Grant Wahl and Maven CEO Clash Over Sports Illustrated Departure

    • Wahl, a Sports Illustrated soccer writer for 24 years, said he was suddenly laid off with no severance by new SI publisher The Maven.
    • Maven CEO James Heckman countered a "me-first' Wahl refused to cut his $350,000 salary during advertising downturn.

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The chief executive of Sports Illustrated publisher The Maven took aim at writer Grant Wahl after he publicly announced he’d been laid off with no severance.

In an internal memo obtained by Front Office Sports, Maven CEO James Heckman claimed Wahl was the only SI staffer to refuse a pay cut in the face of falling ad revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Heckman claimed Wahl had a “me-first” attitude. Earlier on Friday, Wahl tweeted: “Maven just fired me from Sports Illustrated. No severance. Nothing.”

Heckman sought to explain his actions to staff in an internal memo Friday.

“As part of the multi-faceted cost-containment strategy we unveiled last week in the face of coronavirus-driven declines in advertising revenue, a $4 million reduction in compensation was enacted across senior leaders and high-salary members of our team. This move helped limit layoffs to 9 percent of our workforce and we believe saved at least 30 jobs. Every senior staff member volunteered to put their personal budgeted future at risk, to save jobs and ensure stable salaries for those making less. Everyone, that is, but one person,” wrote Heckman. 

“This person made more than $350,000 last year to infrequently write stories that generated little meaningful viewership or revenue. Yet he trumpeted that he thought it shameful to be asked to participate in helping his fellow workers. To complain about a personal pay reduction when 31 others had just lost their jobs is incomprehensible in light of the sacrifices others made to help limit layoffs and maintain livable salaries for our staff. Such a me-first attitude is not part of the tradition and culture Maven is committed to maintaining,” he continued.

Heckman concluded by saying Wahl’s salary would be directed into severance pay and health benefits for employees recently laid off by SI.

Wahl, an internationally recognized soccer reporter, recently spoke out on social media against the downsizing of SI under Maven management. He wrote the new owners had already slashed his salary by 30%

“Who would take advantage of a pandemic to permanently reduce someone’s salary beyond that pandemic? Maven and James Heckman would,” wrote Wahl, according to Awful Announcing.

In a follow-up tweet Friday afternoon, Wahl said that he told Maven, “I was fine taking a 30% pay cut during the pandemic. But it was shameful to try to push through a permanent 30% cut beyond the pandemic.” He also said that his “base salary was far below that, but I got a bonus because my bosses said my work was very good.” Wahl further contradicted the memo, also noting, “I write frequently.”

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Wahl has won numerous journalism awards during his 24 years at SI. He’s also the author of the book, “Masters of Modern Soccer: How the World’s Best Play the Twenty-First-Century Game.”

The Maven declined to comment Friday.