It may be too early to seek comfort in a story that is a cocktail of shock, painful sadness and more than fleeting suspicion.
The death of prominent football journalist Grant Wahl on Friday at 48 after he fell ill in the press box in Qatar during a World Cup football match caused an immediate outpouring of grief and of admiration from waves of friends and former colleagues.
SL Price, who worked with Wahl for many years at Sports Illustrated, remembered him as the “most generous, enthusiastic and principled colleague” he had ever known, calling his death “multiple tragic. levels”. Joe Posnanski wrote that he was the “best of us”. “I don’t know how else to say this,” tweeted Tim Layden, another former SI colleague. “He cared about things. Of all.”
So many others – journalists and fans alike – shared anecdotes of Wahl’s kindness, his joy in finding kindred spirits who loved the sport like him. Lots of photos shared, and they all seemed to have the same theme. Whether the setting was a bar, a hall or a television studio, Wahl and the people accompanying him were almost always laughing, happy to be in good company at the moment.
Words of admiration and respect after his death did not seem trivial, superficial or unsaid before. The examples of his generosity with his time and knowledge continued to trickle in on Saturday.
And that may be where the comfort lies. Wahl cared for. And he had to know how much people cared about him.
Wahl was more than just a football advocate. He was not an accomplice. He covered the sport’s complicated and often unethical entanglements critically and fearlessly. He has constantly examined the brutal plight of migrant workers in Qatar, writing a few days ago of the government after another death: “They just don’t care. Earlier in the tournament, he wore a shirt with a rainbow surrounding a soccer ball, a protest against the Qatari government’s attempts to silence critics of its treatment of LGBTQ+ communities.
Wahl was brave and outspoken in a place where the challenge of finding the truth can have dire consequences. When news of his death broke Friday night, his brother Gary, who is gay, posted a video on Instagram (since made private) in which he said: “I’m the reason he wore the rainbow jersey at the World Cup. My brother was healthy. He told me he had received death threats. I don’t believe my brother just died. I believe he was killed. And I’m just asking for help.
Fox received harsh and deserved criticism for its refusal to address Qatar’s record of human rights abuses and the controversies surrounding its selection as World Cup host during its coverage. The network discussed Wahl’s death to open its coverage on Saturday, with the studio host Rob Stone in tears as he reiterated the Friday night news. But it would be stunning if Fox explained the background to Wahl’s death, his fearless factual criticism of Qatar and his devastated brother’s suspicions about what happened.
As those who knew him struggle to come to terms with the death of an extraordinary journalist and best friend, it’s impossible not to ponder one final cruel twist. Uncovering the full story of Grant Wahl’s death will take journalists with similar talent, connections, fearlessness and dedication to uncover the truth. They must have exactly the same attributes as a one-of-a-kind man.
Martin would be a worthy honoree
Three things I believe about Hall of Fame and Boston legends ruled out so far: Stanley Morgan is owned by Canton. Dwight Evans belongs to Cooperstown. And Ned Martin has long been waiting to win the Ford C. Frick Award. The award, given annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to a broadcaster who exudes or exudes excellence, went this year to longtime Cubs voice Pat Hughes. Joe Castiglione, who has called Red Sox games on the radio since 1983, was a runner-up and will one day enter. The path is more difficult for Martin, whose melodious tones were heard on Red Sox radio and then TV for 32 years. The Hall of Fame primarily considers local broadcasters whose careers ended before the wild card era (1994) only once every five election cycles. Martin, who called his last Red Sox game in 1992 and died in 2002, is next eligible in 2027 Mercy.
Lobel is golden
A tip to legendary Ch. 4 sports commentator Bob Lobel, who received the prestigious Gold Circle Award at the New England Emmy Awards on Monday night. The honor is given to a broadcaster whose contributions span 50 years or more. Lobel brought irreverence, insight and a warm sense of humor to Ch. 4’s sportscasts beginning in 1979 – he had previously worked in New Hampshire – until 2008. During Lobel’s heyday, we certainly had some lucky to have sports commentators like that.
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