Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
48.3k votes 4.4k voters 231.5k 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
1,835 440
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 56

2
1,285 428
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,434 435
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added age 50

4
1,087 401
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
788 443
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Died at 23 (1963-1986)

6
1,146 442
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 28 (1976-2004)

7
909 377
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 75

8
729 393
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 83

9
774 377
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
772 525
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 59

11
611 374
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 27 (1943-1970)

12
725 395
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added

13
588 389
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 32 (1947-1979)

14
229 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
633 304
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Died at 24 (1983-2007)

16
560 470
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added age 46

17
533 414
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 82

18
387 362
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Died at 72 (1921-1993)

19
534 423
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 38

20
121 97
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added age 54

21
414 331
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 23 (1967-1990)

22
405 341
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Died at 46 (1960-2006)

23
390 341
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 42 (1957-1999)

24
390 174
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added age 62

25
307 311
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Died at 45 (1945-1990)

26
377 304
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
328 248
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Died at 28 (1965-1993)

28
309 217
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 63

29
274 157
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 64 (1887-1951)

30
348 263
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1939-1963)

31
201 296
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 56
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added age 68

33
268 116
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 45

34
117 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
145 232
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added age 58

37
403 244
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 70

38
267 233
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
185 57
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added age 33

41
121 101
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
166 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
173 251
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 53

45
208 239
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added

46
169 176
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Died at 20 (1980-2000)

47
152 83
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 47

48
100 61
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 39

49
142 210
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added age 38

50
123 181
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 37