On Wednesday, prominent soccer journalist Grant Wahl’s wife revealed that he suffered an aortic aneurysm and died while covering the World Cup in Qatar last week.
“It was just one of those things that had been likely brewing for years,” Dr. Céline Gounder said.
The 49-year-old Wahl was sitting in the press box at Lusail Iconic Stadium on Friday when he suddenly became ill. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but sadly did not recover.
Studies have linked Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms to coughing fits, which is what the former Sports Illustrated reporter had described suffering from in the days before his death.
In an update published Wednesday hours later on Substack, Gounder further explained that Wahl suffered “from the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.”
“The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him,” she added.
“There was nothing nefarious about his death.”
The Mayo Clinic describes aortic aneurysms as bulges in the walls of the aorta, the major blood vessel that carries blood from the heart. These bulges can form in both the abdomen and chest cavity and are susceptible to bursting which can result in catastrophic internal bleeding.
Wahl had been critical of the World Cup host’s treatment of migrant workers and its laws restricting LGBT rights. He was detained for 30 minutes before the USA’s World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21 for wearing a shirt depicting a soccer ball surrounded by a rainbow — leading his brother Eric to suspect Grant’s death might have been caused deliberately.
“My name is Eric Wahl. I live in Seattle, Washington. I am Grant Wahl’s brother. I’m gay,” he said in a video posted to his Instagram Friday night. “I’m 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.”
On Monday, Eric Wahl tweeted that he no longer believed there was any foul play involved in the situation and “it seems possible Grant experienced a pulmonary embolism.” He later recanted those comments as well.
“I was in shock, and I just had limited information to go on,” he said on Tuesday.
On Monday, Wahl’s body was transported back to the United States with Gounder. Bellevue Hospital staff accompanied her husband’s corpse to the city medical examiner.
Wahl was born in Mission, Kan., and later attended Princeton University where he studied politics. For the next 20 years or so, Wahl worked at Sports Illustrated before moving on to contribute for CBS Sports and Fox Sports. His 2009 book, “The Beckham Experiment” became a New York Times Best Seller; it detailed English superstar David Beckham’s move to Major League Soccer.
After Sports Illustrated fired Wahl during the COVID pandemic, he began writing the newsletter “Fútbol with Grant Wahl” on Substack. He also started hosting a podcast of the same name.
“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,” US Soccer stated.
“Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.”
On Wednesday, Grant’s wife paid tribute to him in an emotional post on his Substack.
“Grant was an incredibly empathetic, dedicated, and loving husband, brother, uncle, and son who was our greatest teammate and fan,” Gounder posted.
“Grant had a deep respect and appreciation for his audience. He devoted his work life to earning their — your — time and respect in turn. Above all, he expressed his values through his work: his commitments to seeking truth through reporting, supporting fundamental human rights, and fighting for equality.”