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
1,380 361
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
976 351
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,087 358
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 49

4
839 343
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
895 385
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
748 307
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 74

7
585 365
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Len Bias Died at 23 (1963-1986)

8
590 324
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 82

9
616 327
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
481 339
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

11
585 435
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

12
508 325
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

13
567 342
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
455 409
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 45

15
416 261
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Sean Taylor Died at 24 (1983-2007)

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16
429 353
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 81

17
341 304
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Roy Campanella Died at 72 (1921-1993)

18
342 289
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

19
403 367
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 37

20
336 295
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

21
345 301
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

22
259 131
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 61

23
220 78
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 44

24
77 41
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added Marco van Basten age 53

25
252 223
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

26
264 272
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Tony Conigliaro Died at 45 (1945-1990)

27
101 41
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

28
245 189
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Earl Campbell age 62

29
284 238
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

The Most Tragic Career-Ruining Sports Injuries The Biggest Turn Ons in a Person

30
297 278
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

31
192 134
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
169 261
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Mark Fidrych Died at 55 (1954-2009)

33
126 198
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 57

34
125 233
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

35
327 229
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 69

36
221 228
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

37
218 206
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 68

38
60 26
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
James Gent added Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

39
169 188
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 31

40
108 29
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 32

41
187 216
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added Davey Allison

42
145 153
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

43
74 74
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 65

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44
123 179
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 35

45
146 224
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 52

46
100 24
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

47
99 62
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 44

48
100 156
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 34

49
38 22
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 67

50
122 165
Jerry West is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
toycannon18 added Jerry West age 79