athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
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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
1,446 368
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
1,017 361
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,132 365
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 49

4
878 349
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
934 393
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
772 316
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 74

7
618 373
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
614 334
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 80

9
631 333
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
611 441
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

11
526 329
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
495 343
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

13
583 346
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
464 419
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 45

15
446 265
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
118 45
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
442 363
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 81

18
347 312
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
428 373
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 35

20
85 47
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added Marco van Basten age 53

21
349 294
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

22
352 303
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

23
344 299
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

24
277 138
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 61

25
270 277
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
267 225
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
305 283
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

28
226 83
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 44

29
250 193
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Earl Campbell age 60

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30
294 239
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
202 137
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
173 263
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
335 230
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 69

34
131 199
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 57

35
227 228
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

36
128 234
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
224 207
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 66

38
67 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
43 25
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 67

40
82 75
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 65

41
117 31
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 32

42
174 190
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 31

43
188 219
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
148 154
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
129 181
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 35

46
150 226
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 50

47
107 25
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

48
104 63
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 44

49
105 156
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 34

50
53 52
Greg Oden is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Greg Oden age 27