Several hundred people gathered at The Times Center in New York City Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the memory, life and impact of acclaimed sportswriter and soccer journalist Grant Wahl.
Wahl died earlier this month at age 49 while covering the World Cup in Qatar after suffering a ruptured aortic aneurysm, according to his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder. His death sent shock waves through the soccer and sports journalism community, who remembered Wahl as a kind and talented journalist.
Referred to as the “Anthony Bourdain of soccer” several times throughout the memorial, Wahl’s love for soccer was ingrained in the egalitarian nature of the sport, its connection rooted in social justice and the universality of the beautiful game.
“To him soccer was about connection too, it wasn’t about which team kicked the ball in the net more than the other team, it was about the binding powers of this sport, the ability to unify,” Sports Illustrated Executive Editor Jon Wertheim said.
During the ceremony, Eric Wahl said 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 indeed ended up working for the outlet. Wahl started out as a fact-checker at Sports Illustrated and went on to work there for more than two decades before making the move to contribute to television coverage of soccer on FOX Sports and on 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 by US Soccer in Wahl’s memory. “He combined a professional drive with a personal commitment to the growth of the sport, and through his efforts brought respect both domestically and internationally.”
“Grant saw early on that sports and social justice could have this huge intersection,” Wertheim said, calling Wahl a visionary. “He obviously saw the huge growth potential for soccer, the scandalous lack of coverage before anybody else.”
Friends, colleagues, US Soccer officials and mentees reflected on Wahl’s passion for social justice and humanity through soccer.
Wahl’s love for soccer began while he was a writer for The Daily Princetonian covering the Ivy-league’s men’s soccer team when it made 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 College of Arts and Sciences Joel Samuels, who hosted the memorial and was Wahl’s editor at their university newspaper at Princeton, also officiated his wedding ceremony to Gounder, his college girlfriend turned wife.
“In the past week, some have called our love epic. Was it an epic love story?” Gounder reminisced. “Until this past week I didn’t realize 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 love you.”