athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
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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
1,419 367
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
1,000 359
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Lou Gehrig Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,113 365
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Barry Sanders age 49

4
865 348
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Roberto Clemente Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
919 391
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pat Tillman Died at 28 (1976-2004)

6
763 313
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Gale Sayers age 74

7
612 368
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Len Bias Died at 23 (1963-1986)

8
604 331
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Sandy Koufax age 80

9
624 332
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Derrick Thomas Died at 33 (1967-2000)

10
604 440
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Magic Johnson age 58

11
519 328
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
488 342
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Thurman Munson Died at 32 (1947-1979)

13
577 345
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Dale Earnhardt

14
463 414
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Terrell Davis age 45

15
434 264
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
112 45
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
438 361
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Jim Brown age 81

18
344 310
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
84 45
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added Marco van Basten age 53

20
347 292
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Hank Gathers Died at 23 (1967-1990)

21
419 373
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Yao Ming age 35

22
351 302
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Payne Stewart Died at 42 (1957-1999)

23
342 297
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
274 137
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Larry Bird age 61

25
270 275
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
265 224
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Reggie Lewis Died at 28 (1965-1993)

27
224 83
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Monica Seles age 44

28
302 283
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

29
246 193
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
292 238
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
196 137
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
172 262
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
331 230
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added Bobby Orr age 69

34
129 199
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added Ralph Sampson age 57

35
225 228
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Steve Prefontaine Died at 24 (1951-1975)

36
127 233
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
220 207
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Joe Theismann age 66

38
42 23
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added Julius Erving age 67

39
64 26
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
James Gent added Dražen Petrović Died at 29 (1964-1993)

40
114 30
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Calvin Johnson age 32

41
79 75
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Bill Walton age 65

42
172 189
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Brandon Roy age 31

43
187 218
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
146 153
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
128 179
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Mark Prior age 35

46
148 225
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Cam Neely age 50

47
102 24
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Walter Payton Died at 46 (1953-1999)

48
103 63
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Penny Hardaway age 44

49
103 156
Jay Williams is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added Jay Williams age 34

50
50 51
Greg Oden is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Greg Oden age 27