15 Athletes Whose Careers Ended From Injuries Far Too Soon

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Not On Their Own Terms

Evan Habeeb - US PRESSWIRE

More often than that, athletes end their career in a way they don’t want to. Whether it’s age, diminishing talent, or injury, players are forced to cut their careers short.

Ray Lewis’ career is likely over due to the injury he suffered on Sunday. It’s not that Lewis can’t recover, but being the elder statesman he is, he might want to walk away from the game before hitting rehab hard. We also saw Derek Jeter fracture his ankle this week. Granted, the odds of Jeter retiring are very slim, but there is still a possibility his body won’t recover as quickly as he hopes due to his age. However, these two guys aren’t the first players whose career could end from injury.

Here are 15 athletes that were forced to leave the game all too soon. The severity of these injuries range from basic knee injuries that never recovered to actual death. But they all have one thing in common: they took these players away from the game they love Final Destination style.

Let’s hope Ray Lewis proves this list wrong and comes back strong in 2013, shall we?

Bryan is a featured writer for Rant Sports. Although he concentrates on MLB, you can see him covering a multitude of things across the Rant Sports Network.

2 of 16

Chris Spielman

Gret Bartram - US PRESSWIRE

Chris Spielman was Tecmo Super Bowl all-star in the early 1990s. He was a vicious linebacker for the Detroit Lions, but several neck injuries ruined the All-Pro’s career. Spielman tried to return after a few separate neck surgeries, but he was never able to take the field for a regular season game after his spinal surgery.

3 of 16

Joe Theismann

Mark J. Rebilas - US PRESSWIRE

We have all seen the hit Lawrence Taylor put on Joe Theismann, yet some of us may not know that Theismann never took another snap in the NFL after that gruesome hit.

4 of 16

Pat LaFontaine


You know the phrase “he’s a hockey player” is used to describe someone’s toughness. Well, Pat LaFontaine is a big time hockey player. How hardcore is LaFontaine? In his final season with the New York Rangers, LaFontaine played the season against his own medical prognosis. Doctors knew he was one concussion away from serious damage; however, he gave it a go to only receive his final concussion when he collided with a teammate.

5 of 16

Daunte Culpepper

Brace Hemmelgarn - US PRESSWIRE

Once upon a time, Daunte Culpepper was one of the top quarterbacks in the league. But after suffering a catastrophic knee injury in 2005, Culpepper was never the same, eventually fading himself out of the league as a backup quarterback.

6 of 16

Sterling Sharpe

Rick Osentoski - US PRESSWIRE

If Sterling Sharpe didn’t have chronic neck injuries, his brother would have inducted him into the Hall of Fame first.

7 of 16

Keith Primeau


Keith Primeau and Pat LaFontaine’s stories are very similar, sans playing against medical opinion. Two weeks into the 2005-06 season, Primeau’s career ended abruptly after another concussion.

8 of 16

Kevin Everett


When Kevin Everett was injured, everyone feared for the worst. Although Everett never played in the NFL again, he was able to rebound well enough to walk under his own power.

9 of 16

Steve Young

Matthew Emmons - US PRESSWIRE

It took Steve Young eight “official” head injuries before he called it a career in 1999.

10 of 16

Cam Neely

Greg M. Cooper - US PRESSWIRE

Seabass said that? Cam Neely was one of the better defensemen in the game of hockey, until Ulf Samuelsson spilled the salt on his career, blowing Neely’s knee to bits.

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Michael Irvin

Dale Zanine - US PRESSWIRE

Michael Irvin’s injury is the ultimate example of adding insult to injury. Not only did Irvin’s career end due to the fantastic field at Veterans Stadium, but Eagles fans let Irvin know exactly what they thought of him, booing him as he was getting carted off the field.

12 of 16

Kirby Puckett


Kirby Puckett accomplished quite a bit during his 11-year career with the Minnesota Twins, but he was forced to retire after being diagnosed with glaucoma in 1996.

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Steve Moore


How Todd Bertuzzi wasn’t put in prison is beyond me. Moore was never the same after Bertuzzi’s cowardice act on the ice, forcing him to retire.

14 of 16

Mike Utley


Mike Utley was just beginning a promising career with the Detroit Lions. But like a lot of these players, it can end in a blink of an eye. Utley fractured his sixth and seventh vertebrae, leaving him motionless on the field. Although he gave the patented “thumbs up” move, Utley was paralyzed from the waist down.

15 of 16

Darryl Stingley

Bleacher Report

Jack Tatum was one of the NFL’s meanest hitters, and sometimes that has consequences. When Tatum stuck Darryl Stingley, it changed Stingley’s life forever. Stingley, like Utley, fractured his vertebrae and had a compressed spinal cord, causing him to spend his life in a wheelchair. Due to being a quadriplegic, Stingley struggled with an pneumonia that took his life in 2007.

16 of 16

Ray Chapman


If you are wondering why Ray Chapman is number one on this list, it’s because he’s the only player who died directly from an on-the-field injury. Chapman was struck in the head by a Carl Mays fastball, collapsing before he could get out of the batter’s box. Chapman was ruled dead 12 hours later in a local hospital.

Around the Web

  • timothyp16

    Herb Score, Cleveland Indians. One of the great young pitchers
    of all time until he was hit in the head by a batted ball and subsequently
    injured his arm. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herb_Score)

  • Rod

    I loved Kirby Puckett as a baseball player. And his career did end too early. But it is hard to see glaucoma as an injury that occurred as a result of playing baseball.

