Sports Illustrated fires star writer for ‘incomprehensible, me-first’ behavior during coronavirus pandemic

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Sports Illustrated has fired one of its most well-known journalists, Grant Wahl, for what parent company Maven claims is “incomprehensible” and “me-first” behavior amid the coronavirus pandemic, Fox News has learned.

In an email obtained exclusively by Fox News, Maven CEO and founder James Heckman, said the decision to let go Wahl was borne from the “coronavirus-driven declines in advertising revenue,” resulting in a $4 million reduction in compensation from senior leaders and what it called “high-salary members of our team.”

“Every senior staff member volunteered to put their personal budgeted future at risk, to save jobs and ensure stable salaries for those making less,” Heckman wrote in the email. “Everyone, that is, but one person. 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.”

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“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, Heckman added.

On Twitter, Wahl, who had been at the outlet for 24 years, primarily covered soccer and is a New York Times best-selling author, said he had been fired with no severance.

Wahl added that he said he was “fine” with a 30 percent reduction during the pandemic, but added he told the company’s management “it was shameful to try to push through a permanent 30 [percent] cut beyond the pandemic.” He also disputed the salary figure, but admitted he received a bonus.

Fox News has reached out to Wahl with a request for comment. Maven declined to comment.

Seattle-based Maven announced in June 2019 that it had acquired the right to publish the print and digital versions of Sports Illustrated from former parent company Meredith Corp. for $45 million.

A source familiar with the situation confirmed the veracity of the email.

In October 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that Maven was letting go of more than 25 percent of its staff in an effort to cut costs.

Last month, as the coronavirus pandemic worsened and severely impacted digital media companies, along with nearly every other industry, Maven announced it would be cutting 9 percent of its staff, citing a $30 million reduction in anticipated 2020 revenue.

Below is the email in its entirety:

To All Employees:

In the spirit of transparency, we wanted to touch base with everyone regarding an employee termination that took place this morning and no doubt will be a source of some one-sided punditry in the days to come. So we figured it best to lay out the facts to avoid confusion.

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. 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.

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.

To that end, we want to stress that our hearts go out to those who lost their jobs last week. Our moves were not a reflection on their talent or value but a sign of these uncertain times.

Thank you for your commitment, empathy and resourcefulness as we navigate both life in a pandemic and our rapidly changing media industry.

James Heckman

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