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
1,642 395
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bo Jackson age 56

2
1,138 389
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,284 393
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 50

4
971 373
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
1,041 417
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
702 403
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
837 342
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 75

8
668 363
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 83

9
692 354
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
682 481
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 59

11
560 351
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
542 362
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

13
651 368
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
554 280
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Sean Taylor Died at 24 (1983-2007)

26 Sports Teams Killed in Airplane Crashes

15
518 442
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 46

16
173 61
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
492 386
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 82

18
363 338
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
483 392
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 38

20
382 310
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

21
367 316
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 Best Athletes of All Time

22
103 71
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
364 321
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

24
329 154
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 62

25
288 290
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
340 290
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
297 235
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
278 204
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Earl Campbell age 63

Athletes Who Have Come Out as Gay After Retirement

29
319 249
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

30
239 98
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 45

31
240 145
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
184 274
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
86 35
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

34
241 234
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

35
362 237
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 70

37 Celebrities Who Played High School Basketball

36
137 210
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 58

37
133 245
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

38
144 43
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 33

39
188 199
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 34

40
240 217
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 69

41
61 35
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 68

42
97 83
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 66

The Most Tragic Career-Ruining Sports Injuries

43
134 31
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
195 225
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added Davey Allison

45
155 161
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

46
159 236
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 53

47
132 190
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 38

48
110 166
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 37

49
120 71
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 47

50
69 62
Greg Oden is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Greg Oden age 30