25 Athletes Who Died Before Their Careers Were Over

Athletes Who Died Way Too Soon

Nick Adenhart Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
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Every year there is at least one sport that faces the death of an athlete. I’m not referring to those who have retired and grown old, but rather players who are still in the leagues when they suddenly pass away. On this list, we've included star athletes who were suddenly taken from us as well as athletes who could have became stars if their careers hadn't ended in tragedy.

Sean Taylor

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Sean Taylor

Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Taylor was the fifth overall pick in the 20014 NFL Draft by the Redskins. While away from his home on Nov. 18, 2007, his house was burglarized. Eight days later, an intruder entered his home and shot him in the leg. The bullet his his femoral artery and he lost a significant amount of blood. He was airlifted to a hospital for surgery, but entered a coma due to the massive amount of blood loss and died the next afternoon.

Thurman Munson

Thurman Munson MLB Photos Archive
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Thurman Munson

Thurman Munson MLB Photos Archive
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After winning two World Series and three Gold Gloves, Munson considered retiring due to homesickness, but instead took flying lessons so he could visit his family more often.

After two years of lessons, he was practicing at the Akron-Canton Airport in 1979 and sunk took low while attempting to land. He clipped a tree, missed the runway and burst into flames. His friend Jerry Anderson and flight instructor Dave Hall both survived the crash.

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson
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Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson
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At 17 in 1984, Wilson played for nationally recognized basketball school Simeon Career Academy in Chicago. He was arguing with his girlfriend on the campus when he accidentally bumped into another student from a different school carrying a gun. The two got into a dispute over the contact and Wilson was shot twice. Wilson died after unsuccessful surgery the next day. He was considered the top basketball recruit in the nation at the time.

Chris Street

Chris Street
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Chris Street

Chris Street
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After an Iowa basketball team dinner on Jan. 19, 1983, Street's car collided with a snow plow and he was killed instantly. During his last game, he set a school record with 34 consecutive made free throws, and he was projected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft. His No. 40 is the only number retired by the Iowa men's basketball team.

Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt
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Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt
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During the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001, Earnhardt's car was turned from behind and he went nose-first into a concrete wall. His car hit Kevin Schrader's and then slid off the track into the grass. Schrader called for help, Earnhardt was pulled from the car and rushed to Halifax Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. With 76 wins and seven championships, he's considered one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time.

Brian Piccolo

Brian Piccolo
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Brian Piccolo

Brian Piccolo
Brian Piccolo

During a game with the Bears in 1969, Piccolo asked to come out of the game because he was having difficulty breathing. He went to a doctor after the game and was diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma.

His initial surgery was the remove the tumor but he ultimately had to have his left lung and pectoral removed as well. Even so, the surgeries were unsuccessful and he died eight months later from the cancer.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig
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Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig
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Gehrig's career with the Yankees was cut short because of ALS, which is now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a neuromuscular condition that causes motor systems of the central nervous system to deteriorate while the mind stays fully functional. Gehrig died two years after his diagnosis with a then-record 2,130 consecutive games played.

Drazen Petrovic

Drazen Petrovic Chicago Bulls v New Jersey Nets
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Drazen Petrovic

Drazen Petrovic Chicago Bulls v New Jersey Nets
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Petrovic was a stellar NBA shooting guard for the Nets and was a dedicated member of his native Croatia's national team. While traveling with friends in Germany, he was a passenger in an automobile accident when the car in which he was traveling collided with a truck. He died instantly while the other passengers all lived.

Darryl Kile

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Darryl Kile

Darryl Kile Braves v Cardinals X
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Two hours before a game at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, Kile was found dead in his hotel room. The cause of Kile's death was determined to be atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which led to a heart attack. Some thought he might have died from drugs or alcohol, but toxicology reports proved otherwise. The only thing that came back was marijuana, which he had smoked several weeks before his death.

Hank Gathers

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Hank Gathers

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Gathers collapsed at the free throw line in December 1989 and was diagnosed with exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia (abnormal heartbeat). The medication for this affected his athletic ability, so he cut back on his dosage and collapsed on the court again in March 1990 and stopped breathing. He was announced dead on arrival after being transported to a nearby hospital. Gathers was the NCAA scoring and rebounding champ that year.

Chuck Hughes

Dick Butkus Chuck Hughes
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Chuck Hughes

Dick Butkus Chuck Hughes
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Hughes is the only NFL player to die on the field during a game. When running to the Lions' huddle, Hughes collapsed. Everyone thought he was faking it until the Bears' Dick Butkus waved for help. Hughes died because of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which caused a blood clot. During a previous hospitalization at Henry Ford Hospital, doctors failed to diagnose his illness and his widow filed a lawsuit for malpractice.

