Grant Wahl’s sudden death at the World Cup shocked the soccer world — with tributes pouring in from fellow reporters, fans and players who remembered the 49-year-old as one of the premier sportswriters of his time.
“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,” US Soccer said in a statement after news broke Friday night of Wahl’s death.
“Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.”
Hordes of Wahl’s former coworkers and media colleagues took to social media to share tales of the late journalist, who ran his own popular Substack following a long tenure at Sports Illustrated.
“I remember Day 1 for Grant at [Sports Illustrated], and by Day 6 it seemed he had written a Final 4 and WC cover story and of course, this All-Timer: He was that good, and a wonderful colleague and friend,” former Sports Illustrated Editor-In-Chief Christ Stone said.
Stone shared a 2002 Sports Illustrated cover of high-school-aged Lebron James. It was the first SI cover for both Wahl and the basketball legend.
“Grant Wahl was the sportswriter other sportswriters wanted to be,” Brendan Quinn, sportswriter for The Athletic, wrote.
Jon Morosi, an MLB and NHL Network broadcaster, credited Wahl with advancing the popularity of soccer through his reporting and helping a generation of fans learn the game through storytelling. “I cannot believe I will never hear my friend’s laugh again,” Morosi tweeted.
Various soccer clubs from across the country shared one word to describe the loss: devastating.
Players from the sport Wahl loved so dearly mourned his loss, as well.
“My goodness. So damn sad. Did so much for our sport. Was a damn good guy,” former Olympic player Michael Parkhurst said.
Though it’s not yet clear what led to Wahl’s death, the journalist wrote in his Substack blog on Monday that he had visited a medical clinic in Qatar after his “body finally broke down.”
Wahl said that three weeks of little sleep and high stress turned a 10-day cold into “something more severe,” but said he tested negative for Covid-19. Medics said he likely had bronchitis and gave him antibiotics and heavy-duty cough syrup.
Upon hearing the news, Canadian sportswriter Kristian Jack confirmed Wahl’s suspicions that he may have had bronchitis, but noted that an illness wasn’t standing in the way of his World Cup coverage.
“Just in shock. I was with him in the media centre on Monday. We talked about the long days, no sleep & there wasn’t a moment of complaining. He said he was tired, wasn’t feeling well & wondered if he had bronchitis. Was looking forward to the offdays to rest. Can’t believe it,” Jack tweeted.
Wahl’s brother, Eric, who broke the news in an Instagram post, suspects foul play from the Qatari government may have led to his death.
Eric said Wahl received death threats and noted that Wahl had been detained at the World Cup stadium for wearing a T-shirt depicting a rainbow last month.