The American soccer community suffered a blow earlier this month when Grant Wahl, a veritable legend in the field, was abruptly fired after over 20 years at Sports Illustrated. As a member of that community, as well as a person with a healthy sense of solidarity with my fellow worker, I was enraged. Here was an established writer who was presented a boot to lick, refused to do so, and was kicked in the teeth for his temerity. For management to try and force a permanent pay cut on a writer, then smear him afterward, is absurd and unprofessional.
And yet, I am human. Upon hearing about Wahl’s firing—and his considerable salary, even excluding the hefty bonus—I admittedly thought to myself, Hm, SI has jobs, and I need one. The guy who just lost his did more or less the same thing I do. What if they hit me up about potentially taking over Wahl’s beat?
I may be human, and an inarguably flawed one at that, but I am not a coward. I am not a total clown. I am not a cretin worthy of the fiercest enmity, a piece of shit of the vilest stench. I am not a scab. Because of that, I answered my own question: No, if SI approached me for that job, I would decline.
Fuck no, I wouldn’t take that job! Since the content-farm experts of TheMaven took control of SI, they’ve done nothing but demonstrate how clueless and despicable they are. Breaches of editorial independence, short-sighted decision-making, callously handled layoffs—everything they touch turns to shit, and I don’t want those fingers on me. Especially in light of how dirty they did Wahl—trying to take his money, firing him when he balked, and then defaming him on his way out the door—I’d be an idiot to associate myself with them after that.
It’s worth acknowledging that the stakes are real here. I am presently unemployed. Also, I work in or around two fields—sports and journalism—that COVID-19 has killed almost as quickly as it kills people. And yet, in spite of that, if SI offered me today a life raft out of unemployment hell doing the only job I’m in any way qualified for and desire, my response would be, “Are you fucking kidding me? You turned a once-heralded company into a complete joke; you’re run by a shit-brained loser named James; you fucked over all the employees you’ve let go during your brief, horrendous tenure; and ESPECIALLY after the way you mismanaged the person whose job I’m ostensibly stealing, I’d sooner stick my hand down a running garbage disposal than work for some fucking ghouls like you! Fuck off! Grant Wahl forever!” Please, Sports Illustrated: Save me the trouble of having to copy and paste that into an email.
I mean, could you imagine what it’d look like if I weaseled my way in and pretended like none of that had happened? As if I’d try to court Wahl’s legion of readers with my articles, handwaving away the criticism with some limp excuse like, “You know, it wasn’t an easy decision, but the bosses promised they wouldn’t do to me the thing they just did to the guy everyone liked a lot more than me, and if you knew the facts you’d know it wasn’t as cut-and-dry as it seems. Also, I just feel like the world truly needs my pro/rel takes, so I gotta put them up wherever I can, you know?” Everyone—the readers, my colleagues at SI, fellow writers elsewhere, my friends, my girlfriend—would hate me, and they would be completely justified.
The mere fact that I’d be doing work for a bunch of people who hate me would suck. My style of writing and empty gas-baggery would not translate well at a place like SI, and it couldn’t differ more from the style of the man I’d replace. I’d probably wind up doing some comedically awful impression of what I thought it was Wahl did. The resulting dreck would be uniformly and necessarily terrible, and it would shame Wahl’s legacy by proving his stupidest critics right. Wahl’s fans would take every opportunity to tell me just how much they hated me, both for my terrible takes and my even worse choice to accept the job. They’d be right, of course—why would I be doing it if not to court the people who read and like SI?
Nonetheless, SI wouldn’t be crazy to consider me. Relatively, I’d be cheap. My previous job paid pretty well, but not Grant Wahl well. Then there’s the fact that I’d qualify as a change of pace. I’m a U.S. Soccer and MLS rabble-rouser. Wahl was no ass-kisser and criticized the powers that be when he believed it was deserved, but he was more of an optimist. I am young(ish) and black, whereas he is old(ish) and white.
The people in charge could see those things as assets, as ways to twist the framing of the Wahl debacle from “SI fires beloved writer in despicable way” to “SI sheds overpaid has-been to bring in young, black up-and-comer, whose tell-it-how-it-is attitude will be crucial toward building the magazine’s new voice.” Too often we see employers turn to systematically overlooked minority candidates only when it’s time to do something contemptible like, say, cross a picket line, finding no value in “diversity” but for the most cynical of benefits. I for one am too proud to sell my skin color to any amoral CEO so that he may use it as a shield.
All of this is probably moot anyway. Most likely I will struggle through unemployment even longer, either turning to freelancing if/when those budgets ever return, or, god forbid, I’ll hang up my typewriter for good and find a new industry to hack it in.
I guess I’d consider returning to one of my former places of employment, if the situation was right. If, say, my old haunt reopened after a long period of inactivity and wanted to make a splash by bringing back a familiar face. So, should the Texas Roadhouse in Greenwood, Indiana, open back up after the coronavirus lockdown, this busboy is ready to get back to work, if you’ll have me.