Prominent American soccer journalist Grant Wahl died suddenly in Qatar while covering Friday's World Cup game between the Netherlands and Argentina.
Wahl, who grew up in Mission, Kansas, was perhaps the most well-known soccer writer in the United States.
Wahl also had a presence on television, working for Fox Sports and CBS Sports and had his own Substack newsletter, GrantWahl.com. He also was the author of the 2009 New York Times bestseller "The Beckham Experiment," that chronicled the impact of David Beckham's move to the MLS' LA Galaxy.
He celebrated his 49th birthday on Wednesday, tweeting while there were no games he was happy to be with friends and colleagues.
Who is Grant Wahl?
If you are a fan of soccer, you know Grant Wahl. If you aren't, you may still have heard of his award-winning journalism.
He spent 24 years with Sports Illustrated, joining the magazine after he graduated from Princeton in 1996, where he wrote about soccer and college basketball, most prominently. But his career at SI ended in 2020 after he was fired by the magazine's publisher, Maven, after a pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic.
How did Grant Wahl die?
U.S. media seated near him said Wahl fell back in his seat in a section of Lusail Iconic Stadium reserved for journalists during extra time of the game between Argentina and the Netherlands, and reporters adjacent to him called for assistance. Emergency services workers responded very quickly, the reporters said, and the reporters later were told that Wahl had died.
The Times, a British newspaper, reported there was no defibrillator on site.
“He received immediate emergency medical treatment on site, which continued as he was transferred by ambulance Hamad General Hospital,” the World Cup organizing committee said in a statement, which did not list a cause of death. “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.”
Wahl had written that he had not being feeling well in the days preceding his death, saying in part: “I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort." He sought medical attention, for what he was told was probably bronchitis and received antibiotics.
Why was Grant Wahl detained in Qatar?
Wahl said he was detained in Qatar for "nearly half an hour" ahead of the USMNT-Wales match Nov. 21 for wearing a rainbow shirt in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Qatar’s laws against, and treatment of, LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone is welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.
"Security guard refusing to let me into the stadium for USA-Wales," Wahl tweeted. "'You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed.'"
Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.
REACTION: Tributes pour in for Grant Wahl
Who is his wife, Dr. Céline Gounder?
Wahl met his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, at Princeton University and the couple married in 2001.
Gounder is an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University. She served on the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board.
"I'm in complete shock," she wrote in confirming news of Wahl's death.
— Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA 🇺🇦 (@celinegounder) December 10, 2022
What is the Biden administration doing to help?
A U.S. government official said that they have been in contact with senior Qatari officials and are going to make sure that the Wahl family's wishes are adhered to as fully and quickly as possible.
"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," Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said.
What did FIFA say?
"It is with disbelief and immense sadness that I have been made aware of the passing of renowned sports journalist Grant Wahl, whilst reporting on a quarter-final match during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar," FIFA President Gianni Infantino said.
"Only some days ago, Grant was recognised by FIFA and AIPS for his contribution to reporting on eight consecutive FIFA World Cups, and his career also included attendance at several FIFA Women's World Cups, as well as a host of other international sporting events. His love for football was immense and his reporting will be missed by all who follow the global game. On behalf of FIFA and the football community, we express our sincerest condolences to his wife Céline, his family, and his friends at this most difficult time."
Sports world reacts on Twitter, Instagram
"Here in the United States Grant's passion for soccer and commitment to elevating its profile across our sporting landscape played a major role in helping to drive interest in and respect for our beautiful game," U.S. Soccer said in a statement. "As important, Grant's belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all. Grant made soccer his life's work, and we are devastated he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us."
U.S. Soccer Statement On The Passing Of Grant Wahl: pic.twitter.com/CBp1mCK1mQ
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) December 10, 2022
"We are shocked, saddened and heartbroken over the tragic passing of Grant Wahl. He was a kind and caring person whose passion for soccer and dedication to journalism were immeasurable," MLS Commissioner Don Garber wrote on Twitter.
