Athletes Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon  

Blake Edwards
Originally by
49.6k votes 4.5k voters 232.5k views 189 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
1,885 451
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 56

2
1,317 442
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1903-1941)

3
1,481 442
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added age 50

4
1,113 411
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 38 (1934-1972)

5
816 451
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Died at 23 (1963-1986)

6
1,180 450
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 28 (1976-2004)

7
935 384
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 75

8
796 384
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 33 (1967-2000)

9
743 404
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 83

10
802 533
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 59

11
743 403
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added

12
606 395
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 32 (1947-1979)

13
576 479
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added age 46

14
622 379
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 27 (1943-1970)

15
246 83
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Died at 41 (1947-1988)

16
663 306
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Died at 24 (1983-2007)

17
548 420
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 82

18
550 429
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 38

19
392 369
Roy Campanella is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
MadameLil added Died at 72 (1921-1993)

20
127 103
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Andrea Pillerè added age 54

21
423 338
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 23 (1967-1990)

22
412 345
Kirby Puckett is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
BobBrooks added Died at 46 (1960-2006)

23
392 306
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon

24
392 349
Payne Stewart is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 42 (1957-1999)

25
407 179
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added age 62

26
311 317
Tony Conigliaro is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
DouglasShibut added Died at 45 (1945-1990)

27
336 255
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Died at 28 (1965-1993)

28
320 223
Earl Campbell is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 63

29
289 159
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Died at 64 (1887-1951)

30
98 59
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
lendl is overrated added age 68

31
353 269
Ernie Davis is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1939-1963)

32
204 302
Mark Fidrych is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 55 (1954-2009)

33
128 54
Dražen Petrović is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
xfgjsxfgnm added Died at 29 (1964-1993)

34
153 266
Lyman Bostock is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added Died at 28 (1950-1978)

35
272 120
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 45

36
150 236
Ralph Sampson is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
thething256 added age 58

37
276 237
Joe Theismann is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
age 69

38
411 249
Bobby Orr is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
willyboymcoy added age 70

39
205 59
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added age 33

40
259 255
Steve Prefontaine is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Died at 24 (1951-1975)

41
129 104
Bill Walton is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 66

42
215 217
Brandon Roy is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
PW Punk added age 34

43
211 248
Davey Allison is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Harry W added

44
174 260
Cam Neely is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added age 53

45
180 46
Walter Payton is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
jon-pratt added Died at 46 (1953-1999)

46
177 183
Adam Petty is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
psytce2 added Died at 20 (1980-2000)

47
110 64
Tracy McGrady is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 39

48
162 85
Penny Hardaway is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added age 47

49
48 6
Bruce Lee is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
JahangirRahman added Died at 33 (1940-1973)

50
144 215
Mark Prior is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
bojanthebest added age 38