Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
48.1k votes 4.3k voters 231.4k views 189 items

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
1,827 439
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 56

2
1,281 427
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,427 435
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added age 50

4
1,081 401
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
785 443
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Died at 23 (1963-1986)

6
1,141 442
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 28 (1976-2004)

7
907 376
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 75

8
726 393
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 83

9
770 377
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
768 524
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 59

11
723 393
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added

12
609 374
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 27 (1943-1970)

13
586 389
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 32 (1947-1979)

14
226 78
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Died at 41 (1947-1988)

15
559 469
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added age 46

16
629 304
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Died at 24 (1983-2007)

17
531 413
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 82

18
386 361
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Died at 72 (1921-1993)

19
121 95
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added age 54

20
532 422
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 38

21
413 330
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 23 (1967-1990)

22
403 340
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Died at 46 (1960-2006)

23
390 339
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 42 (1957-1999)

24
388 174
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added age 62

25
307 310
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Died at 45 (1945-1990)

26
375 304
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
327 248
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Died at 28 (1965-1993)

28
308 217
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 63

29
272 157
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 64 (1887-1951)

30
348 262
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1939-1963)

31
201 295
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 55 (1954-2009)

32
85 55
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added age 68

33
267 115
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 45

34
115 50
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Died at 29 (1964-1993)

35
147 261
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Died at 28 (1950-1978)

36
145 231
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added age 58

37
402 244
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 70

38
266 233
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 69

39
257 248
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1951-1975)

40
182 57
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added age 33

41
120 101
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 66

42
206 213
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 34

43
165 44
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Died at 46 (1953-1999)

44
173 250
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 53

45
207 239
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added

46
168 176
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Died at 20 (1980-2000)

47
142 209
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added age 38

48
151 83
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 47

49
99 61
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 39

50
122 180
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 37