Early Saturday morning in Qatar, the world lost one of its premier soccer journalists — and Princeton University and The Daily Princetonian lost a beloved and brilliant alumnus.
Grant Wahl ’96, who wrote for Sports Illustrated and served as a correspondent for Fox Sports, died at age 49 after collapsing at a FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match. Wahl has been commended at this year’s tournament for his tireless and incisive reporting on human rights abuses.
Immediately after news of his passing, support poured out from around the world, including from soccer figures like Tyler Adams, the captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wahl’s wife, Céline Gounder ’97, took to Twitter to express her shock, and to thank those who offered kind words for their support.
As an undergraduate at Princeton, Wahl was a prolific reporter for the ‘Prince,’ specializing in men’s soccer and basketball. Perhaps his most famous headline from his time at the student paper comes from the 1996 men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament victory over defending-champions UCLA, which read “David 43, Goliath 41.”
Wahl was welcomed back to campus by the ‘Prince’ in 2018 as the keynote speaker for the organization’s annual end of year celebration.
After graduating from the University, Wahl rose through the ranks at Sports Illustrated, covering college basketball and soccer. There, he famously authored a Sports Illustrated cover story on LeBron James, who was then a high-school phenom, entitled “The Chosen One.”
“It’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was,” James said in Philadelphia, Friday night after his Los Angeles Lakers played the 76ers. “I wish his family the best. May he rest in paradise.”
“I learned more about writing from his columns than any writer I was reading in college,” Rick Klein ’98, who is the political director for ABC News, wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “Then, to watch his career blossom, joining Sports Illustrated right out of Princeton, and carving a role for himself in covering basketball and of course his beloved soccer, was an inspiration to myself and other aspiring journalists who could only hope to have his command of language and the subject matters he was covering.”
Klein serves as a member of the ‘Prince’ Board of Trustees.
As he progressed through his career, Wahl’s focus turned towards soccer. First covering the World Cup in 1998 at 23 years old, Wahl was recently recognized by FIFA as one of just 82 journalists to have attended at least eight World Cups.
“You had to follow Grant Wahl if you were a half-serious soccer fan in the United States,” Sean Gregory ’98, a senior sports writer at Time, told the ‘Prince.’
“He ran with [soccer] like no American journalist did,” Gregory added. “He was just so ahead of the game on that.”
In public statements in the wake of his death, Wahl has been recognized by his former and current colleagues for his immense generosity. DeAntae Prince, a senior editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote on Twitter that Wahl was a “rare talent, teammate, and person” who “made time for anyone who asked at [Sports Illustrated] and treated people all over the world with dignity to the very end.”
Wahl drew attention online earlier in the tournament after he was briefly prevented from entering the stadium, prior to the United States’ opening match in the tournament against Wales. He was wearing a shirt with the colors of the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride, and was told he could not wear it inside. Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar.
“He talked about the important topics, like the fight for LGBTQ rights, up until his death. He was aware that it’s a global game and knew how important it is to treat it as such,” Wahl’s friend and manager of Premier League club Leeds United Jesse Marsch ’96 told Time. “He did it with a heart, he did it with integrity. He did it the right way.”
In recent days, Wahl had shared news on his website of an illness he couldn’t seem to shake. Earlier this week, he said he had been suffering from a cough, and was told he likely had bronchitis. Wahl told listeners on his podcast Thursday that he had canceled his engagements that day due to the illness.
The circumstances around his death are not yet known.
In a statement on Twitter, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the U.S. Government is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Wahl was 48 at the time of his death. He was 49. The ‘Prince’ deeply regrets this error.
Wilson Conn is a head sports editor at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.