death Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

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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.

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Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bo Jackson age 53

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

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Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Barry Sanders age 47

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

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

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Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 72

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Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 80

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Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

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Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

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

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Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Len Bias Died at 23 (1963-1986)

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

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Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Monica Seles age 42

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Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 56

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Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roy Campanella Died at 72 (1921-1993)

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Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Terrell Davis age 43

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Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Jim Brown age 79

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Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

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Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

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Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sean Taylor Died at 24 (1983-2007)

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Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

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Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 35

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Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Tony Conigliaro Died at 45 (1945-1990)

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Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Larry Bird age 61

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Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

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Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

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Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Earl Campbell age 60

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Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bobby Orr age 67

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Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

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

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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)

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

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Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

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Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

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

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Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 66

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Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

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Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

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Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Cam Neely age 50

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Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Brandon Roy age 31

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Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

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Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Mark Prior age 35

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Bobby Hurley is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bobby Hurley age 44

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Alan Kulwicki is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

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Tim Richmond is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Tim Richmond Died at 34 (1955-1989)

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Pat LaFontaine is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

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Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Ralph Sampson age 55

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Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

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J. R. Richard is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
J. R. Richard age 65

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Eric Lindros is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Eric Lindros age 42