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
1,494 377
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Bo Jackson age 55

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2
1,049 367
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,174 370
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 49

4
900 353
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
962 399
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
644 381
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
790 320
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 72

8
624 342
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 82

9
647 339
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
630 452
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

11
536 336
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
511 348
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

13
603 352
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
481 426
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 45

15
472 269
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)

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16
138 49
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
457 370
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 81

18
350 321
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
358 300
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

20
444 379
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 35

21
93 55
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added Marco van Basten age 53

22
359 306
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

23
351 305
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Kirby Puckett Died at 46 (1960-2006)

24
286 145
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 61

25
275 282
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
314 286
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
275 230
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
231 89
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 44

29
260 197
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Earl Campbell age 60

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30
304 241
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
216 139
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
176 265
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
231 229
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

34
134 201
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 57

35
343 234
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 69

36
132 237
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Lyman Bostock Died at 28 (1950-1978)

37
125 35
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 30

38
229 211
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 68

39
177 193
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 31

40
74 28
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
James Gent added Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

41
49 30
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 67

42
85 78
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 65

43
192 219
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added Davey Allison

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44
153 156
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Adam Petty Died at 20 (1980-2000)

45
131 184
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 35

46
115 27
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

47
153 230
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 52

48
107 160
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 34

49
108 67
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 44

50
55 57
Greg Oden is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Greg Oden age 29