Grant Wahl: A Voice for the Fans

By Dan Wiersema / AO Old Timer

You don’t have American soccer without Grant Wahl. It sounds like hyperbole, but you certainly don’t have the American soccer we have today without him. His untimely and tragic death in Qatar leaves a massive hole in our American soccer community.

It wasn’t just that Grant Wahl was a phenomenal journalist. He was a phenomenal person. Just scroll through social media in the hours and days after the news to see what he meant to many, from established professional journalists to newer soccer personalities, recalling stories of how he lent a helping hand or a bit of advice in their early days. And us, the fans, Grant was a window (and a voice) to the wide world of soccer.

Grant Wahl was THE soccer reporter for older millennial soccer fans such as myself. He was Sports Illustrated’s lead college basketball writer, but with a side hustle in soccer. I remember desperately running to the mailbox each week hoping for a few paragraphs snuck into the magazine. Grant was getting spreads into SI (having conned his editors into a full-time role) when our local newspapers didn’t print a word on the sport. Then social media changed everything for soccer, but nothing about Grant changed. 

Let’s not overlook the moment in which Wahl ascended and his placement in it. He wasn’t a soccer gatekeeper, but a bridge builder. Ask around and most roads lead back to Grant. Starting a podcast about soccer (get in line)? Sure, he’ll be your first guest. Looking to get a start in sports and you want to chat via DM? He’s there for you. Talk tactics while tipsy at the AO Night Before? Smile and nod, Grant. 

He tirelessly brought us Beckham, Donovan, Dempsey, Wambach, Morgan and more to print and digital. As American soccer fandom matured, he was wherever we needed him, covering clubs or countries, from the men’s and women’s World Cup to Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League, around the nation and across the pond. His prose brought players and personalities right before us. 

Above all, he was still a fan. His dog, Zizzou, named after Zinidane Zidane; and he was a collector of not soccer scarves, but soccer shorts! As supporters of the men’s and women’s national teams, we felt like we had one of our own in the pressbox, the postgame conferences and the media scrums.

Grant was a true friend to American soccer fans and the American Outlaws. When we held our first Rally in Las Vegas in 2011 he was the first speaker to sign on; at the time he was running an insurgent campaign to become FIFA President (oh… what could’ve been!). We didn’t even scare him away from a second appearance, when we held another Rally in 2016 in Austin. By then he was established soccer royalty, but as humble as ever. 

The ever-humble Grant, back row to the right.

We’ve held more NB4s and tailgates than we can count, and guess who was there countless times as well? Yup, Grant Wahl. It didn’t matter that he spent the whole day interviewing players and coaches and filing stories and then would have to wake up again the next day and put that newsie hat (remember @GrantWahlsHat?) and have his “3 Things” posted within five minutes of full-time. Grant in his element, a smile as wide as can be, not because people were fawning over him (they were, def, including this writer), but because he was doing what he loved best: talking soccer. As the game grew, so did the crowds and his excitement that soccer had finally arrived in the United States. 

But he didn’t stop there. He covered and advocated for the women’s game when others didn’t. He challenged FIFA and U.S. Soccer leadership on corruption and Equal Pay. He investigated and confronted Qatar’s handling of this year’s World Cup and LBQTQIA+ record up to the day he passed. Accountability and inclusivity were central to his character. 

Grant wasn’t just a part of the American soccersphere; he was at its core. And seemingly everywhere he was a selfless hub of connection, from fans to colleagues and from peers to upstarts, locally and globally. 

Our condolences go out to his family and his brilliant wife, Celine. Thank you, Grant, for everything you gave to the fans. Everything you gave to us. Everything you gave to the game. Your loss is immense, and you will be missed.


A few words from AO leaders:

"I don’t know what to say. Grant meant so much to me personally and has been there for me and AO from the beginning. He was a good one. One of the best. I’m just sad and thinking of his family. He has impacted so many." - Justin Brunken

“My heart breaks at the loss of such a giant in the U.S. soccer community, but Grant was more than that. Grant was a friend, and he was extremely genuine with his warmth and his willingness to look out for others and amplify other voices. His loss is a void that can never be fully replaced.” - Donald Wine

“The outpouring of love for Grant has been entirely overwhelming, and yet entirely deserved.

The guy was just a great human. Since I’ve read so many stories of how Grant selflessly helped so many others (including me), I’ll take a different approach and relay the story my father-in-law reminded me of today. He’s not a soccer fan, but he joined the ‘AO family’ at an AO night-before party which Grant also attended. It was, as many NB4 parties were, loud and chaotic. I mentioned to my in-laws that Grant was a huge deal and a great guy and asked if they’d like to meet him. 

My father-in-law’s recollection is what I loved: ‘He had an aura. He’s a big deal. He knows everyone, you could tell. But when he met us, it felt like the room felt a little calmer.’ 

I agree with my father-in-law. Grant had a ton of great qualities, but making sense of all the noise may have been his greatest. I’ll miss him so much.” - Korey Donahoo

December 12, 2022