Grant Wahl was a kind and wise champion of the voiceless in football | Soccer

Everyone has a Grant Wahl story.

Never was that truer than on Friday night, when messages of love, support, shock and grief spread across social media with the news of his sudden death while covering the World Cup in Qatar.

On Twitter, I noticed that for other journalists, he was a mentor and a cheerleader. And for readers, he was compelling, intelligent and educational. Others echoed my sentiments: There are thousands of posts detailing how Grant has helped others, the advice he’s given them, what he was like as a friend, and their favorite article (it’s worth to note that I have yet to see the same article published twice).

Even if Grant didn’t know it, everyone has a Grant Wahl story.

Here’s mine.

Like many other new media journalists, I first met Grant on Twitter. In 2011, I had in mind that I was going to try to run for the presidency of Fifa. Someone suggested I speak to Grant, who had made a similar attempt to protest Sepp Blatter’s presidency. I tweeted him for advice, not waiting for a response.

But Grant responded. And he responded with kindness, advice and encouragement.

And that’s how we first connected: on a common goal to challenge institutionalized and systemic issues with Fifa. We both wanted to see a change, or, at the very least, we wanted to be a voice for change (okay, his voice was much more important than mine).

In 2011, I was a young rookie journalist. I was 25 and living in Toronto, trying to navigate my way through a male-dominated industry, on a continent that didn’t really care about a sport I loved (for context, Toronto FC had only been in MLS for four years at the time).

To me, Grant was a rockstar, the kind of person you aspired to be like. He was intelligent, passionate and, above all, a good writer. So when this man I put on a pedestal reached out to pick me up, I was amazed.

But I shouldn’t have been. Because it was just Grant’s MO.

Grant did this for everyone who reached out: he pulled them up, treated them as equals, and offered whatever he could to help. And that’s why we all have Grant Wahl stories. He was a rarity in the field, not only because of his talent and passion, but also because he wanted to bring out that talent and passion in others. He worked selflessly to build a soccer community in North America.

Flowers are placed in memory of Grant Wahl ahead of the World Cup quarter-final between England and France
Flowers are placed in memory of Grant Wahl ahead of the World Cup quarter-final between England and France. Photography: Héctor Vivas/Fifa/Getty Images

Years later, when my writing partner Kirsten Schlewitz and I launched Unusual Efforts – a football publication for voices unknown – Grant was a strong supporter. Not only did he champion our cause, he also supported it financially, and we are proud to have his name on our donor wall.

This was Grant: a champion and supporter of those in the industry.

Grant never backed down from a story or brought it into the mainstream. I think that’s why Unusual Efforts appealed to him: he too wrote about gender issues, was an ally of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and championed the voiceless long before – and long after – it was at the fashion. He wanted to support the writing he believed in; the type of stories published not for clicks, but for awareness. He used his privilege, power, and position for good, even when it was detrimental to him.

Grant’s death shocked reporters and readers alike, as he was integral to building soccer in North America. And as we grieve and grieve together, we can also honor Grant’s memory together. First, by continuing to tell our stories of Grant Wahl and the impact he had. Second, by continuing his legacy to help others. Whether through mentorship, guidance, or storytelling, we must all continue to be the voice Grant was.

It breaks my heart and makes me smile that his last public message was on November 20, the first day of the World Cup. He was once again giving me advice on how to run for the presidency of Fifa.

Our last private conversation, a week before his death, was about one of his books. Despite being busy in Qatar, he was always happy to have a quick chat.

I just wish it was longer.

To his family, I’m sorry for your loss and hope you find the love and peace you need. To the sports community, I understand and share your grief. And to Grant, thank you – and I hope we meet again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *