The Scary Time Grant Wahl Was Robbed At Gunpoint In Honduras

In early October 2009, Grant Wahl, then a senior reporter for Sports Illustrated, flew to Honduras. He was there to cover the soccer match between the U.S. and Honduras that would earn the winner a qualifying spot at the 2010 World Cup, per The New York Times. He had decided that before the big game he would drive about 150 miles from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa, the nation's capital, where the match was to be played on October 10, stopping to interview people about the upcoming soccer match during the journey.

"I spoke to businessmen in San Pedro Sula, gas-station workers in Comayagua, and even a clown that I encountered on the side of the road in a dusty town outside Tegucigalpa," he recalled in a blog post on the Sports Illustrated website. "Along the way, I discovered that Honduras is a beautiful country, with forest-green mountains, gorgeous lakes, and friendly people." But Wahl was about to have a very unfriendly encounter on the afternoon of October 9, 2009. 

A coup d'état in a country with a high murder rate 

At the time Grant Wahl was in Honduras for the soccer match, the country was experiencing a tumultuous period. That summer, a coup d'état by the Honduran military backed by the National Congress had deposed President Manuel Zelaya, whose politics had become left-leaning and was pushing for a change to the constitution to allow him to run for reelection, according to Britannica and The New York Times. Roberto Micheletti became the interim de facto president of Honduras and Wahl was scheduled to interview him on the evening of October 9, 2009.

Even before the coup, Honduras had one of the highest murder rates in the Western hemisphere. Human rights abuses had occurred under Zelaya and only escalated with the de facto government that replaced him, per the U.S. State Department. A few hours before his scheduled meeting with Micheletti, Wahl interviewed several police officers stationed outside the Brazilian embassy, where Zelaya was then ensconced after quietly slipping back into the country following the coup, according to Wahl's blog. "The police chief gave me the clearance to interview some soccer-loving police officers, whose scowls melted into smiles as they talked of getting a few hours off from work to watch USA-Honduras," he recalled.

A gunpoint robbery in broad daylight 

After interviewing the heavily armed police officers, Grant Wahl walked back to where he'd parked his car, just a few blocks away, when a man in his 20s ran up behind him, pulled out a pistol, and threatened to kill him if he didn't give him his wallet and iPhone, per Wahl's blog. Wahl still made the interview two hours later with Micheletti, who apologized to him for the robbery, joked that the perpetrator was a Zelaya supporter, and predicted a four to zero win for Honduras the next day. The U.S. team won the game, three to two, clinching a spot at the 2010 World Cup that Spain eventually won that year, per FIFA. In January 2010, after regularly scheduled elections, Honduras elected Porfirio Lobo as its new president, per The New York Times.

For Wahl, the experience of being robbed at gunpoint was a wake-up call. "I'm pretty careful when I go somewhere that's potentially dangerous, especially after what happened in '09 ... No more cowboy stuff for me," he wrote in a 2013 Reddit post. Wahl, who helped popularize soccer in the U.S., was in Qatar covering his eighth World Cup when he suddenly passed out in the press box on December 9 and later died, per the Associated Press. Wahl had reportedly been experiencing cold-like symptoms, but no cause of death has been given, according to the AP. He was 48 years old.