athletes 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
1,540 384
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
1,077 372
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,218 375
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 49

4
927 356
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
987 403
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
657 388
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Len Bias Died at 23 (1963-1986)

7
805 326
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 74

8
636 347
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 82

9
662 344
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
645 459
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

11
542 340
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

12
520 352
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

13
615 356
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
493 430
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 45

15
498 272
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
153 52
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Pete Maravich Died at 41 (1947-1988)

17
465 375
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 81

18
353 327
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Roy Campanella Died at 72 (1921-1993)

19
366 303
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

20
455 384
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 35

21
95 61
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added Marco van Basten age 53

22
358 308
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

23
360 312
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

24
300 148
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 61

25
278 285
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Tony Conigliaro Died at 45 (1945-1990)

26
283 231
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

27
321 289
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

28
266 199
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Earl Campbell age 60

29
235 92
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 44

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30
309 243
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

31
222 141
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
178 270
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
81 30
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

34
235 230
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

35
137 204
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 57

36
132 241
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

37
348 235
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 69

38
133 39
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 32

39
183 196
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 31

40
233 213
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 68

41
55 32
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 67

42
91 80
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 65

43
193 222
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added Davey Allison

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44
153 159
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

45
124 28
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

46
155 232
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 52

47
131 187
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 35

48
108 163
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 34

49
114 68
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 44

50
67 34
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Tracy McGrady age 38