• Sports

Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

List RulesOnly 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.
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  • 1
    1,502
    1,483
    slaft added

    Monica Seles

    Age: 47
  • 2
    3,845
    89
    xfgjsxfgnm addedDec. at 28 (1964-1993)
  • 3
    205
    173
    JahangirRahman addedDec. at 32 (1940-1973)
  • 4
    1,415
    1,449
    StephenOsgood added

    Larry Bird

    Age: 64
  • 5
    667
    716
    Dec. at 33 (1967-2000)
  • 6
    333
    310
    BobBrooks added

    Kirby Puckett

    Dec. at 45 (1960-2006)
  • 7
    1,113
    1,212

    Lou Gehrig

    Dec. at 37 (1903-1941)
  • 8
    294
    280

    Shoeless Joe Jackson

    Dec. at 64 (1887-1951)
  • 9
    160
    136
    psytce2 addedDec. at 19 (1980-2000)
  • 10
    209
    185
    PW Punk addedAge: 37
  • 11
    758
    818

    Gale Sayers

    Age: 78
  • 12
    122
    95
    muzziac added

    Patrick Willis

    Age: 36
  • 13
    327
    340
    slaft added

    Pete Maravich

    Dec. at 40 (1947-1988)
  • 14
    955
    1,035

    Roberto Clemente

    Dec. at 38 (1934-1972)
  • 15
    131
    119
    slaft added

    Greg Oden

    Age: 33
  • 16
    142
    134
    Andrea Pillerè added

    Marco van Basten

    Age: 57
  • 17
    990
    1,091

    Pat Tillman

    Dec. at 27 (1976-2004)
  • 18
    201
    182
    slaft added

    Penny Hardaway

    Age: 50
  • 19
    1,631
    1,811
    Age: 58
  • 20
    313
    295
    Spencer Morrow addedAge: 36
  • 21
    133
    123
    slaft added

    Grant Hill

    Age: 49
  • 22
    157
    133
    slaft added

    Tracy McGrady

    Age: 42
  • 23
    216
    183
    KirkSaw added

    Steve Prefontaine

    Dec. at 24 (1951-1975)
  • 24
    637
    695
    wiabux addedDec. at 49 (1951-2001)
  • 25
    1,289
    1,431
    Frostbite addedAge: 53