Several hundred people gathered at The Times Center in New York City on Wednesday afternoon to honour the memory, life, and impact of acclaimed sportswriter and soccer journalist Grant Wahl.
Wahl died earlier this month at the age of 49 while covering the World Cup in Qatar from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, according to his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder. His death shocked the soccer and sports journalism communities, who remembered Wahl as a kind and talented journalist.
Wahl’s love for soccer was ingrained in the sport’s egalitarian nature, its connection rooted in social justice, and the universality of the beautiful game, as he was referred to as the “Anthony Bourdain of soccer” several times throughout the memorial.
“To him, soccer was about connection as well; it wasn’t about which team kicked the ball into the net more than the other team; it was about the bonding powers of this sport, the ability to unite,” Sports Illustrated Executive Editor Jon Wertheim explained.
During the ceremony, Eric Wahl revealed that his brother wrote to Sports Illustrated in elementary school, saying, “My name is Grant Wahl, and I want to write for your magazine.”
And he did end up working for the outlet. Wahl began her career as a fact-checker for Sports Illustrated and stayed for more than two decades before moving on to contribute to soccer coverage on FOX Sports and CBS Sports.
“Grant was a passionate journalist who helped bring soccer into the mainstream,” US Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter said in a tribute written in Wahl’s memory by US Soccer. “He combined a professional drive with a personal commitment to the growth of the sport, and his efforts brought respect both domestically and internationally.”
“Grant saw early on that sports and social justice could have this huge intersection,” Wertheim said, describing Wahl as a visionary. “He obviously saw the huge growth potential for soccer, as well as the scandalous lack of coverage, before anyone else.”
Friends, colleagues, US Soccer officials, and mentees reflected on Wahl’s passion for social justice and humanity through soccer.
Wahl’s passion for soccer began as a writer for The Daily Princetonian covering the Ivy League’s men’s soccer team when it reached the Final Four under then-coach Bob Bradley, who would later become the US Men’s National Team coach.
University of South Carolina Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Joel Samuels, who hosted the memorial and was Wahl’s editor at Princeton’s university newspaper, also officiated his wedding ceremony to Gounder, his college girlfriend turned wife.
“Some have referred to our love as epic in the last week. Was it an epic love story?” Gounder reminisced. “Until this past week I didn’t realise just how much he shared himself with all of you … but it’s your shared love for him and for us that’s keeping me going right now. I adore you.”