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U.S. soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies after collapsing at World Cup match

U.S. soccer writer Grant Wahl died Dec. 9 while covering the World Cup in Qatar after collapsing in his seat during the Argentina and the Netherlands match. (Video: Reuters)
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Prominent American soccer writer Grant Wahl died Friday while covering the World Cup in Qatar, U.S. Soccer confirmed. Wahl chronicled the rise of the game for Sports Illustrated for years before moving to Substack.

Wahl attended the quarterfinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands in Lusail on Friday. He collapsed in his seat at the start of extra time. A number of reporters called for help, and paramedics arrived immediately, treating Wahl for several minutes on-site, said Washington Post reporter Steven Goff, who also was covering the match.

“The entire U.S. Soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” U.S. Soccer wrote in a statement. “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.”

Wahl, 48, had written about some of his health issues in Qatar in the days leading up to his passing. Earlier this week, he wrote: “My body finally broke down on me. Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you.”

He said he had a cold turn into something more serious on the night the United States played the Netherlands. “I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort,” he wrote.

In a well-covered incident at the tournament, Wahl was detained by Qatari security guards at a stadium when he arrived to a game wearing a rainbow soccer ball T-shirt. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar. Wahl, on his Substack, wrote that security guards refused to let him in, held him for 25 minutes and demanded he remove his shirt.

In its statement, U.S. Soccer added: “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. As important, Grant’s belief in the power of the game to advance human rights was, and will remain, an inspiration to all.”

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the agency was in close communication with Wahl’s family and the officials were “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”

Wahl grew up in Mission, Kan., and after attending Princeton, he joined Sports Illustrated in 1996. He initially covered college basketball, and wrote an iconic cover story about LeBron James when James was in high school. The piece ran with the headline: “The Chosen One.” “You had a huge impact on me and my family and I’m so appreciative of you. A great person and journalist,” James tweeted Saturday.

Jon Wertheim, a colleague at Sports Illustrated, recalled that Wahl wanted to cover soccer as soon as he started at the magazine. Wahl had done an independent study in college that sent him to South America and introduced him to soccer culture. “He would talk about sneaking into Boca Juniors games,” Wertheim said. “That’s where he really fell in love with soccer.”

In 1998, Wahl pitched a story to editors about a soccer player named Mia Hamm, which helped launch his soccer-writing career. Over the course of more than two decades at Sports Illustrated, he became one of the leading soccer writers in the country, and one of the earliest to focus on the sport full-time. He covered men’s and women’s World Cups, European soccer and the growth of the sport in the United States. Wahl would later earn TV roles with Fox and CBS. In 2020, Wahl left Sports Illustrated and later launched his Substack.

Former Sports Illustrated colleague and NFL writer Peter King recalled covering the World Cup in 2010 with Wahl and how gracious he was to introduce him to so many contacts that helped his reporting. “He loved soccer the way Peter Gammons loves baseball,” King said. “He was selfless. All he wanted was more soccer coverage, and he loved that I’d be spreading the word about soccer to a bunch of football fans.”

Wahl tweeted commentary throughout Argentina’s victory Friday. His final tweet came at the end of the second half after the Netherlands tied the game. “Just an incredible designed set-piece goal by the Netherlands,” Wahl wrote.

This story has been updated.