In 2002, Jason David Williams was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and decided to become known as “Jay Williams” to avoid any confusion between himself and other Jasons in the NBA. And though Williams career in the NBA was relatively short, fans everywhere still revere him. Part of this is because Jay Williams showed men that life doesn’t have to end when your hoop dreams are suddenly over. In 2003, Williams was involved in a motorcycle accident, which eventually meant he could no longer play for the NBA. But, as many fathers know, your career in your youth is only the beginning of the story.
These days, Jay Williams is a correspondent for ESPN and the host of the ESPN+ streaming show, The Boardroom. Recently, Fatherly caught up with Williams to discuss how being a new dad has changed his life and whether or not being in the NBA really prepared him for the stamina of parenting.
How has fatherhood been treating you?
I’m a newbie at the game, to be honest. As many times as I’ve held kids and stayed with family members or friends who have had kids, it’s not until I’ve had my own that you truly recognize that it’s twenty-four-seven. And I know people say that, but the attention to detail that comes along with the responsibility is something that I always pride myself on trying to empathize with. But, you can never empathize enough.
Did being an athlete prepare you for being a dad?
Well, I haven’t “been an athlete” since I was 21. I think for me the athletic world about how hard you need to work and that definitely plays a role. But I think I also have that experience of not living in that reality to a degree. For me, I was an athlete at 21 and then I got hurt and then I had to go into the regular workplace. So the luxuries I had as an athlete exponentially changed when I went into the workplace. My first job for ESPN was four-and-a-half/five years and I was making $40,000 a year. The travel that came along with that I think better prepared me for parenting than being an athlete.
How do you mean?
Well, Jumping on a plane and traveling and having an hour of sleep and then being on set for 2-3 hours, where the viewer at home has no idea you’re tired nor do they care that you’re tired, and then having my performance based off of that. I think it’s really helped me in how I approach my daughter. I walk in the door—my daughter doesn’t know I’ve been up for a day and a half or I had bad interviews or that I caught two flat tires. She just sees me. It’s my job to be there and be present for my daughter. But, to be honest, I’m still a rookie in this game. I’ve been playing the game of life for a while, now I’m like “Oh I’m a rookie again.”
Because you’re on camera a lot, you do a lot of weird hours, how do you approach work-life balance?
I think it’s a constant fight. My daughter was born in October [of 2018]. I had a month that I was kind of able to slow down the level of how I was doing things, but this has been a challenging time for me. Just not with my child, but with my relationship. Last year, I had a chance to do something that was such a game-changing experience. I worked with LeBron and we did this docuseries called Best Shot where I went to local high schools in New York and New Jersey and I spent 2-3 days a week with these kids.
Let’s talk about the show a little bit. Give a tired dad your best reason why I should watch The Boardroom.
Understanding how people work, how they operate, spending time in a room with some of the most brilliant minds in our industry—sports, and business—seeing the clash between sports and business and also pushing the narrative culturally that it is cool to be smart. That has to be the new norm. You have to be curious. You have to want to learn and have a passion for curiosity to learn. That’s what the show is to me. I think we’re just trying to showcase that in the best possible light.
You’ve been in some locker rooms. You’ve been around a lot of men. Talk to me about toxic masculinity.
There’s a major issue I think we have with the definition of masculinity. There are stereotypes out there that a man is supposed to be a certain way. Those are things I combat all the time. I combat that masculinity or that stereotype of what strength really is. I see strength when I see my wife. When I know I have to go out and I have to do a job. I think that show strength to do that knowing I’m tired. But when I come home and I see that my wife has been with our daughter all day long and how tired she is and know that she has to go to work the next day and come home. The battle she has to drop my daughter off with our nurse, with our nanny and seeing how my daughter is forming a relationship with our nanny because my wife is now trying to acclimate herself back to work. That is real strength to me. It has refined what strength to me is. So when I hear these smaller conversations, I always try to enhance and amplify them, because I recognize that’s part of the process and that’s how you break down barriers. Those are the barriers we need to talk about.