In the span of a few years, I watched Celine’s father die on a gurney, my mother died, my mother-in-law died, my father died; last month I had to put down my 19yr-old cat. Last Friday, I’d agreed to a divorce from the love of my life, & later that day, my brother died.
‘I felt, feel, obliterated. Grant was my confidante, my champion, my friend, my defender, my brother & only sibling. Grant knew things that happened to me growing up gay in KS. We had thorough educations in injustice from our educator parents. Grant majored in political science.
‘I taught summer school in KCMO in ’95 to be able to afford to fly down to Buenos Aires to be w Grant as he worked on his senior thesis about the relationship between soccer & voting.
‘He had his laptop stolen; it wouldn’t be the last time. I went to Ankara for teaching, then went to Princeton for Grant’s gradation. He wanted to show me everything; he still talked like an amazed kid. I was filled with admiration for him.
‘He’d secured an internship at the Miami Herald, & our grandma got him this tiny car he loaded up & drove from KS to FL he had his laptop stolen again in Miami; this time, they also took his back issues of The New Yorker, which he found almost funny.
‘When Grant signed on w SI (Sports Illustrated), I’d never heard him so overcome w excitement. Grant had wanted to write for SI since elementary school, even writing a letter to the magazine then saying something like, “My name is Grant Wahl, and I want to write for you.” He received a reply along the lines of “that’s cute & thanks,” but the fact he received a reply stuck w him.
‘It had an impact. Coming from where we did, you just can’t imagine what that gesture meant to him. And Grant made an effort to act in kind whenever he could from SI & afterward. I think sometimes it was easy for people from cushier backgrounds to take Grant’s earnestness for an angle or ploy until they inevitably discovered that they were getting real Grant.
‘This isn’t to say he never got upset. If you were ever one of Grant’s editors, you know he was an enthusiastic defender of his own word choices & story ideas, among other things. And if Grant thought he was right about something “he was right.” Unless he wasn’t, and then he’d own it. Unless he still sort of expected he was right all along, which he probably was.
‘Grant didn’t come out of the box worldly. Growing up, he was the pickiest eater you ever saw. Not only did he not like peanut butter & jelly, he didn’t want the jelly or any butter, & he had Mom cut the crusts off. I think what would bring him around was wanting to impress girls.
‘Growing up in our tiny ranch house in Mission, we had a steady diet of baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf, & Olympics on the TV, but also, given the times, Battle of the Network Stars, & Wide World of Sports. Howard Cosell, Diana Nyad, Phyllis George, Donna de Varona.
‘And, locally, our beloved KC institutions, Len Dawson and Karen Kornacki. Dear Karen Kornacki, our mom ensured we understood how important it is for women to be better represented in sports media.
‘Our mom, a KC native born in Independence, started out as a phys ed teacher & became a counselor. She met our dad at Washington High School in KCK, where Dad taught US government, sociology, & civics for 29yrs. Mom chose to stay at home to raise us, which even then was a financial hardship.
‘Grant & I didn’t know we were relatively poor. We were surrounded by love, family, neighbors, & Mom & Dad’s teacher colleagues–families from India, Mexico, the Philippines, & beyond. We ate ketchup & bologna sandwiches, Chef Boyardee box pizzas and 7-Up was medicine. When we got a Commodore 64 computer years later, our first game was based on the Olympics, & we spent hours representing different countries in very dot matrix ski jumping, hurdling, running, & speed skating.
‘When the ERA didn’t pass, we were already well up to speed on feminist aims & efforts thanks to our parents. Mom regularly shared with us each new issue of Ms. Magazine, & we’d sit with her as she explained the “No Comment” section at the back displaying sexist advertising.
‘We watched the few women’s sports TV had to offer at the time, mainly golf & tennis. I think Grant saw early on how our parents cheered at our TV during sporting events & then our relatives & neighbors, too, & the sense of euphoria captivated him.
‘Our grandpa Smith had friends within the Royals organization, specifically Al Zeke, and when we were able to get tickets, the roar of the crowd was unlike anything Grant had ever experienced.
‘As we grew up, Grant saw my discomfort in adolescence & my early 20s as I came to terms with being gay. He knew about the harassment & physical abuse I’d received & their effects on my psyche. He listened, he loved, he supported without question. And I felt so lucky.
‘He cheered me through grad school graduations at ESU & the University of Idaho. I hosted Thanksgiving in my Moscow apartment one year for all of us. He & I had regular conversations about everything in our lives & our minds. We cried together & laughed together right into the week he left us. And it was Dr. Celine Gounder’s entry into Grant’s life & and our lives, that made the biggest difference, the biggest enhancement. Grant & Celine complimented each other in dynamic ways, & our families became a closely blended organism of sorts.
‘Grant & Celine are the very best of us. Grant’s sudden exit from our lives will leave a lasting emptiness, but I know our families will find the right ways to honor his work, his devotion, & his beliefs going forward so there is a legacy that may help other people.
‘We see your well wishes & kind words. We’ve read your own touching stories. We’re grateful. We see the cruel comments, too. All I can say is we’re just people trying our best to grieve under circumstances that put us on the spot…
‘Grant knew my anxiety issues were a big reason why I never wanted a public spotlight, & the past week has been a media education for me. I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job. Thank you to Grant’s friends & colleagues who reached out. Thank you to the USMNT player who reached out.’