Grant was an important member of the soccer community for more than two decades, and he will be deeply missed. Our heartfelt condolences are with his wife Celine, his family and loved ones.
— Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) December 10, 2022
USWNT great Carli Lloyd said she was "completely shocked" when she learned the news while attending the Philadelphia 76ers' game. "My heart goes out to his wife, family, friends and the soccer community. Truly heartbreaking," she wrote.
Learned of Grant Wahl’s passing while I was at the Sixers game. Completely shocked. My heart goes out to his wife, family, friends and the soccer community. Truly heartbreaking.
— Carli Lloyd (@CarliLloyd) December 10, 2022
"The soccer community lost a real one today. And for women’s soccer, one of the originals who helped drive our game forward. Grant Wahl never shied away from asking the tough questions, the right questions, the ones that got to the heart of the matter. He will be greatly missed," longtime USWNT standout Becky Sauerbrunn wrote.
The soccer community lost a real one today. And for women’s soccer, one of the originals who helped drive our game forward. Grant Wahl never shied away from asking the tough questions, the right questions, the ones that got to the heart of the matter. He will be greatly missed.
— Becky Sauerbrunn (@beckysauerbrunn) December 10, 2022
LeBron James speaks to 'tragic loss'
One of Wahl's cover stories at Sports Illustrated ended up becoming one of the most famous in the magazine's illustrious history – LeBron James' first cover in 2002, in which he was declared the "Chosen One."
“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. 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." James, 37, said after the Lakers' game Friday night.
“Even when I moved up the ranks and became a professional and he kind of went to a different sport and things of that nature over the years, anytime his name would come up I would always think back to me as a teenager and having Grant in our building down at [St. Vincent’s]. 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.”
— Subscribe to GrantWahl.com (@GrantWahl) April 18, 2020
What did FIFA, media do?
A tribute to Wahl, consisting of a photo taken of him just days before when he was among 82 journalists honored for covering at least eight World Cups, and a bouquet of flowers, was left at his seat in the media center at Al Bayt Stadium by FIFA.
“Tonight we pay tribute to Grant Wahl at his assigned seat in Al Bayt Stadium. He should have been here,” FIFA said in a statement. “Our thoughts remain with his wife Céline, his family, and his friends at this most difficult time.”
Flowers and a portrait in memory of American journalist Grant Wahl are placed in the media tribune ahead of the quarterfinal matchup between England and France. @FIFAcom @FIFAWorldCup #FIFAWorldCup
📸: Clive Brunskill pic.twitter.com/EzUdib8E7A
— Getty Images Sport (@GettySport) December 10, 2022
FIFA showed a similar photo of Wahl on stadium screens and cameras spanned to his empty media seat before the quarterfinal match between England and France.
FIFA honors the late Grant Wahl before tonight's England-France match pic.twitter.com/SYRVAB4Gdv
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 10, 2022
Princeton colleague pays tribute
Allison Slater Tate, who worked with Wahl at the Princeton student newspaper, had known him since she was 18.
"He is one of the best humans and writers that I have ever known," she told USA TODAY Sports. "He has been an inspiration. He taught me that sports writing is the art of the human story. I think he approached every story and his whole career that way."
Slater Tate said she texted him after he was detained in Qatar and told him to be careful.
"I think that Grant leaves behind a legacy of speaking up and speaking out and calling things like they are, but also seeing the human side in all of his subjects," she said. "I am just devastated. It was a gift to learn from him even as my peer - not just about writing, but about being a good person. There really never will be another like him."
"Today I find myself one of tens of thousands — probably more — around the world who are mourning Grant’s improbable and untimely death at such a young age," David Landes, another Princeton colleague who worked with Wahl, said on Medium. "I can only imagine how hard this must be for his wife Celine, his immediate family, and those who had the good fortune to work and play with him on a daily basis. My heart aches. RIP Grant. And thanks for everything you did. You will be sorely missed."
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies suddenly in Qatar. What we know