athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
44.2k votes 4k voters 228.4k views 173 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
1,685 405
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bo Jackson age 56

2
1,172 400
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,314 403
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 50

4
997 380
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
1,065 427
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
722 414
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
851 351
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 75

8
680 371
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 83

9
708 362
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
702 491
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 59

11
554 368
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

12
571 358
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

13
664 375
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
525 447
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 46

29 Celebrities Who Quit Being Famous

15
570 285
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)

16
181 66
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
500 391
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 82

18
368 342
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
494 396
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 38

20
389 314
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

21
374 321
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

The Greatest Party Foul Photos in Internet History

22
108 77
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added Marco van Basten age 54

23
369 325
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

24
294 293
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Tony Conigliaro Died at 45 (1945-1990)

25
345 156
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 62

26
350 292
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
306 238
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

28
284 208
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Earl Campbell age 63

15 People Who Were Found Living with Dead Bodies

29
190 279
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Mark Fidrych Died at 55 (1954-2009)

30
324 254
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
245 149
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
243 102
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 45

33
135 250
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

34
90 41
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

35
245 220
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 69

The Best Wide Receivers of All Time

36
245 238
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

37
372 238
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 70

38
138 215
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 58

39
66 39
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 68

40
101 88
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 66

41
150 46
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 33

42
195 203
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 34

The Strange Story Of Rube Waddell, The Legendary Pitcher Who Left Baseball Games To Chase ...

43
141 33
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

44
163 239
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 53

45
197 229
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added Davey Allison

46
157 166
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

47
133 195
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 38

48
80 44
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Tracy McGrady age 39

49
131 73
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 47

50
114 171
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 37