25 Athletes Who Died Before Their Career Was Over
Athletes That Died Way Too Soon
Every year there is at least one sport that faces the death of an athlete. I’m not referring to those that have retired and grown old, rather players that are still in the leauges when they suddenly pass away. Sometimes they commit suicide, overdose or make the stupid mistake to drink and drive. Then there are the athletes that die literally out-of-nowhere.
I’m talking about the completely unexpected, unintended types of death. Some of them die from natural causes; others die from some insane or unanticipated event. It is very rare that an athlete dies while they are in the middle of the game, but even that has happened before.
It kind of makes you wonder what will happen next. Who will be the next athlete to die unexpectedly? It’s not something that you want to think about but you know it will happen in the future. You never know who will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On this list I have included athletes who could have became stars if their careers wouldn’t have ended with death. Some of them were on the rise right before they passed away. It’s hard to tell what achievements and records they could have broken if they were still alive today.
I tried to include athletes from multiple eras, that way everyone should know at least a few names on the list. Either way, these athletes passed away too soon in life. Some names will be familiar, others you may want to research more to see what their potential really was.
I’m not going to include those that made stupid decisions that led to their death; that was their own personal choice. They could have easily prevented their deaths.
I know I couldn’t include every single athlete that has passed away but I did my best to give the 20 spots to the men and women that deserve the most recognition. Enjoy!
Taylor was the fifth pick overall in the 2004 NFL Draft for the Washington Redskins. While Taylor was away from his home on November 18th, 2007 his house was burglarized. Eight days after that, an intruder entered Taylor's home and proceeded to shoot him in the leg.
Unfortunately, the bullet hit his femoral artery and he lost a significant amount of blood. He was airlifted to the hospital and had surgery. However Taylor entered a coma due to the massive amount of blood lost and he died the next afternoon. During his short career, Taylor had two Pro-Bowl appearances and is still considered one of the 80 Greatest Redskins.
Munson had two World Series Championships, seven All-Star Game appearance and three Gold Glove Awards before his unexpected death. At one point he considered retiring early because he was homesick, but instead decided to take flying lessons so that he could travel back-and-forth to his family in Ohio.
Munson took two years of flight lessons before his death in 1979. While practicing take-offs and landings at the Akron-Canton Airport, Munson sunk too low before generating enough engine power to land; the jet clipped a tree, missed the runway and then burst into flames. His friend Jerry Anderson and flight instructor Dave Hall both survived the crash.
Wilson was only 17 when he was killed. He played for the Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, which still holds one of the best high school basketball programs in the nation. On November 20th, 1984 Wilson was walking on Vincennes Avenue with his girlfriend when a confrontation occurred and resulted with Wilson being shot.
His aorta was severed and his liver was also severely damaged. Wilson underwent surgery the next day but it was unsuccessful; the family sued to hospital $10 million due to the delay between the incident and the surgery. Not only did Wilson lead his team the 1984 IHSA Championship, he was also considered the #1 player in the United States at the time.
The University of Iowa recently held a basketball game in honor of Chris Street's death that occurred 20 years ago. After a team dinner on January 19th, 1993 Street's car collided with a snow plow and he was killed instantly. His girlfriend survived the accident but was severely injured and sent to the hospital for a punctured lung and separated shoulder.
During Street's last game, he set a school record after making his 34th consecutive free throw. Street's jersey #40 was retired and to this day, the Hawkeyes have not yet retired another number. During his last season, Street averaged 14.5 ppg and 9 rebounds. He was one of the most passionate players the Hawkeyes ever had and was predicted to be a first round pick for theNBA Draft.
Although NASCAR isn't the most popular sport, Earnhardt's death is one that most people will remember. During the Daytona 500 in 2001, Earnhardt was involved in an accident on his final lap. His car was turned from behind, leaving him to go nose-first into the concrete wall. It then came in contact with Kevin Schrader's car, slid off the track and into the grass.
As Schrader got out of his car to check on Earnhardt, he immediately flagged for help. Earnhardt had to be extracted from the car and was immediately taken to Halifax Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. He was considered one of the best NASCAR drivers in history with 76 wins, including 7 Championships.
Piccolo was stuck with the Chicago Bears during their horrid 1-13 season in 1969. He wasn't the biggest kid on the field but he worked himself up to the fullback position. During the ninth game of the season, he suddenly asked to be removed from the game because he was having difficulty breathing. Once he returned back to Chicago and went to the doctor, he was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma.
