In this 2014 photo, sportswriter Grant Wahl works as a sideline reporter during halftime.
Andy Mead | YCJ | Icon Sportswire |Corbis | Getty Images
Grant Wahl, a longtime soccer sportswriter, died Friday in Qatar while covering the World Cup.
NPR national supervising editor Russell Lewis tweeted that Wahl was covering the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal match when he died. Wahl was 48.
The cause of death was not immediately available.
U.S. Soccer said in its statement that the team was “heartbroken” over Wahl’s death.
“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,” the organization said.
In a post Dec. 5 on his personal website, Wahl said he felt sick and that medical personnel on-site at the World Cup told him he probably had bronchitis. He said he was given antibiotics.
“My body finally broke down on me,” he wrote. “Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you. What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort.”
His wife, Dr. Céline Gounder, tweeted late Friday that the news came as a “complete shock.”
“I am so thankful for the support of my husband @GrantWahl’s soccer family & of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight,” she said.
The U.S. State Department said it has urged the Qatari government to fulfill his family’s wishes, but did not specify what those were.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Grant Wahl and send our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a tweet.
In his writing, Wahl had reflected on the extraordinary nature of a World Cup in Qatar, and noted an incident on Nov. 21, when he said he was stopped by security and held because he refused to remove a T-shirt with a rainbow logo that signified solidarity with LGBTQ+ rights. Same-sex relations are illegal in the country.
It happened as he arrived at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan to cover the U.S.-Wales game, Wahl later wrote.
Wahl said he was held more than 30 minutes, refusing to remove the shirt, until a security commander came to release him and shake his hand.
He relayed the incident in an interview on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.
“It left me wondering about what it’s like for Qataris who are here outside of the World Cups who are gay because this was something that I had to deal with at an event that was being covered globally,” Wahl told Mitchell.
Wahl is from Mission, Kansas, and attended Princeton University as an undergraduate.
According to a bio from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Wahl covered at least 10 World Cups and five Olympics.
He was known for his work for Sports Illustrated and as a commentator on NPR. He wrote a well-received book about David Beckham’s foray into U.S. soccer, titled “The Beckham Experiment.”
It was the first New York Times Bestseller with soccer as the topic.
Sports Illustrated’s top editors said late Friday that he started there in 1996 and left to pursue independent projects in 2020.
“We’re shocked and devastated at the news of Grant’s passing,” SI’s co-editors in chief, Ryan Hunt and Stephen Cannella, said. “We were proud to call him a colleague and friend for two decades. No writer in the history of SI has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell.”
Numerous soccer organizations reacted late Friday to Wahl’s death. the National Soccer Hall of Fame said few supported the idea of honoring the greatest players as he did; Major League Soccer said Wahl’s passion for the game was immeasurable; and Angel City Football Club in Los Angeles said soccer “is better because of him.”
“His commitment to sharing the stories of our beautiful game was unmatched, but more importantly, his integrity, thoughtfulness and kindness were central were central to the way he lived,” National Women’s Soccer League said in a statement.
Some of Wahl’s readers credited him with helping grow the sport’s fan base in the United States.
Film and TV producer Franklin Leonard said Wahl’s importance to the game stateside is hard to measure.
“If you’re not both an American AND a fan of the beautiful game, it might be extremely hard to understand Grant Wahl’s meaning to the community of folks who are,” he tweeted, “and honestly I’m sort of at a loss to articulate it.”