  • alex

    no Bo Jackson? are you joking or just ignorant

  • skns2thend

    What a F@#$%$% joke. Bryan Lutz, You are a D@#$%$ BAG. You just insulted the entire Taylor family. Sean Taylor is, by far, the worst loss of talent in any sport. I will never read another article you write. Because of this article, you have proved that your opinion is worth the toilet paper you wipe your @$$ with. For a guy to have showed the promise that Sean Taylor showed to, only, be murdered in cold blood and robbed the entire sports world of an unbelievable talent. It wasn’t an on field injury. Still yet, being murdered is a fatal injury…you think.
    Not to mention, you said nothing of Bo Jackson…Probably the greatest athlete to EVER play in the NFL..Plus his baseball talents. You are a jerk, Bryan Lutz.

    • Tim

      over-reaction. lel

    • Bob_BBA70

      Why not let us really know how you feel about the writer LOL. But I agree with you the writer is a hack. But feel good he makes dirt writing this crap.

    • lakawak

      Insulted the family of a thug? Taylor was a piece of garbage. Period. Typical of too many athletes these days. 30 years ago if someone had an arrest record as long as Taylor, he would have ben thrown out of sports LONG before he could have been killed or his money. Those days were MUCH better.

  • Ed

    Gayle Sayers should have been on the top of this list. This list is a joke

    • http://batman-news.com the dangler

      yessir he would definitely be a good choice too

  • mahadragon

    What about Len Bias? Agree about Bo Jackson, he could have had a dual HOF career. Definitely should have been on list.

  • Kevin Riley

    this list isn’t very good… a lot of these athletes had over ten years in their respective sport… What about Bo Jackson, Len Bias, etc etc etc?

  • Tyler

    PAT TILLMAN!!! Pat should be the number one on the list. He gave his life fighting for our country when he could have been here in the USA making millions playing football. Another great not mentioned is Kenny Easley. Probably the best corner to ever play football whose career was cut short because he took too much ibuprofen which killed his kidneys.

    • Johnny collini

      Pat chose to retire and for that he was killed by his own troops.

    • Bob_BBA70

      Sorry it was his choice to leave the game, he was no different that Barry Sanders.

  • Kevin Gilmore

    You guys are tripping… The article states 15 careers that ended too soon, not the top 15.

    • Steve Iversen

      It says “far too soon”. Several of these played a long time.

  • vingtsun

    Dick Butkus?????

  • Rob Howle

    I agree, No Bo Jackson. This list is BS.

  • walterc

    Why didn’t we not see Sugar Ray Leonard on the list? Is Boxing not a sport? Detached retina ended a great career.

  • bwall

    What an idiot, Ray Lewis retired a super bowl champ.

  • Mac Mcdonough

    He was NOT the only one who died as a result of an on the field injury! Pat Hughes of the Detroit Lions died in 1971 after being hit and suffering an Aortic rupture.

  • Tony Caster

    to put it simple. I guess everyone is entitled to there own opinion. Although I would have to say a majority of these selections are way…… off.
    As I said his opinion.

  • Johnny collini

    Whoever put this together must not remember the likes of Bobby Orr, Bo Jackson and many others whose careers were shortened due to injury.

  • Tim

    how do you have LaFontaine and Primeau and neglect to include the token player for concussions in the NHL: Eric Lindros… who was scoring goals at the fastest pace in NHL history before Scott Stevens’ infamous hit.

  • Steve Iversen

    This looks like a list made by someone who does not know much about the people he listed or left off the lift. Many of the people of the list played a long time and many with short careers that were great at their sport are not mentioned.

  • Justin Linoleum Belfi

    Cam Neely was a FORWARD.

  • Jennifer Pruitt

    No Lou Gerig?

  • Randy Stewart

    Dale Earnhardt!

    • http://batman-news.com the dangler

      hell yes, i forgot about the intimidator. wuda had 10 championships by now

  • Bob_BBA70

    Stupid list and very incomplete. Ray Lewis was finished his career had run its race.

  • James Ornelas

    Why not Terrell Davis, if not for tearing his knee up he would have set plenty of records!

  • Austin Titus

    Where the f*ck is Bo Jackson? Get off the internet you troll

  • James Michael Mercik

    Funny, the first names that came to me are: Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson, Len Bias, Darrell Stingley, Payne Stewart, Tony Lema, Herb Score, Tony Conigliaro, Thurman Munson, Ray Fosse, Bennie Paret, Kim Duk Koo… very few of them are on this list. Obviously I included names of people who died outside of the performance arena, but Sayers, Jackson, Conigliaro, Paret, Fosse, and Kim all did in fact have their careers shortened via sports injuries. It’s probably just an age thing. Plus, it’s difficult for me to forget Paret and Kim… I watch both those fights on TV… I was quite young for the Paret-Griffith fight, and I never really got over knowing that I watched someone get killed.

  • http://batman-news.com the dangler

    this guy is a complete moron…careers ended way too soon due to injury??? theisman had many great years and lewis was done regardless…go work at walmrt where you may impress somebody….Bo Jackson undoubtedly should be at the top of this list and he was probably the best athlete EVER!!!!! I read the article and went back through it several times thinking i missed it but this is proof you dont have to know “jack” to write an article for Rant sports…lol. hey how much did you pay this guy i can write stuff 100 times better that not every person that reads will hate me for…lol

  • Emerson Hopfmann

    Cam Neely was not a defenseman!

  • lakawak

    Ray Lewis’ career went on over a decade more than it should. IT should have been over in 2000 when he MURDERED someone…or at least covered up a murder committed by his friends in his presence.

  • lakawak

    Ralph Kiner


    Michael Irvin should of been THROWN out and locked up for drug abuse. you can jump real high when high on coke.

  • http://www.batman.com BruceW

    Who made this list? There are about 4 guys worthy of being on it and rest are guys no one gave a rip about. What about Bo Jackson, Don Mattingly, and Len Bias? All three superstars in their respective sports.