Caleb Moore

Caleb Moore
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Caleb Moore

Caleb Moore
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At the X-Games in January 2013, Moore was attempting a backflip when the skis of his snowmobile caught the grand as he was about to land and he crashed. He was hit by the snowmobile in the process and walked away, but was taken to a hospital and had to have surgery due to excessive bleeding around his heart. This caused him to go brain dead after the surgery and he was pronounced dead a week later.

Bill Masterton

Bill Masterton
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Bill Masterton

Bill Masterton
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Masterson is the only NHL player to die from an injury that occurred on the ice. While playing for the Minnesota North Stars in 1968, Masterson was knocked backward on his head by two Oakland Seals players and, at this time, most hockey players didn't wear helmets. Doctors decided that surgery would be fatal and his family pulled the plug the next day. It's believed that brain trauma from a previous hit expedited Masterson's death.

Ed Sanders

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Ed Sanders

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During a New England heavyweight fight in 1954, Willie James landed a fatal punch on Sanders in the 11th round. He lost consciousness on impact and it was never regained. Doctors attempted to relieve a blood clot i his brain but Sanders died 18 hours later. This came just two years after Sanders won the gold medal in the heavyweight division at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

Reggie Lewis

Reggie Lewis Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
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Reggie Lewis

Reggie Lewis Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
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Lewis died of sudden cardiac death during an offseason 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 his history of cocaine use attributed to his death while others say he had a common cold at the time.

Sarah Burke

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Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke
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Burke crashed during a training run on the super pipe in Salt Lake City on Jan. 10, 2012. She suffered irreversible damage to the brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest on the slope. Before that, she was a six-time X-Games champion in the super pipe and convinced the International Olympic Committee to hold the super pipe event for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics. She would have been the favorite to win gold in the event.

Payne Stewart

Payne Stewart
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Payne Stewart

Payne Stewart
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After winning 11 PGA Tour events, including three majors, Stewart was killed in a plane accident in 1999. On a flight from Orlando to Dallas, the plane depressurized unexpectedly, all the passengers became unconscious and the plane ran on autopilot until running out of gas in South Dakota. It was later concluded everyone on board died of hypoxia as only a few seconds without an oxygen mask could cause incapacitation.

Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman
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Ray Chapman

Ray Chapman
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In a 1920 game against the Yankees, Chapman was batting and took a pitch to the head from Carl Mays. Some witnesses say he took a few steps while most say he immediately fell the ground. Regardless, he was taken to a hospital and died 12 hours later. After this event, MLB required home plate umpires to wear helmets. And to this day, Chapman is the only MLB player to die from being hit by a pitch.

Roberto Clemente

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Roberto Clemente

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A 12-time Gold Glove winner and former MVP, 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. Clemente was 38 and still had some game left in him.

Joe Roth

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Joe Roth

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Roth played football for California in the mid-1970s before his death. At the end of the '76 season, he announced to the team he had been playing with a recurring condition of melanoma cancer. Even after that, he played in the Hulu and Japan Bowls because he was dedicated to football. He died about a month after the Japan Bowl. Roth was expected to be a top pick in the NFL Draft and is the only Cal player to have his jersey retired.

Steve Prefontaine

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Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine USA
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The man commonly known as just "Pre" is arguably the most famous track funner of all time. The guy broke record after record, but died at his peak in 1975 at the age of 24 after he was driving home from a party and his car flipped after hitting a rock wall.

Jasper Howard

Jasper Howard
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Jasper Howard

Jasper Howard
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After the UConn football 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 held. Four people were arrested for connection to Howard's death.

Howard was the first person in his family to attend college and recorded a game-changing fumble recovery in the game on the night of his death.

Len Bias

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Len Bias

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Bias was expected to be the next big NBA superstar coming out of college, but things took a turn for the worse after he overdosed on cocaine and suffered a seizure. He died just two days after he was selected No. 2 overall in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.

Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas
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Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas
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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 form the chest down. He then suffered a pulmonary embolism that developed in his paralyzed lower body.

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman
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Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman
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Tillman is an American hero, enlisting for the U.S. Army after he turned down a three-year, .6 million deal from the Arizona Cardinals. He was in the NFL for three seasons form 1998-2001, but enlisted after the 2001 season. Tillman was the victim of friendly fire and died in 2004 at the age of 27.