Athletes Who Died In 2022

Every new year brings a long list of athletes who passed away and 2022 is no exception. The first such death occurred on January 1 of the new year, when former Dallas Cowboys running back Dan Reeves passed away due to complications with Dementia. Reeves won nine Super Bowls in his career as a player and a coach and could be considered among the greatest NFL players of all time. Other incredible athletes who died in 2022 include Soccer legend Pelé, NFL QB Dwayne Haskins, MLB slugger Jeremy Giambi, and women's basketball pioneer Lusia Harris, who was the subject of an Oscar-winning 2022 documentary film.

As the year goes on, recent athlete deaths will be added to this list, ranging from legends of their sports who lived long, eventful lives to youthful, up-and-comers who were taken far too soon. So if you see someone pop up in your Twitter feed or in the news and you're wondering what famous athlete died today, check out the names below.

This list of athletes who died in 2022 is meant to help commemorate all the great players so that we remember the success they had on the field, on the court, or just in life. Check back throughout the year to help celebrate the lives of those we lost.


  • Pelé
    Photo: John Mathew Smith / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Brazilian soccer legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known mononymously as Pelé, passed away on December 29, 2022, after a battle with colon cancer. He was 82.

    A member of three Brazilian World Cup champion teams, Pelé was widely regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time and often was given credit for coining the term "the beautiful game," used to describe the sport.

    Pelé began playing soccer as a young child and usually played with a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or with a grapefruit. He played on several amateur teams, even leading the local Bauru Athletic Club juniors team to two Sao Paulo state youth championships. At the age of 15, his youth coach, Waldemar de Brito, a former member of the Brazilian national soccer team, convinced Pelé’s parents to let the budding phenomenon try out for the Santos professional club. The teenager was signed and immediately began making an impact. He scored the first professional goal of his career before he turned 16 and led the Brazilian soccer league in goals scored in his first full season.

    The world was officially introduced to the phenom at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Displaying remarkable speed, athleticism and field vision, the 17-year-old Pelé scored three goals in a 5-2 semifinal win over France before netting two more goals in the 5-2 championship win over the host country. Pelé helped Brazil to win two more World Cup trophies — at the 1962 World Cup in Chile and the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Brazil crashed out in the first round of the 1966 World Cup in England, having only played three matches.

    Averaging almost a goal per game throughout his career, Pelé was adept at striking the ball with either foot in addition to anticipating his opponents' movements on the field. While predominantly a striker, he could also drop deep and take on a playmaking role, providing assists with his vision and passing ability, and he would also use his dribbling skills to go past opponents.

    Throughout the years, the legend of Pelé continued to grow — so much so that in the late 1960s, the two factions in the Nigerian Civil War reportedly agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch him play in an exhibition game in Lagos. Pelé was also known to be a fair and highly influential player, who stood out for his charismatic leadership and sportsmanship on the pitch. Pelé went on to play for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League after a brief retirement from the sport. He played his final game in an exhibition between New York and Santos in October 1977, competing for both sides. He retired with a total of 1,279 goals in 1,363 games, a Guinness World Record.

    Pelé held the records for youngest player to play in a World Cup final, youngest goal scorer and youngest hat-trick scorer in World Cup history. In 1978, he was awarded the International Peace Award for his work with UNICEF, and in 1999, FIFA named him "Co-Player of the Century" along with Argentine star Diego Maradona. 

  • Kathy Whitworth
    Photo: golf.com

    Winningest golfer in LPGA history Kathy Whitworth passed away on December 25, 2022. She was 83.

    Whitworth, whose LPGA Tour victories spanned nearly a quarter century and who became the first woman to earn $1 million on the LPGA, racked up 88 victories over the course of her career, the most by any player on a single professional tour. Whitworth won the first of her 88 titles in the Kelly Girl Open in July 1962. She won six majors during her career and broke Mickey Wright's record of 82 career wins when Whitworth captured the Lady Michelob in the summer of 1982. Her final victory came in 1985 at the United Virginia Bank Classic. 

