death Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
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List Rules Only athletes whose career was cut short by injury or worse

This list of athletes whose careers ended too soon includes dozens of promising athletes who for one reason or another were forced to leave the sports they loved well before they should have. Their stories are often tragic and leave their family members, teammates, opponents and fans wondering what could have happened had their careers continued. Sadly, we'll never know the answer to that one as these athletes all left their respective sports prematurely.

Some of the greatest players to ever compete in sports like football, basketball, hockey and baseball were forced into retirement due to an injury. Even others were taken not only from professional sports but also from this life following a tragic incident which caused their death. Be it an injury or a complete loss of life, all of these athletes had plenty left to give but a catastrophic event changed all that.

For many of these players, retiring at the top of their game was their decision after repeated injuries made it difficult to compete at a top level. Legendary Boston Bruins hockey player Bobby Orr, NBA star Yao Ming and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Troy Aikman are just a few who fall into that category. Others suffered a one-time injury, sometimes on national television during a big game, that gave them no choice but to retire. Joe Theismann, a legendary National Football League quarterback, fell into that category following what is perhaps the most memorable hit in league history.

While those players retired and often remained in the sport in a broadcasting role, others were not so lucky. Sadly, this list also includes athletes who died suddenly during their professional athletic careers. Those stories are heartbreaking, such as the up-and-coming Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart who was killed by a drunk driver and NFL-player turned U.S. Army soldier Pat Tillman who was killed serving his country.

As hard as it is to find something positive from these career-ending tragedies, each of them have raised awareness about ways that incidents like this can be prevented in the future. I can't think of any better way to honor these fine athletes than making the world a brighter place.
list ordered by

1
+ - 1,339 356
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bo Jackson age 55

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2
+ - 945 344
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
+ - 1,055 351
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Barry Sanders age 49

4
+ - 814 340
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
+ - 869 378
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
+ - 728 300
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 74

7
+ - 576 315
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 82

8
+ - 562 359
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Len Bias Died at 23 (1963-1986)

9
+ - 597 322
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
+ - 463 335
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

11
+ - 494 320
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

12
+ - 557 335
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

13
+ - 567 426
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

14
+ - 448 400
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Terrell Davis age 45

15
+ - 419 347
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Jim Brown age 81

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16
+ - 326 302
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roy Campanella Died at 72 (1921-1993)

17
+ - 397 258
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sean Taylor Died at 24 (1983-2007)

18
+ - 325 288
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

19
+ - 387 359
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 37

20
+ - 334 298
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

21
+ - 324 292
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

22
+ - 213 75
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Monica Seles age 44

23
+ - 237 222
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

24
+ - 251 270
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Tony Conigliaro Died at 45 (1945-1990)

25
+ - 237 184
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Earl Campbell age 62

26
+ - 246 120
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Larry Bird age 61

27
+ - 272 236
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

28
+ - 291 272
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

29
+ - 183 131
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Shoeless Joe Jackson Died at 64 (1887-1951)

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30
+ - 165 257
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Mark Fidrych Died at 55 (1954-2009)

31
+ - 317 221
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bobby Orr age 69

32
+ - 121 231
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

33
+ - 84 39
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

34
+ - 212 225
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

35
+ - 77 33
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

36
+ - 209 199
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 68

37
+ - 164 182
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Brandon Roy age 31

38
+ - 96 26
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

39
+ - 187 207
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

40
+ - 120 172
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Mark Prior age 35

41
+ - 144 218
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Cam Neely age 52

42
+ - 136 151
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

43
+ - 123 192
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Ralph Sampson age 57

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44
+ - 89 18
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

45
+ - 98 150
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Jay Williams age 34

46
+ - 90 59
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

47
+ - 47 24
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

48
+ - 43 45
Greg Oden is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Greg Oden age 29

49
+ - 116 159
Jerry West is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Jerry West age 79

50
+ - 114 146
Bobby Hurley is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bobby Hurley age 46