American sports journalist who went viral over a t-shirt dies while covering the World Cup in Qatar

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

This is a strange turn of events. The sports writer that went viral on social media for wearing a rainbow t-shirt to a World Cup game has died. He collapsed while covering the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal. Medics were unable to revive him. He was 48 years old.


Grant Wahl is a renowned sports writer who focuses on soccer. He began to feel ill and blamed his hectic schedule and a lack of sleep. He visited a clinic twice, he said, and was diagnosed with bronchitis.

On Thursday, Wahl spoke about feeling under the weather throughout the week, saying he had bronchitis.

“My body, I think, told me, even after the U.S. went out, ‘Dude, you are not sleeping enough.’ It rebelled on me,” Wahl said. “So I’ve had a case of bronchitis this week, I’ve been to the medical clinic at the media center twice now, including today. I’m feeling better today. I basically canceled everything on this Thursday that I had and napped, and I’m doing slightly better. You can probably tell in my voice that I’m not 100% here.”

He participated in a podcast yesterday.

Qatari officials said he received immediate medical treatment on site. He was transferred by ambulance to a hospital. The cause of death has not been announced. He was tweeting during the match and covering it on his laptop as usual. His colleagues covering the match were shocked when he collapsed.

I wrote about Grant Wahl’s rainbow t-shirt kerfuffle. At the time I said the reaction of the Qatari officials should not have been a surprise since Islamic countries punish gay people, sometimes by death. Wahl knew what he was doing but did it anyway. When you go to a foreign country, you are expected to abide by its laws.


His brother, Eric, is gay. He posted on his Instagram account that he thinks Grant was killed. Clearly, he is grieving and maybe in shock over his brother’s sudden death. Nonetheless, he’s bringing a whole new layer to this mystery. “I believe he was killed.”

“I am gay. I am the reason he wore the rainbow shirt to the World Cup,” Eric Wahl said. “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’m just begging for any help.”

I’m not a psychologist but it sounds like he’s grieving and feels guilty about his brother’s show of gay support now.

Wahl was married to a doctor who has ties to the Biden administration. Dr. Celine Gounder was an adviser with the White House Covid team.

A prolific journalist, Wahl wrote for multiple outlets and was a CBS Sports contributor. He was an analyst on CBS Sports HQ throughout the Qatar World Cup, and wrote guest columns focused on the U.S. men’s national team for CBS Sports. He was also an editorial consultant for soccer documentaries on Paramount+.

Wahl was also married to Dr. Celine Gounder, a CBS News medical contributor. Gounder tweeted that she was “in complete shock” and thanked Wahl’s “soccer family” and their friends for their support as the news was reported.


The State Department spokesman tweeted that the department has been in contact with Qatari officials.

“We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Grant Wahl and send our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication,” Price tweeted. “We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber tweeted his statement.

Wahl had a Substack newsletter titled “Futbol”. He wrote a tough piece about Qatari officials in charge of the World Cup. He wrote, “They just don’t care.”

“The Supreme Committee in charge of Qatar’s World Cup doesn’t care that a Filipino migrant worker died at Saudi Arabia’s training resort during the group stage. He suffered a fatal blow to the head during a fall in a forklift accident (information that was kept under wraps until being broken by The Athletic’s Adam Crafton),” Wahl wrote Thursday. “We know the Qatari Supreme Committee doesn’t care because its CEO, Nasser Al-Khater, told you all you needed to hear in an interview with the BBC that was breathtaking in its crassness.”

Wahl quoted Al-Khater, who told BBC, “We’re in the middle of a World Cup, and we have a successful World Cup. And this is something that you want to talk about right now?… I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep. Of course, a worker died. Our condolences go to his family. However, it’s strange that this is something that you wanted to focus on as your first question.”


He wasn’t exactly a well-mannered guest in Qatar. Maybe that’s why his brother leaped to his conclusion that Grant was killed. Stranger things have happened.

It’s a sad story for his family and friends and his readers. I wonder if there will be an investigation, since the Qatari society isn’t a very open one.

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