Colleagues and fellow reporters, who were with Wahl when he went into acute distress, claimed he appeared healthy and was laughing minutes before his death. Wahl had collapsed during the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal match at the World Cup in Qatar.
“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. My deepest condolences to Grant Wahl’s family,” tweeted Rafael Cores, a Univision journalist who sat next to Wahl during the game.
U.S. Soccer commemorated Wahl in a statement Friday night, honoring his decadeslong devotion to the sport.
“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,” it said in a statement.
Wahl was known for his work at Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, NBC News, and Fox Sports. One of his stories for Sports Illustrated has been credited for introducing the world to NBA star LeBron James when James was just 17 years old.
“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. “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 always think back to me as a teenager and having Grant in our building down at St. V. So it’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was.”
Before his death, Wahl was recognized for his contribution to the sport by the international soccer association FIFA. Wahl was one of 82 journalists who had attended eight consecutive World Cups. FIFA President Gianni Infantino mourned Wahl’s death in a statement Friday.
“It is with disbelief and immense sadness that I have been made aware of the passing of renowned sports journalist Grant Wahl,” Infantino said in a statement obtained by the Daily Mail. “Only some days ago, Grant was recognized 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.”
One day before his death, Wahl said he had not been feeling well and that his body was worn down. However, a medical team at the World Cup believed Wahl had bronchitis, and Wahl began feeling better after taking medication but said that he was “no bueno.”
No cause of death has been given so far, but Wahl’s brother, Eric, who is gay, said he believes Wahl was killed after wearing a rainbow pride T-shirt at one of the matches and was apprehended by security as a result.
The State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, said the department was doing everything it could to bring Wahl’s body back to the United States.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Grant Wahl, and we send our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication,” Price said. “We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see that his family’s wishes for his remains are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”