Remembering Grant Wahl
On Friday, the sports and writing worlds suffered an inconceivable loss. Grant Wahl, a virtuous, kind man and wonderfully talented reporter, died while covering the World Cup in Qatar. His passing has been mourned across the globe.
For countless readers and fans, Grant was considered the premier US journalist covering the sport. No one could match his generosity of spirit that spilled onto the page. His analysis of soccer was both brilliant and accessible. He helped the rest of us better appreciate and understand the beautiful game, simply through the radiance of his own knowledge, passion, and personality.
But Grant was not only an ambassador and evangelist for soccer. He was a champion of humanity and decency. He stood up for the powerless, and even sacrificed his long career at Sports Illustrated in defense of colleagues whom he felt had been treated unjustly. While writing daily about this World Cup—the eighth he has covered—Grant fearlessly reported on issues of corruption, inequality, and human rights related to the tournament.
Grant and I started working together on his Substack about two years ago. I was his guy here on the Partnerships team. He was an absolute pleasure to work with—open to ideas, grateful for any help, ambitious in what he intended to build here. And he succeeded, publishing excellent work and attracting a vast and dedicated readership. This summer I assembled a roundtable of several top sportswriters, so they could share tips and build camaraderie, and it was plainly clear how much the other writers looked up to Grant. Over the years, he mentored and encouraged many other journalists; he was forever selfless, full of love and wisdom and warmth.
I last saw him for a drink in New York at a small gathering of writers in October, a few days before he left for Qatar. We tucked into a corner booth in the dim, bustling room and talked about his plans for the Cup, and he was excited for what was ahead. But he was also interested in everyone around him that night—as he always was—asking questions, complimenting the work of others, making sure each person felt included and important.
All of us here who had the privilege of working for and alongside Grant are heartbroken. He was a deeply kind man. We send our love to his wife and family and friends, and also to his readers, many of whom have cherished his work for decades.
Below are thoughts from other writers who knew and adored Grant Wahl.
Joe Posnanski (an excerpt from his tribute to Grant):
There are six words you will see again and again over the coming days as so many of us try to make sense of the senseless: He was the best of us.
Grant Wahl was that. As a person, he was ceaselessly kind. As a reporter, he was bursting with courage and an unerring sense of right and wrong. As a writer, he was so deeply alive. And as a friend, mostly as a friend, he was undyingly devoted and loyal. The best of us. Every way….
Grant railed against so many injustices in and around the sport, but none of that ever seemed to dampen his enthusiasm and love for the beautiful game itself. He wanted Americans to love soccer the way he did and his eagerness to share the sport with anyone even mildly interested was boundless….
As I sit down to find these few words, I think about what Grant would want us to say about him now. I think about a theme so many of his friends have hit upon, how Grant left behind more than just words and friendships and love; he left behind a challenge. Be braver. Be bolder. Be kinder. Stand up for what’s right.
Yes. He was the best of us.
Molly Knight (an excerpt from her tribute to Grant):
Oh, Grant. You were my soccer guru and my Substack doula. Whenever I had a good idea I would bounce it off you and you would be so enthusiastic and just sure it was going to work. And whenever I had a bad idea you gently steered me toward something else, with just as much enthusiasm.
I struggle to write and you never seemed to. I felt a whoosh of encouragement every time one of your newsletters hit my inbox, and I’d search for clues about how you did it. More specifically, how you stayed so in love with the most beautiful game even after decades of seeing its corruption up close….
On top of being the definitive American voice on soccer, you were also someone who made his life’s work about fighting for marginalized groups. You dedicated your work not only to growing the game, but to pressuring the hell out of U.S. Soccer to pay the women’s team a wage equal to the men’s team. And you treated every women’s match as just as important as every men’s match. No other top American journalist in any sport does this.
Your feminism wasn’t performative, either. It *really* bothered you that the U.S. women—who were out there winning World Cups and Olympic medals—were paid a fraction of what the men’s team earned, and you helped change the national conversation around this issue. But, crucially, you celebrated the women without trashing the men. You wanted the U.S. men’s team to be great, too! You just wanted everyone to be paid fairly. And now, as of three months ago, they are….
The fact that we have lost the rare journalist willing to do this is so unfair. Grant, when a friend texted me you died I fell to the ground screaming in my mom’s kitchen. I don’t know that I ever got a chance to tell you how much your taking the time to befriend and mentor someone like me meant. But I wasn’t grieving for myself. The enormity of what the whole world lost when you died hit me like a semi truck.
You were doing the work that needed to be done, and now you are gone.
Marc Stein (an excerpt from his tribute to Grant):
It is so endlessly sorrowful that no one can truly know, but instinct tells me that Grant was prouder to cover the 2022 World Cup than any other in his storied career… even as he openly wished that the tournament was being staged almost anywhere else.
That hunch stems from knowing how much pride beamed from Grant that he was dispatching himself across the world to make this trek as the independent publisher of his very own news outlet, having built a website that enabled him to cover every single U.S. men’s national team qualifying match on the road to Qatar… and print numerous articles to spotlight all the reasons that Qatar never should have been awarded this World Cup in the first place… and to provide all of his wonderful men’s and women's coverage of The Beautiful Game in one place and totally his way.
It remains utterly incomprehensible that we could lose such a giant in our industry at the way-too-young age of 49 when he was in the midst of doing exactly what he wanted to do. It will never compute.
Yet I couldn’t imagine writing anything this weekend without dedicating it to him and reiterating what an absolute honor it was to call Grant a peer and a friend. He used to pop onto the old Soccer Today radio show I co-hosted alongside Steve Davis and Tyler Kern—as well as the late, great Bobby Rhine—in Dallas on 103.3 FM and was always prepared to brainstorm about the leap into the world of self-publishing….
Neither our business nor the sport he covered with such passion will ever quite be the same without Grant Wahl.
I met Grant through newsletter-ing, but like everyone else, his work had been instrumental in the way I watch and understand sports. Futbol was everything that made his work essential: rigorous, urgent, thoughtful, enthusiastic. That he’d been so supportive of young writers and new voices meant a lot to me. I really admired his egolessness: He wasn’t too good for anything or too big for anything, even though his talent was powerful and unique. He was also just a good hang and a genuinely kind guy. I’m so sad he's gone.
Grant Wahl is the greatest American soccer journalist ever, and by all accounts an even better person.
I had the pleasure of spending an evening with him last year. We were at a Substack holiday party. That was my first time meeting him, and I remember telling someone afterwards how wonderful he was to talk to. A real mensch.
He was so friendly and pleasant. It was a thrill because I have been reading and loving his work for as long as I can remember.
He was a prolific journalist, who cared about his work. That was very clear. I admired his passion and tenacity. He wrote stories others shied away from. He asked questions others wouldn’t. He was the journalist we should all aspire to be.
I’m in a state of shock. I can’t believe this has happened. Not now. Not like this. Not at the World Cup.
I DM’d with him in April about the tournament. He told me he was excited to get down there. I told him I was looking forward to his coverage very much.
And it was great, as expected. But it ended way too soon.
This is an immeasurable loss. It’s truly heartbreaking. Grant Wahl will be sorely missed. My heart goes out to his family and friends.