Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
46.5k votes 4.2k voters 230k 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
1,755 420
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 56

2
1,235 411
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,372 418
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added age 50

4
1,040 389
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
1,101 434
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
750 428
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Died at 23 (1963-1986)

7
884 360
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 75

8
703 380
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 83

9
737 369
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
736 505
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 59

11
692 382
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added

12
587 365
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 27 (1943-1970)

13
568 381
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 32 (1947-1979)

14
550 454
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added age 46

15
599 294
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
206 74
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Died at 41 (1947-1988)

17
520 400
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 82

18
380 351
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Died at 72 (1921-1993)

19
514 410
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 38

20
403 325
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 23 (1967-1990)

21
394 331
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Died at 46 (1960-2006)

22
381 334
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 42 (1957-1999)

23
113 91
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added age 54

24
369 167
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added age 62

25
300 306
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Died at 45 (1945-1990)

26
367 297
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

27
320 244
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Died at 28 (1965-1993)

28
299 212
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 63

29
197 289
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 55 (1954-2009)

30
338 258
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1939-1963)

31
260 155
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 64 (1887-1951)

32
261 110
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 45

33
144 257
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Died at 28 (1950-1978)

34
104 48
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Died at 29 (1964-1993)

35
389 241
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 70

36
259 229
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 69

37
253 246
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1951-1975)

38
141 226
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added age 58

39
76 50
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added age 68

40
110 96
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 66

41
164 52
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added age 33

42
201 210
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 34

43
157 38
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
169 246
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 53

45
204 235
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added

46
164 172
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Died at 20 (1980-2000)

47
137 204
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added age 38

48
92 55
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 39

49
144 80
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 47

50
121 178
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 37