Good morning. We usually begin the week with NFL coverage, and I’ll get to that later this morning, but today I want to start by talking about soccer journalist Grant Wahl, who as you’ve probably heard by now died on Saturday while covering the World Cup in Qatar. He was 49.
I didn’t know Grant well, but I don’t think he’d mind me describing him as my friend in the headline to this piece. As I wrote about six weeks ago, I recently met him at a Substack event and really enjoyed talking with him. Super-smart, super-nice, and he didn’t even give me shit for not being a soccer fan. You know how sometimes you meet someone and immediately get the sense that you’re talking to a Very High-Quality Human (for lack of a better term)? That was Grant.
We talked shop that night about sports journalism, freelancing, Sports Illustrated (where he worked for over 20 years and I worked for about 20 minutes), and so on. At the time, I had just moved from Bulletin to Substack, and talking with Grant helped me feel more confident that I’d made the right decision. Like, if it was good enough for him, then it was good enough for me.
Grant and I followed up with each other via email a few times after that. We also used Substack’s referral function to recommend each other’s columns to our respective followers — a particularly nice gesture on his part, since he had a much bigger following than I did and also knew I wasn’t a soccer fan. In the six weeks or so since then, I’ve enjoyed seeing how many new Uni Watch followers Grant’s recommendation created (by far the most I’ve gotten from any Substack recommendation) while sheepishly noting that my recommendation has generated only about one-10th as many followers for him. Sorry about that, Grant.
Grant was in the news a few weeks ago, when he was briefly detained by Qatari authorities after attempting to enter the stadium to cover the USA/Wales match while wearing a rainbow-themed T-shirt. (This was right after FIFA had threatened sanctions against teams if they went through with their plans to protest Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ laws by wearing rainbow-patterned captaincy armbands.) After being detained for about half an hour, he was eventually allowed in and, as you can see in the photo at the top of this page, was permitted to work while wearing his T-shirt.
I’m OK, but that was an unnecessary ordeal. Am in the media center, still wearing my shirt. Was detained for nearly half an hour. Go gays 🌈 https://t.co/S3INBoCz89
— Subscribe to GrantWahl.com (@GrantWahl) November 21, 2022
I worried a bit for Grant when I read about this, but I was also proud that he was standing up for human rights.
Shortly before the start of the World Cup, Grant invited me to come on his podcast to discuss the World Cup kits. I explained to him that I’m such a soccer dummy that I’d probably end up embarrassing both of us if I came on his pod. He laughed and said no problem. I remember thinking to myself, “After the World Cup is over, I definitely want to hang out with this guy and get to know him better,” because we both lived in New York.
That was the last time I communicated with Grant. Now I really wish I’d accepted his podcast invitation, if only so I could’ve had the fun of talking with him one more time.
My impression is that Grant was extremely well-liked by soccer fans and fellow reporters alike. I’m sure they’re feeling a much greater sense of loss than I am. My condolences to all of them, and of course to his friends and family. R.I.P.