death Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
36k votes 3.3k voters 222k views 156 items Follow Embed

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
+ - 1,361 360
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bo Jackson age 55

26 Sports Teams Killed in Airplane Crashes The Top NBA Players Of All Time

2
+ - 958 350
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
+ - 1,074 356
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Barry Sanders age 49

4
+ - 826 343
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
+ - 883 382
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
+ - 740 302
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 74

7
+ - 573 364
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Len Bias Died at 23 (1963-1986)

8
+ - 582 319
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 82

9
+ - 607 325
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
+ - 472 337
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

11
+ - 577 432
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

12
+ - 502 322
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

13
+ - 564 338
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

14
+ - 451 404
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Terrell Davis age 45

15
+ - 408 259
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sean Taylor Died at 24 (1983-2007)

Athletes Who Have Come Out as Gay After Retirement 37 Celebrities Who Played High School Basketball

16
+ - 424 350
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Jim Brown age 81

17
+ - 334 302
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roy Campanella Died at 72 (1921-1993)

18
+ - 335 288
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

19
+ - 398 363
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 37

20
+ - 340 299
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

21
+ - 330 293
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

22
+ - 255 128
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Larry Bird age 61

23
+ - 77 36
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

24
+ - 218 75
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Monica Seles age 44

25
+ - 247 222
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

26
+ - 257 270
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Tony Conigliaro Died at 45 (1945-1990)

27
+ - 243 185
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Earl Campbell age 62

28
+ - 93 41
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

29
+ - 279 237
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

The Most Tragic Career-Ruining Sports Injuries Jobs That Are the Most Beneficial to Society

30
+ - 295 274
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

31
+ - 188 133
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Shoeless Joe Jackson Died at 64 (1887-1951)

32
+ - 166 259
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Mark Fidrych Died at 55 (1954-2009)

33
+ - 124 195
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Ralph Sampson age 57

34
+ - 323 224
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bobby Orr age 69

35
+ - 122 231
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

36
+ - 217 226
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

37
+ - 213 202
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 68

38
+ - 168 184
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Brandon Roy age 31

39
+ - 104 27
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

40
+ - 55 25
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

41
+ - 187 211
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

42
+ - 141 152
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

43
+ - 71 71
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bill Walton age 65

The Most Attractive Redheads Ever The Best TV Shows to Binge Watch

44
+ - 145 220
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Cam Neely age 52

45
+ - 121 177
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Mark Prior age 35

46
+ - 93 23
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

47
+ - 97 60
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

48
+ - 100 152
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Jay Williams age 34

49
+ - 36 19
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Julius Erving age 67

50
+ - 46 47
Greg Oden is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Greg Oden age 29