    All that was missing from her career was the U.S. Women's Open, the biggest of the women's majors. Upon being the first woman to surpass $1 million in career earnings in 1981, she said, "I would have swapped being the first to make a million for winning the Open, but it was a consolation which took some of the sting out of not winning."

    Whitworth was the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 1965 and in 1967, when she easily beat out Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King. Whitworth was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1982. She was the LPGA player of the year seven times in an eight-year span (1966 through 1973). She won the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average seven times and was the leading money winner in eight seasons.

    Whitworth retired from competitive golf in 2005 after competing in the BJ's Charity Classic, an event on the Women's Senior Golf Tour. She is a member of the New Mexico Hall of Fame, Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Texas Golf Hall of Fame, and the Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.

     

  • Stephan Bonnar
    Photo: UFC / Twitter

    UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar passed away on December 22, 2022. He was 45.

    Bonnar began wrestling when he was 10 years old, did Tae Kwon Do at age 12, moved on to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu by age 22, and then added boxing and Muay Thai when he was 24 years old. He earned his black belt in Tae Kwon Do at the age of 16 and was a two-time Golden Gloves Champion in the Super Heavyweight division. 

    Bonnar began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the legendary Carlson Gracie during the summer of 1999, under whom he received his purple belt before Carlson's passing. During his tenure as a student of Carlson Gracie's he was given the nickname Robocop. This experience has led to most of his bouts ending by way of submission. Bonnar began fighting in the UFC in the mid 2000s after working his way up the ranks. He had a famous rivalry with Forrest Griffin and fought against the likes of Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and Tito Ortiz.

    Bonner was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013.

  • Ronnie Hillman
    Photo: denver broncos / instagram

    Super Bowl champion running back Ronnie Hillman passed away on December 21, 2022 after a battle with cancer. He was 31.

    Hillman was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft and earned the starting job in the 2013 season. That year the Broncos reached Super Bowl XLVIII, but lost 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks. Hillman had the most productive season of his career in 2015, rushing for 863 yards and seven touchdowns. Hillman was part of the Broncos team that won Super Bowl 50. In the game, the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers by a score of 24-10.

    Hillman later played for the Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, and Dallas Cowboys, before retiring in 2017.

  • Franco Harris
    Photo: pittsburgh steelers / instagram

    NFL Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris passed away on December 20, 2022. He was 72.

    After a standout college football career for the Penn State Nittany Lions, Harris was selected by the Steelers in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft, the 13th overall pick. He played his first 12 years in the NFL with the Steelers; his 13th and final year was spent with the Seahawks. He started his NFL career with a bang by winning the 1972 rookie of the year. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, he won four Super Bowls with the Steelers, including winning MVP honors in Super Bowl IX over the Minnesota Vikings. He was also the NFL rushing TDs leader in 1976. He was a key player in one of professional football's most famous plays, dubbed the "Immaculate Reception", which gave the Steelers their first ever playoff win. In the 1972 playoff game, the Oakland Raiders were leading the Steelers 7–6 with 22 seconds to play when a Terry Bradshaw pass was deflected away from intended receiver John "Frenchy" Fuqua right as defender Jack Tatum arrived to tackle Fuqua. Harris snatched the ball just before it hit the ground and ran it into the endzone to win the game.

    Upon retirement Harris opened a bakery and became a serial entrepreneur. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1990.

     

  • Christian Saulsberry

    Christian Saulsberry
    Photo: Edmonton Elks

    Canadian Football League player Christian Saulsberry passed away on December 17, 2022 after being shot. He turned 25 just five days before.

    The 5-foot-8 wide receiver who got his start at Itawamba Community College was known for his speed. Saulsberry was later a two-time All-Gulf South Conference selection at West Alabama, where he led the team with 1,223 all-purpose yards during his senior season in 2019. Saulsberry played in eight games for Edmonton in 2022, after being signed in May. He was named the Elks' most outstanding special teams player for the 2022 season. Saulsberry also had a stint with the FCF Beasts.

    Saulsberry was shot at a party in Walls, Mississippi, in the Memphis metropolitan area, and died on route to the hospital. The purported shooter was arrested later that day.