Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
47.4k votes 4.3k voters 230.6k 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
1,785 433
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 56

2
1,257 422
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,394 429
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added age 50

4
1,060 398
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
1,119 440
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
765 437
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Died at 23 (1963-1986)

7
896 369
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 75

8
715 388
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 83

9
753 376
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
752 517
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 59

11
705 387
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added

12
596 371
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 27 (1943-1970)

13
577 387
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 32 (1947-1979)

14
554 463
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added age 46

15
611 298
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
215 76
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Died at 41 (1947-1988)

17
527 407
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 82

18
383 356
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Died at 72 (1921-1993)

19
523 416
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 38

20
407 329
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 23 (1967-1990)

21
118 93
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added age 54

22
399 336
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Died at 46 (1960-2006)

23
385 338
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 42 (1957-1999)

24
381 171
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added age 62

25
304 309
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Died at 45 (1945-1990)

26
374 301
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
323 246
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Died at 28 (1965-1993)

28
304 215
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 63

29
268 157
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 64 (1887-1951)

30
342 261
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1939-1963)

31
198 294
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 55 (1954-2009)

32
267 112
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 45

33
146 260
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Died at 28 (1950-1978)

34
109 49
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Died at 29 (1964-1993)

35
80 53
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added age 68

36
141 230
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added age 58

37
396 242
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 70

38
262 231
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 69

39
254 248
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1951-1975)

40
172 54
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added age 33

41
114 100
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 66

42
204 211
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 34

43
159 42
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
171 248
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 53

45
206 237
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added

46
166 175
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Died at 20 (1980-2000)

47
140 207
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added age 38

48
146 82
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 47

49
93 60
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 39

50
121 179
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 37