NJ soccer journalist who defiantly wore LGBT shirt dies suddenly at World Cup
Renowned soccer journalist Grant Wahl, who made headlines when he was detained in Qatar after wearing a gay pride T-shirt in defiance of local customs and laws, died Friday while covering the World Cup tournament in Qatar
Wahl, who celebrated his 49th birthday on Wednesday, was a graduate of Princeton University, where he also met his wife.
Wahl was sitting in a section reserved for journalists when he slumped in his seat. Emergency services workers tended to him for about 30 minutes before he was taken out on a stretcher to Hamad General Hospital in the city of Doha where he was pronounced dead.
The hospital did not disclose a cause of death.
His brother suggested that the death might not have been an accident, although his social media post about that has since been taken down.
U.S. State Department and Princeton react
"We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter.
Princeton University on its Twitter account mourned the 1996 graduate's death.
"He made an indelible mark on the soccer world and beyond, and leaves behind a legacy of journalistic integrity and conviction," the university wrote on its social media Saturday morning. "We are thinking of his wife Celine Gounder '97 and his family during this difficult time."
His wife, Dr. Céline Gounder, said on her Twitter account she was in "complete shock" about her husband's death. She thanked members of Wahl's "soccer family" and friends for their support.
Gov. Murphy expresses condolences
Gov. Phil Murphy said on his social media he was "heartbroken" by Wahl's death.
"Wahl’s passion and love for the sport could be felt in the many stories he shared. Our hearts are with his loved ones, colleagues, and fans throughout the sports world," the governor wrote.
Fell in love with Princeton
In a 2016 interview with TheSetPieces.com, Wahl said he grew up in Kansas City and discovered a love for writing when his parents gifted him a subscription to Sports Illustrated at the age of 10. Wahl's first visit to the east coast was when he started at Princeton.
"I fell in love with the place and had an amazing time," Wahl said during the interview.
He spent 25 years with Sports Illustrated before beginning his own site, Fútbol with Grant Wahl.
Wahl was covering his eighth World Cup tournament and tweeted about three weeks of "little sleep, high stress and lots of work" led him to visit a medical facility.
“What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort. I didn’t have Covid (I test regularly here), but I went into the medical clinic at the main media center today, and they said I probably have bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and some heavy-duty cough syrup, and I’m already feeling a bit better just a few hours later. But still: No bueno.”
Wahl wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights to the United States' World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21 and wrote that security refused him entry and told him to remove the shirt. Homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate.
Wahl wrote he was detained for 25 minutes at Ahmed Bin Ali stadium in Al Rayyan, then was let go by a security commander. Wahl said FIFA apologized to him.
His brother said on his Instagram account that his brother's death was no accident, according to a report by People magazine.
"My name is Eric Wahl. I live in Seattle, Washington, I am Grant Wahl's brother," Wahl wrote. "I am gay, I am the reason he wore the rainbow shirt to the World Cup. 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 just beg for any help."
The video has since been removed.
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Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
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