For a limited time only, Grant Wahl is returning to Sports Illustrated. In April, Wahl criticized SI operator Maven and Jim Heckman (who was CEO of Maven at that point) on social media for massive layoffs and attempts to make pandemic-citing paycuts permanent for remaining employees. Maven then fired Wahl with no severance less than a week later. But the situation’s a little different now, with Heckman leaving his CEO position in late August and Ross Levinsohn taking his place. And that’s apparently now led to Wahl (who’s now hosting his own Fútbol with Grant Wahl podcast) doing some final projects for SI, as he tweeted Friday:
Happy to announce I'm going to write three final long-form stories for Sports Illustrated, a publication that means a lot to me. pic.twitter.com/Yw5qLjAoC7
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) October 23, 2020
It’s not uncommon to see a writer’s stories run in a publication after they’ve moved on elsewhere or after the company’s moved on from them, but this feels a bit more unusual for a few reasons. For one, the SI/Wahl breakup was quite public and high-profile. For another, Wahl’s comments there of “focusing the next few months” suggest that this is about doing further significant work to get these stories ready for publication, not just minor tweaks. So this feels like a notable deal, and it’s maybe one that could work out well for both sides.
For Wahl, this seems like a chance to leave SI (where he had worked for 23 years) on a better note, and it also seemingly gives him a pretty good platform for these stories. Yes, there have been plenty of issues at SI lately, but that brand still has good recognition (which is why owner Authentic Brands Group bought it, so they could put its name on “brain formula” and so on) and decent traffic, and there aren’t exactly a ton of prominent outlets publishing sports longform these days. And for SI, this gets them likely three good stories (Wahl has certainly produced lots of those over the years), and it maybe helps their overall brand credibility to again feature some solid longform from a prominent writer like Wahl.
Of course, it’s worth being careful to not read too much into an announcement that’s only for three stories. This doesn’t have Wahl going back to SI permanently, and it isn’t even necessarily a sign of SI committing to long-form stories for the long run. But it does seem like a move that’s logical for both sides, giving Wahl a chance to end his SI tenure on a higher note and giving SI some good pieces from a prominent and credible writer.