in the bad way), but I feel like I'm in a race to do every new thing I can before everyone's done everything already. I started doing that at Progressive Boink in 2003, in part because I was surrounded by other writers and friends who were trying weird writing experiments of their own.

The most out-there thing I've done at SB Nation this year has probably been my alternate-history piece in which the Colts select Vontaze Burfict, a player who has no business being anywhere the first round of the draft, with the first overall pick. I tried to incorporate music and images and stuff into it. I'm still not quite sure of how well it worked, but I'm really happy I tried.

DL: What led to the return of Progressive Boink from its hiatus?

JB: We stopped updating regularly once we started getting paid actual money to go write elsewhere. That site took enormous amounts of time, and we realized we just didn't have it to spare. Last winter, though, we got to talking again and realized how much we missed writing alongside one another, and just screwing around and having fun.

I've always been proud as Hell of Progressive Boink. Without it, and without the pals of mine who helped me build it, there is absolutely no chance I would be writing for a living.

DL: Finally, you've written about your love for Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes, and I'm wondering if you've seen these fan made comics and, if you have, what you think?

JB: If I were the sort of person to be easily outraged, I might be outraged about this. As it stands, I don't really mind. I don't personally see value in them, but this is ultimately just someone's means of expressing their love of Calvin & Hobbes. And I can certainly identify with that.

You can find more of Jon Bois’ work in his blog archive at SB Nation.

Recommended pieces:

The Greatest Animated Sports GIFS of 2011
‘I’m Glad Nobody Won:’ The Louisville-Kentucky Rivalry, and the City it Destroyed
The List: Sports admissions to make on Facebook while everybody else is busy talking about politics 

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