Everyone has a Grant Wahl story.
This was never more true than on Friday night, when messages of love, support, shock, and grief poured out across social media with the news of his sudden death while covering the World Cup in Qatar.
On Twitter, I remarked that for other journalists, he was a mentor and a cheerleader. And for readers, he was compelling, smart, and educational. Others echoed my sentiments: there are thousands of posts detailing how Grant helped others, the advice he gave them, what he was like as friend, and their favourite article of his (it should be noted, I have yet to see the same piece posted twice).
Even if Grant didn’t know it, everyone has a Grant Wahl story.
Like many other new media journalists, I first met Grant over Twitter. In 2011, I had it in my head that I was going to try to run for Fifa president. Someone suggested that I speak to Grant, who had made a similar attempt in protest at the presidency of Sepp Blatter. I tweeted him for advice, not expecting a response.
But Grant replied. And he replied with kindness, advice, and encouragement.
And that’s how we first connected: over a mutual goal of challenging the institutionalized and systemic problems with Fifa. We both wanted to see a change, or, at the very least, we wanted to be a voice for change (granted, his voice was much more prominent than mine).
In 2011, I was a young journalist, just starting out. I was 25 years old and Toronto-based, 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 that point).
For me, Grant was a rockstar, the type of person you aspired to be like. He was smart, passionate, and, above all else, a good writer. So when this man that I put on a pedestal reached a hand down to pull me up, I was astonished.
But I shouldn’t have been. Because that was just Grant’s MO.
Grant did this for anyone who reached out: he pulled them up, treated them like an equal, 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 just because of his talent and passion, but because he wanted to bring out that talent and passion in others too. He selflessly worked to build a soccer community in North America.
Years later, when my writing partner Kirsten Schlewitz and I were launching Unusual Efforts – a football publication for unheard voices – Grant was a strong supporter. Not only did he champion our cause, but he also financially supported it, and we’re proud to have his name on our backers’ wall.
That was Grant: a champion and supporter of those in the industry.
Grant never backed away from a story or bringing it into the mainstream. I think that’s why Unusual Efforts appealed to him: he too wrote about gender issues, was an ally for the LGBTQ2S+ community, and stood up for the voiceless long before – and long after – it was fashionable. He wanted to support 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 a detriment to himself.
Grant’s death has shocked journalists and readers alike because he was such an integral part of building soccer in North America. And as we grieve and mourn together, we can also honour Grant’s memory together. First, by continuing to tell our Grant Wahl stories and the impact that he’s had. Second, by continuing his legacy to help others. Whether it be through mentorship, advice, or storytelling, we all must continue to be the voice that Grant was.
It both breaks my heart and makes me smile that his last public message to me was on 20 November, the first day of the World Cup. He was, once again, giving me advice on running for Fifa president.
Our last private conversation, a week before he died, was about one of his books. Despite how busy he was in Qatar, he still was happy to have a quick chat.
I just wish it had been longer.
To his family, I am sorry for your loss and I hope you find the love and peace that you need. To the sports community, I understand and share in your grief. And to Grant, thank you – and I hope we meet again.