His initial surgery was to remove the tumor but he ultimately had to have his left lung and pectoral removed as well. However the surgeries were unsuccessful and the cancer spread to other organs in his body. After an eight month battle with cancer, Piccolo passed away.
Gehrig's career with the New York Yankees was cut short due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ASL) which is now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a neuromuscular condition that causes the motor systems of the central nervous system to deteriorate but the mind stays fully functional.
Two years after his diagnosis, Gehrig passed away. Within the last year, state legislators have requested to unseal Gehrig's medical records to see if trauma from concussions could have caused his disease. His record-breaking streak of playing 2,130 consecutive games was broken by Cal Ripken Jr, even though it was thought it would never be broken.
Petrovic was one of the top shooting guards during his time in the NBA, averaging 22.3 ppg. However, being a Croatia native, he often felt homesick and wanted to move back to his homeland. Either way, he was dedicated to play for his nation's team during the offseason.
After the team qualified for the European Championships in Poland, most players returned home. But Petrovic wanted to go spend time with his girlfriend in Croatia instead. While in Germany, traveling with two other friends, Petrovic was the passenger in an automobile accident. The car collided with a truck; Petrovic died instantly but the other three lived.
To this day, it is believed that Kile died of natural causes. He was playing for the St.Louis Cardinals at the time of his death. On a road trip to Wrigley Field, Kile was absent two hours before the game was supposed to begin. Kile was found dead in his hotel room.
The cause of death was determined to be a atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) leading to a heart attack. Many suspected that Kile died of drug abuse but toxicology reports proved otherwise. His body was negative of alcohol, steroids, cocaine and ephedrine; the only positive test was marijuana, which was predicted he smoked weeks before his death.
Gathers was another athlete that died due to an abnormal heart condition. The first sign of his illness was when he collapsed at the free throw line on December 9th, 1989 while playing for Loyola Marymount University. He was diagnosed with exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia (abnormal heartbeat) and given medication.
When Gathers discovered that the medication affected his athletic ability, he cut-back on his dosage. On March 4th, 1990 he collapsed on the court again. As he attempted to get up, Gathers stopped breathing; he was announced dead on arrival after being transported to a local hospital. Gathers finished his career averaging 28 ppg and was the NCAA Scoring and Rebounding Champion in 1989.
To this day, Hughes is the only NFL player to die on the field during a game. Hughes was a member of the Detroit Lions and the team was playing the Chicago Bears at the time. With only minutes left in the game, Hughes was running towards the team huddle when he suddenly collapsed. Everyone thought he was faking an injury until Chicago's Dick Butkus waved for help on the field.
His cause of death was determined to be atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that caused a blood clot. His family had a history of health problems and his widow filed a lawsuit for malpractice. During a previous hospitalization at Henry Ford Hospital, doctors failed to diagnose his illness even though he had reported chest pains.
The most recent death that extreme sports has encountered was Caleb Moore. On January 24th, 2013 Moore was competing in the snowmobile freestyle event at the 2013 X Games when his snowmobile crashed. As he was attempting a backflip, the skis caught the ground as he was about to land.
This caused the snowmobile to hit Moore as he fell to the ground. Moore was able to get up and walk away but was immediately directed towards medical personnel. Once at the hospital, they determined an excessive amount of bleeding around the heart that required surgery. After the surgery, his condition deteriorated and he was declared brain dead. The family announced his death on January 31st.
Masterton is the only player in NHL history to die due to an injury that occurred on the ice. At the time of his death, Masterton was playing for the Minnesota North Stars. On January 13th, 1968 Masterson was knocked backward by two members of the Oakland Seals.
However, this was before helmets were required and Masterton was not wearing one. Numerous doctors decided that any surgery would be fatal and his family decided to pull the life support the next day. It is believed that he may have had trauma in his brain from a previous hit, which could have made his death progress faster than normal. The NHL still didn't require helmets until 1979.
On December 11th, 1954 Sanders was fighting Willie James for the New England heavyweight title. The two battled it out for ten rounds but James got Sanders with a hard punch in the 11th round. Sanders lost consciousness immediately and it was never regained. Doctors attempted to relieve a blood clot on his brain but Sanders died 18 hours later.
Sanders wasn't really a well-known boxer until winning the gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The ultimate cause of death was a hemorrhage. This is just another case that proves repetitive hits to the head can cause trauma, or even death.
