Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
51.3k votes 4.6k voters 234.2k views 187 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
1,964 466
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 57

2
1,376 450
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,541 456
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added age 51

4
1,159 424
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 38 (1934-1972)

5
854 467
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dec. at 23 (1963-1986)

6
1,234 460
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 28 (1976-2004)

7
970 395
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 76

8
826 396
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 33 (1967-2000)

9
766 417
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 84

10
838 555
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 60

11
626 407
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 32 (1947-1979)

12
770 419
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added

13
591 492
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added age 47

14
271 96
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Dec. at 41 (1947-1988)

15
702 315
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Dec. at 24 (1983-2007)

16
637 391
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Dec. at 27 (1943-1970)

17
566 431
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 83

18
574 443
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 39

19
399 377
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Dec. at 72 (1921-1993)

20
134 117
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added age 55

21
436 348
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 23 (1967-1990)

22
412 313
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

23
424 352
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Dec. at 46 (1960-2006)

24
401 357
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 42 (1957-1999)

25
431 183
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added age 63