I met Grant Wahl once. I have only a vague memory of it. It would’ve been at one of the games in the Copa América Centenario in 2016. I was working for the time at Philadelphia magazine, and I had credentials for the games in Philly. I apparently wrote this little recap of the Philly games and atmosphere; my memory of writing this is even hazier than meeting Wahl.
We exchanged pleasantries and that was about it. He was nice. I told him I was a big fan. What I didn’t tell him was that I used to be his reply guy.
Wahl died on Friday while covering the World Cup in Qatar; it appears to be of natural causes. He was 49. I had enjoyed his coverage of soccer—and, before that, college basketball—for years and years. I enjoyed his work so much that I replied to him on Twitter a lot.
I got embarrassed about this one night, so I deleted a lot of them. But you can go back and search my tweets and see a bunch of them still up. Me asking Grant about the World Cup ball. Me asking Grant where the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be. Me telling Grant he should’ve run for NCAA president when he was covering college basketball. Me retweeting him with a GIF. Oh, goodness. This is embarrassing. Here’s a tweet where I tell people to follow Wahl, Gabriele Marcotti, Andy Glockner, and my friend Chrissy for World Cup coverage.
I did not reply to Wahl because I was trying to network. No, I was just a regular old fanboy. I have an email to Marcotti deep in my inbox archives: “You're sharing a South African villa with Grant Wahl?” I was so hyped for it. I replied to Wahl because I liked his work—here was a guy writing about soccer at Sports Illustrated, a place you didn’t always see that sport—and I liked his attitude.
That attitude is something a lot of other writers have been talking about in the days since Wahl’s death. Jon Tannenwald, who I've known since I was his editor at our college paper, wrote about how he was thrilled Wahl recognized him as a young sportswriter. Wahl, in his role as a veteran sports media member, also made it a point to praise The Philadelphia Inquirer when it sent Tannenwald overseas to cover soccer. He really did love the game, and wanted you to as well. “Grant was a missionary and an evangelist, and his job was to make you love it too,” Kyle Whelliston wrote this morning.
He was generous with his time with others. “Without shadowing him in my 20s, I never woulda grasped the obsessiveness and craft that went into a legit SI feature,” tweeted Luke Winn, the former SI sportswriter now working for the Toronto Raptors, “and his mailbag inspired me to be more creative on the web.” (Sadly, several SI redesigns seem to have eaten the Jimmer Fredette Photoshop contest mailbag I once helped Winn with.)
“Despite being one of the most prominent soccer journalists in the U.S. — someone whose rich, vibrant, and serious coverage on TV and in print helped grow the sports’ American popularity exponentially over his career — he had a way of making things about you,” Alexander Abnos wrote at The Athletic. I felt that way too. He will be missed immensely and by many, many people, but I'll miss bothering him on Twitter.