The Most Tragic Career-Ruining Sports Injuries

The most tragic career-ruining sports injuries are those unfortunate moments when a promising and successful athletic career is snapped short in the blink of an eye, leaving fans to wonder what these talented young athletes could have done if things were different.

While many of these incidents were televised live, few are more memorable than the career-ending sack on Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in 1985. Sacked by Lawrence Taylor in what ESPN viewers voted the most shocking (sports) moment in history, Theismann suffered a horrifying leg fracture and was carted off the field never to play again. The tragic incident became one of the most famous sports injuries of all time and changed the game forever. It was even highlighted in the successful book and film The Blind Side.

Though this list includes some of the worst injuries in sports, it only highlights a handful of athletes whose careers ended too soon. These athletes may no longer be in their respective sports, but their legacies will live on forever.

What are tragic sports injuries? Sadly, they are when an athlete's career is finished due to the severity of an injury to which they can't fully recover. From the worst baseball injuries in the MLB to the most devastating hits in the NFL, this list has plenty to make you wince and wonder what could've been.

Photo: mwlguide / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

  • Joe Theismann
    Photo: Pfc. Andrew Hillegass, USA/Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Forced into early retirement at the age of 36, Joe Theismann fractured two bones in his right leg in a November 18, 1985, sack by linebacker Lawrence Taylor in what is easily one of the most memorable and tragic sports injuries of all time.

  • Mike Utley
    Photo: AccountabilityGroup / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Offensive lineman Mike Utley was 26 years old when his career with the Detroit Lions ended on November 17, 1991, when he was paralyzed from the chest down during a game against the Los Angeles Rams.

  • The NHL career of Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche came to a controversial end on February 16, 2004, when Todd Bertuzzi, then of the Vancouver Canucks, punched Moore in the back of the head. Moore was knocked unconscious and fell to the ice, fracturing three neck vertebrae. Moore never played again.

  • Kevin Everett
    Photo: UsernameUnavailable / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    After suffering a catastrophic and life-threatening spinal cord injury during a September 9, 2007, Buffalo Bills game, few thought the tight end would ever walk again. Though he never returned to football, Everett defied the odds and walked onto the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium later that year.

  • Trent McCleary

    Montreal Canadiens winger Trent McCleary's career came to a scary end on January 29, 2000, when he took a slapshot to the neck. His breathing was damaged enough to halt his time on the ice.

  • Eerily similar to the tragedy that ended the career of Mike Utley, Reggie Brown played two seasons with the Detroit Lions before a tragic hit caused a spinal cord injury. He required emergency surgery to save his life.