Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
45k votes 4.1k voters 229.2k views 185 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.

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

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1,197 409
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

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1,346 411
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 50

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1,015 387
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

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

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736 420
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)

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866 355
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 75

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693 375
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 83

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

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721 496
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 59

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677 378
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

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

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Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Brian Piccolo Died at 27 (1943-1970)

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

26 Sports Teams Killed in Airplane Crashes

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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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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)

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

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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)

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

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392 319
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

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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 Most Underrated College Football Player

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

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

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

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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)

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

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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)

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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

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

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Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Shoeless Joe Jackson Died at 64 (1887-1951)

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Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Ernie Davis Died at 24 (1939-1963)

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

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

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

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Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 69

37 Celebrities Who Played High School Basketball

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Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Tragic Career-Ruining Sports Injuries

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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