Lewis died of sudden cardiac death during an off-season practice in 1993. He had symptoms of heart problems for a few months preceding his death but they didn't stop him from playing. The doctors determined he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is now the leading cause of death for young athletes.
Some doctors said that his history of cocaine use attributed to his death, others say that he showed signs of a common cold at the time of his death. Either why you look at it, the structural defect of his heart was the ultimate attribute. Lewis was a first round pick for the Boston Celtics in 1987 but only made it to one All Star game before his death in 1993.
Sarah Burke was another extreme athlete that took a deadly fall. On January 10th, 2012 Burke crashed during a training run on the super pipe in Salt Lake City. She suffered irreversible damage to the brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest on the slope.
Burke was a six-time X games champion for the super pipe event. She was also the one that convinced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold the super pipe event for the upcoming 2014 Olympics. Burke would have been a favorite to win the gold for the event.
Stewart was killed in a jet accident in 1999. The aircraft was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Dallas but quickly got off-track and continued to the northwest. After failing to gain contact with the aircraft, two fighter pilots were sent out to fly behind it. When approaching the aircraft, it was noticed that the windows were frosted over, indicating an extremely low pressure in the cabin.
It is predicted that the plane depressurized because of the altitude and that all passengers became unconscious. Therefore the plane was headed northwest on autopilot until running out of gas in South Dakota. Payne won 11 PGA Tour events, including three major championships during his golf career.
This one may be way before most of us were alive but it was quite the interesting incident. Chapman began his career in 1912 with the Cleveland Naps, which then changed their name to the Cleveland Indians. On August 16th, 1920 Chapman was hit in the head by NY Yankees pitcher Carl Mays.
Some witnesses said Chapman took a few steps but other witnesses said he instantly fell to the ground. Chapman died in the hospital about 12 hours later. This event led to the requirement for home plate umpires to wear a helmet. To this day, Chapman is the only MLB player that has died from being hit by a pitch. Chapman led the American Leauge with walks and runs during the 1918 season.
As a 12-time Gold Glove winner and former MVP, Roberto Clemente was one of the most beloved players in baseball. While doing charity work in Nicaragua for emergency relief after an earthquake, an airplane he boarded crashed into the ocean because it was overloaded with supplies. Roberto was 38 and still had some time left in him.
Roth played football for the University of California- Berkely from 1973-1976 before his death. At the end of the season, Roth announced to the team that he had been playing with a recurring condition of melanoma cancer. Even though his body was failing, he agreed to play in the Hulu Bowl and Japan Bowl because he was dedicated to football.
Roth agreed to take part in a 30-minute autograph session at the Japan Bowl but he felt the need to stay until every single kid in line got their chance. Afterwards, he got up and immediately collapsed nearby and began puking. His condition deteriorated quickly and Roth died in his apartment 34 days later with his family and friends by his side. He was considered to be a top pick for the NFL Draft and is the only player with a retired jersey at UCal.
Steve Prefontaine, also known as "Pre", is most likely the most famous track runner of all time. The guy broke record after record, but died in 1975 at the age of 24 after he was driving home from a party and his car flipped after hitting a rock wall.
This was a tragic death for the University of Connecticut football team. After the team defeated Louisville in their 2009 homecoming game, they celebrated at an on-campus dance. During the dance, Howard was found stabbed to death outside the student union where the dance was being held.
In the end, four people were arrested for connection to Howard's death. Howard was the first person in his family to attend college. He didn't start a single game his freshman year as a defensive back but worked his way up to the starting cornerback his sophomore year. He led the Big East Conference in punt returns and also had a game changing fumble recovery the night of his death.
Len Bias was expected to be the next big NBA superstar coming out of college, but things took a turn for the worst after he overdosed and suffered a seizure after using cocaine. He died just two days after he was selected No. 2 overall by the Boston Celtics.
Derrick Thomas was a Pro Bowl linebacker and defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs when his life was cut short following a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He then suffered a pulmonary embolism that developed in his paralyzed lower body.
Pat Tillman was an American hero, enlisting for the U.S. Army after he turned down a 3-year $3.6 million deal from the Arizona Cardinals. He was in the NFL for three seasons from 1998-2001, but enlisted after the 2001 season. Tillman was the victim of friendly fire and died in 2004 at the age of 27.