‘Bone-chilling stuff’: Sports journo who wore rainbow shirt to World Cup dies suddenly

The world of soccer was rocked on Friday night by the sudden death of one of the sport’s best-known American journalists, Grant Wahl, at the World Cup in Qatar.

Wahl, 48, was seated in a section of Lusail Stadium set aside for journalists, covering the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal, when other members of the U.S. media said he fell back in his seat, according to the Associated Press.

His fellow journalists called for help and emergency workers were quick to respond.

The World Cup organizing committee issued a statement but did not list the cause of death.

“He received immediate emergency medical treatment on site, which continued as he was transferred by ambulance to Hamad General Hospital,” the statement read. “We are in touch with the US Embassy and relevant local authorities to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes.”

As tributes poured in, Wahl’s brother, Eric Wahl, posted an emotional Instagram video in which he expressed suspicion over his sibling’s passing and begged for help.

Grant was reportedly kicked out of a stadium in Qatar previously for wearing a rainbow pride shirt, and Eric feels this may have something to do with his shocking death.

“I am gay. I am the reason he wore the rainbow shirt to the World Cup,” Eric said. “My brother was healthy. He told me he received death threats. I do not believe my brother just died. I believe he was killed, and I’m just begging for any help.”

The shirt incident took place two weeks ago, as Wahl attempted to attend a match between the U.S. and Wales. Security detained him and demanded he change his attire before entering.

“They demanded I take the shirt off. I refused. They then, right after I got a tweet off, forcibly took my cell phone and kept it for 30 minutes. I repeatedly kept asking to get it back. They wouldn’t give it to me,” Wahl told MSNBC last month, according to Fox News. “They made me stand in front of a CCTV camera presumably with someone on the other end of it rendering some sort of judgment, and I told them this was not good for them to be doing this.”

“Eventually, the security commander came and allowed me to go in and keep my shirt on and it went from there,” he continued. “They apologized, FIFA apologized and, you know, it left me wondering about what it’s like for Qataris who are here outside of World Cups who are gay because this was something that I had to deal with at an event that was being covered globally.”

While the incident may be raising eyebrows, Wahl himself stated on his Thursday podcast that he had not been feeling well and had sought medical attention.

“My body, I think, told me, even after the U.S. went out, ‘Dude, you are not sleeping enough.’ It rebelled on me,” he stated. “So I’ve had a case of bronchitis this week, I’ve been to the medical clinic at the media center twice now, including today. I’m feeling better today. I basically canceled everything on this Thursday that I had and napped, and I’m doing slightly better. You can probably tell in my voice that I’m not 100% here.”

A statement from U.S. Soccer paid tribute to Wahl’s career and character.

“Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us,” the statement read in part. “U.S. soccer sends its sincerest condolences to Grant’s wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, and all of his family members, friends and colleagues in the media. And we thank Grant for his tremendous dedication to and impact on our game in the United States. His writing and the stories he told will live on.”

Dr. Gounder, the grieving widow, responded, “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,” she stated.

https://twitter.com/celinegounder/status/1601404727014879232?s=20&t=5L62KA1X63l9CcG8iGiW7w

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin shared a statement from Los Angeles Lakers icon LeBron James, who, roughly 20 years ago, was introduced by Wahl as a 17-year-old high school player in an issue of Sports Illustrated.

“I’m very fond of Grant and having that cover shoot – me being a teenager and him covering that, it was a pretty cool thing,” James said. “And he was always pretty cool to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron covering me over the course of time before that cover story came out. And I’ve always kind of watched from a distance.”

“Even when I moved up in the ranks and became a professional and he kind of went to a different sport and things of that nature of the years, anytime his name would come up I would I would always think back to me as a teenager and having Grant in our building down at St. V.,” he continued. “So it’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was and I wish his family, like I said, the best. And may he rest in paradise.”

Wahl’s brand of storytelling is credited for helping to popularize the game of soccer in the U.S., the Daily Mail reports. He began covering the sport’s rise in the mid-1990s and, as a Sports Illustrated senior writer, he covered Olympics, World Cups, and other sports.

ESPN director Matt Ufford described him as “humble.”

“When I had a cup of coffee at SI, Grant told me about going to Ohio to report the CHOSEN ONE cover story on LeBron,” he tweeted. “Couldn’t have been more humble about how he ‘got lucky’ with the assignment. Bullsh*t. He deserved it — and delivered.”

“Grant Wahl was kind. Needlessly kind. I love him and I’ll miss him,” said radio producer Chris Wittyngham. “He treated me with a level of respect I didn’t deserve. He gave me an opportunity when I needed one. And most importantly he was kind. Needlessly kind I’ll miss him. I’m devastated beyond words.”

ESPN’s Bob Ley remarked on Wahl’s generosity.

“Generous of spirit, a peerless journalist, #grantwahl did more to inform and explain and celebrate the beautiful game than any other American. Ever. Full stop,” he tweeted. “His loss is incalculable to our profession. Prayers for his family.”

Jason Gay, of the Wall Street Journal, called the journalist a “pioneer.”

“The first time I saw Grant Wahl in action was at a post-match press conference, years ago. Another reporter asked a team staffer a scheduling question, but the team staffer didn’t know the answer…so he turned and asked Grant. Grant knew,” he recalled. “A pioneer, believer and defender. RIP.”

Still, there are questions.

“RIP Grant Wahl,” tweeted sports reporter Ben Peck, “everyone should demand answers.”

 

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