Longtime soccer journalist Grant Wahl died today while covering the World Cup in Qatar. Details surrounding Wahl’s death are murky, but NPR reports he collapsed shortly before the end of the Netherlands-Argentina match today. Much more on that below.
Wahl wrote for Sports Illustrated before starting his own substack. He regularly appeared on CNN, Fox Sports and CBS Sports as a commentator. It was Wahl who wrote the SI story that got LeBron James the magazine’s cover while LBJ was still a junior. The magazine’s obit today says Wahl also worked at John Skipper’s Meadowlark Media and was a producer on the company’s Good Rivals docuseries for Prime Video.
Wahl’s wife, Céline Gounder, is a former advisor on Covid to the Biden Administration. She wrote tonight on Twitter:
“I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl‘s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight. I’m in complete shock.”
Her statement was attached to a retweet of U.S. Soccer’s post to social media, which reads in part, “The entire U.S. Soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl. Fans of soccer and journalism of the highest quality knew we could always count on Grant to deliver insightful and entertaining stories about our game, and its major protagonists: teams, players, coaches and the many personalities that make soccer unlike any sport.”
U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price indicated officials are in touch with Wahl’s family and, “We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”
Wahl was covering the epic match between Argentina and the Netherlands today, Univision VP Digital Content Rafael Cores recalled. “I was sitting next to him tonight. He was working on his story on his laptop, it was about 4 minutes before the end of the extra time. He was laughing at a joke we saw on Twitter only minutes earlier. I can’t believe it.”
What happened next, per NPR: “An NPR reporter witnessed a commotion in the press tribune at Lusail Stadium. Reporters scattered as Wahl collapsed. Paramedics responded to the seating area where he was and performed CPR. After many minutes, they took him away on a stretcher while using an automatic chest compressor to continue applying CPR.”
Wahl had not been shy about expressing his convictions while in Qatar. On November 21, he wrote he was refused entry into the stadium for the USA-Wales match because he was wearing a rainbow shirt.
“You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed,” the security guard allegedly told him. He eventually made it into the media center, but called the incident “an unnecessary ordeal.”
His brother Eric Wahl said the reporter had gotten death threats because of the shirt and Eric suspected foul play in his brother’s passing. Grant Wahl also mentioned on a podcast posted yesterday that he was battling a case of bronchitis and his body “had rebelled” on him. As a result, he canceled all his appointments on Thursday and was resting. He reportedly had a bout of Covid back in August.
Yesterday, he published a pointed piece criticizing Qatari officials for their lack of concern about human rights and, specifically, migrant deaths in the country.
Reporting on the death of a Filipino worker in the Saudi Arabia training resort during the tournament’s group stage Wahl wrote:
We know the Qatari Supreme Committee doesn’t care because its CEO, Nasser Al-Khater, told you all you needed to hear in an interview with the BBC that was breathtaking in its crassness.
“We’re in the middle of a World Cup, and we have a successful World Cup. And this is something that you want to talk about right now?” Al-Khater said when asked about the worker’s death. “I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep. Of course, a worker died. Our condolences go to his family. However, it’s strange that this is something that you wanted to focus on as your first question.”
Notably, in its statement U.S. Soccer specifically recognized that “Grant’s belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all.”