Messy Internal Conflict Between Publisher And Sports Illustrated Journalist Allegedly Making $350k Spills Out Into Full Public View

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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The publisher of Sports Illustrated reportedly sent a scathing memo about recently fired journalist Grant Wahl after he criticized how the company handled job cuts and salary reductions.

The media company Maven bought the publishing rights to Sports Illustrated last year, according to Geek Wire. It announced that 9% of staff would be cut because of the novel coronavirus on March 30. Six percent of cost reduction came from Sports Illustrated journalists.

CEO James Heckman sent out a memo to staff Friday ripping an unnamed employee who reportedly had a problem with the recent decisions. This employee “made more than $350,000 last year to infrequently write stories that generated little meaningful viewership or revenue,” according to Heckman.

The employee being ripped in the staff-wide memo appears to be recently fired Wahl, who worked for Sports Illustrated for 24 years, Geek Wire reported. Wahl challenged the contents of the memo and tweeted his side of the story after being fired Friday.

“I 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,” Wahl tweeted Friday. He added that he was fired without severance in a subsequent tweet.

Wahl called the memo “defamatory” and said it was “full of literal lies” in another tweet Friday evening.

“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,” Heckman wrote in the memo. “Such a me-first attitude is not part of the tradition and culture Maven is committed to maintaining.”

“As a result, we’ve decided to direct what would have been this person’s salary into additional severance pay and health benefits for those laid off who need it the most.”

The Sports Illustrated Union “stand[s] in solidarity” with Wahl, according to a statement tweeted Friday evening. The union noted that Wahl was “fired without severance after 23 years at Sports Illustrated.”

“We are not only disappointed by the move to dismiss our beloved colleague, the nation’s leading soccer writer, but appalled at how it was announced: in a staffwide memo from Maven CEO James Heckman that smeared Grant, incorrectly claimed he was unwilling to take a pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic and diminished his contributions as a writer, podcaster and on-camera talent,” Sports Illustrated Union wrote.

“Contrary to the memo’s assertions, Grant was among SI’s most prolific staff members and his reporting among our most substantive.”

The now-public firing and subsequent memo is just the latest controversy coming out of Maven, according to Geek Wire. The media company laid off employees last fall, resulting in criticism from both employees and unions.

Wahl is well known for his soccer coverage and is the author of “The Beckham Experiment,” a New York Times bestseller, Geek Wire reported. (RELATED: Soccer Star Kyle Walker Apologizes After Reportedly Hosting Party With Escorts During Coronavirus Lockdown)