Grant Wahl.

Grant Wahl is far from the only person to criticize Maven’s operation of Sports Illustrated, but he may be the first to lose his job after offering those criticisms. Earlier this week, Wahl (an SI veteran since 1996) blasted Maven (which operates SI under license from owner Authentic Brands Group) for not only laying off six percent of SI staff last week (in addition to the estimated half of staff that were laid off in October), but for also using the COVID-19 pandemic to try and permanently reduce salaries for remaining staff. In an Instagram story that was also posted to Twitter (it was then deleted, but screencaps can be seen here), Wahl wrote that Maven decreased his salary 30 percent “and is trying to make that permanent beyond the pandemic, which is shameful,” and blasted Maven CEO James Heckman with “Who would take advantage of a pandemic to permanently reduce someone’s salary beyond that pandemic? Maven and James Heckman would.” On Friday, Wahl tweeted that he had been fired with no severance:

This isn’t the first time Wahl has raised some concerns about the direction of SI. After October’s layoffs, he went on fubo Sports Network’s Drinks With Binks and shared some of those concerns, saying “So it’s something where I hope this is the low point for Sports Illustrated, and that we can put ourselves in a position where not only are we doing talented, really good work with talented people, but [also] the business side is sustainable.” But there have been plenty of problematic stories about Maven and SI since then, and that perhaps led to Wahl escalating those criticisms this week and to Maven then firing him.

Update: Here’s a leaked Maven internal memo on this, via Ian Thomas of Front Office Sports, and a response from Wahl:

And here’s a statement from the SI union:

It should be noted that Wahl is far from alone in his criticisms of Maven. There have been a lot of Maven moves that have drawn backlash, from the various layoffs to cutting the print edition to one regular issue a month (and closing those issues three weeks in advance) to promoting questionable content from questionable people under the SI brand to parting ways with veteran editors like Chris Stone and Mark McClusky and veteran writers like Chris Ballard and Sarah Kwak. And SI’s staff has been trying to form a wider newsroom union in response to Maven decisions. There have also been questions raised about Maven’s finances.

But it’s certainly notable to see Maven fire Wahl after this latest round of criticisms. And that may not work out all that well for them. Firing someone over criticisms would cause backlash at any point, even more so in the middle of a pandemic. And firing someone with Wahl’s prominence (in addition to his work for SI, he’s also done plenty of on-air soccer work for Fox, and he’s written two books, The Beckham Experiment and Masters of Modern Soccer) seems likely to only intensify that.[Grant Wahl on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.