Sports

Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon 

Blake Edwards
Originally by
Updated June 14, 2019 54.4k votes 5k voters 238.2k views 174 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
Bo Jackson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Age: 57
2
Lou Gehrig is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 38 (1903-1941)
3
Barry Sanders is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Frostbite added Age: 51
4
Pat Tillman is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 28 (1976-2004)
5
Gale Sayers is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Age: 76
6
Roberto Clemente is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 38 (1934-1972)
7
Derrick Thomas is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 33 (1967-2000)
8
Len Bias is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added Len Bias Dec. at 23 (1963-1986)
9
Dale Earnhardt is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
wiabux added
10
Sandy Koufax is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Age: 84
11
Sean Taylor is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Kenne_W added Dec. at 24 (1983-2007)
12
Magic Johnson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Age: 60
13
Thurman Munson is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 32 (1947-1979)
14
Larry Bird is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
StephenOsgood added Age: 63
15
Brian Piccolo is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Dec. at 27 (1943-1970)
16
Yao Ming is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Age: 39
17
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Dec. at 41 (1947-1988)
18
Terrell Davis is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Pallknowing1 added Age: 47
19
Sterling Sharpe is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Age: 54
20
Hank Gathers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 23 (1967-1990)
21
Shoeless Joe Jackson is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Dec. at 64 (1887-1951)
22
Reggie Lewis is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
dsylvia added Dec. at 28 (1965-1993)
23
Calvin Johnson is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
Spencer Morrow added Age: 34
24
Jim Brown is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
KirkSaw added Age: 83
25
Monica Seles is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Athletes Whose Careers Ended Too Soon
slaft added Age: 46