Athletes have pretty dangerous jobs, though people don’t often recognize just how dangerous, since it is out of mind until someone gets hurt. The worst thing is when an athlete has a promising career ahead of them, only for it to be cut short by some horrific injury. Here are some amazing athletes who could have led much longer, more illustrious careers if only they hadn’t been cut short by some injury or another.
This rookie running back for the Patriots NFL team rushed more than 1,100 yards in his first year after being drafted. Unfortunately, a freak accident during the Beach Bowl led to an injury so severe his left leg nearly required amputation.
His career didn’t end there: he came back to the NFL in 2002, but only managed 20 rushes across a total of 12 games. Then he played a few years in the Canadian Football League before permanently calling it quits.
In the early 2000s, Culpepper looked like he was going to become the next big quarterback name in football. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and 2003, and was at the head of the league with 4,717 passing yards in 2004, on top of astounding stats in completed passes, touchdown passes, and interceptions.
But just a year after that, he absolutely demolished his knee, tearing three major parts of it. Over the next four seasons of his career, he only managed to play 24 more games. Whereas Peyton Manning and Tom Brady went on to become legends, Culpepper’s career faded away due to his injury.
When Hardaway first started playing in the NBA alongside the likes of Shaq, it seemed like he was destined to enter the Hall of Fame. He was excellent as a point guard and always a threat for the triple-double, and he even had his own advertisements.
But in the 1997-1998 season, he injured his left knee, which led to him being benched. He would be forced to endure four more surgeries after the initial one before his career met a tragic end.
An avid hockey player, Savard made waves in 2006 as a top-line center, averaging just shy of 90 points per season between 2005 to 2009. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe concussion at the hands of Matt Cooke in 2010.
He returned for the 2010 postseason, only to suffer another concussion in 2011, which forced him out of the season. Since then, he has not been able to play, forcing his career to take a dramatic and tragic end.
Grant Hill was the third overall pick in the NBA draft of 1994 and was considered one of the best overall players in basketball at the time. Unfortunately, multiple ankle surgeries put an end to that.
With chronic ankle issues created by his many surgeries, Hill went on to play 200 games or so, but that was over the course of seven years. Considering that he had been considered one of the best at some point, it was a poor downhill spiral.
Bo Jackson is so famous that he comes up in pretty much every conversation about the world’s best athletes. He was the first athlete ever to become an All-Star in both the MLB and NFL, and he even ran track.
He went on to accomplish many great feats in both baseball and football, undoubtedly making him a legend, but his hip was dislocated in a freak injury during a football game in 1990. He only played a few more seasons afterward, due to never fully recovering from his injury.
Mark Prior is another example of the terrible luck the Chicago Cubs went through for over a century. This blue-chip ace, at the age of 22, went 18-6 with a 2.42 ERA in 2003. He was one of the top strikeout pitchers, fanning 266 batters.
Thing is, there wasn’t just one injury that crippled Prior’s career. By 2007, he was out of the major leagues due to a plethora of regular, chronic injury cases, ranging from elbows to shoulders and everything in-between.
Remember when we said the Cubs were cursed? Well, Kerry Wood was another blue-chip ace from the same team as Mark Prior, and he pretty much suffered the same fate. Wood went 14-11 with a 3.20 ERA, and Wood fanned 245 batters.
But Wood was also out of the game by 2007, thanks to the same problems as Mark Prior. Thanks to a plethora of injuries and chronic conditions that he just couldn’t best, his career was cut short of what it could have been.
Bill Walton is arguably one of the greatest college basketball players ever. At one point, his UCLA teams won 88 games in a row. He won the Naismith Trophy three times due to his astounding abilities.
Unfortunately, foot and ankle injuries gradually reduced how many games Walton was able to play with until he was just wasn’t getting enough time on the court to justify being there, and he soon retired.
When one thinks of tragic sports injuries, Tony Conigliaro is often at forefront of one’s thoughts. This Red Sox slugger his 32 home runs when he was just 20 and had 104 by the age of 22.
But unfortunately, he was hit in the face by a pitch, just below his eye in 1967. His vision started deteriorating from that point onwards, and his once guaranteed career of fame went down the drain.
Unlike some of the other athletes on this list, at least Kypreos got to play hockey for at least a decade before he was forced to bow out due to injuries. Ultimately, it’s less that he suffered one major injury and more that he racked up chronic issues due to multiple concussions over the years.
The worst thing is the final concussion that forced him to quit as a result of an impact from his own teammate, Ryan VanderBussche. People often look at football as the sport with the most injured athletes, but you’ll be surprised by how many hockey players are on this list.
Unfortunately for Alvin Williams, he spent most of his five seasons in the NBA being injured, in no small part due to a major knee injury that he suffered during his third season. Like many basketball players, this guard had a tough time coming back from it.
He actually made two attempts to return to his former glory after that injury, but he just never managed to do it, which led to a less than illustrious career, especially compared to what could have been.
This English soccer player was a force to be reckoned with in his heyday, being a player for the England national team, as well as West Ham United. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle in 2006, and that was the beginning of the end.
He actually managed to play one more season after recovering from his injury, but unfortunately, lingering pain and complications from the broken ankle prevented Ashton from really getting back into the game, and he had to retire at the early age of 26.
Here we have another athlete who actually got to play his sport for a long time: fifteen years in the NFL. However, he could have played much longer, if only Matt Johnson hadn’t seriously rattled his brain cage in 1998.
After the impact, Beukeboom suffered from many ailments related to post-concussion syndrome, including confusion, nausea, headaches, and memory loss. With all of those things plaguing him, he had no choice but to retire from the sport.
He may have played a total of ten years in the NFL, but Chris Spielman spent the last few of them battling serious neck injuries. An injury in 1997 seriously hampered his playing ability, as it was bad enough to result in neck surgery.
Spielman almost made a comeback in 1999, but when he once again suffered another neck injury before the regular season even started, he was forced to retire before any more serious injuries could be endured.
Scott Stevens is another example of a player who had a pretty great career, and it wasn’t a singular injury that forced him out of the game, as opposed to many injuries over the years taking their toll on him. With multiple concussions over his two decades of playing, he announced his retirement after the 2003 to 2004 season.
Not that he actually managed to finish that season, since he was diagnosed with the post-concussion in November of that year, forcing him to stay out of the game. Concussions remain one of the most dangerous hazards for football players, even today.
Steve Young is notable for the way he managed to successfully fill the illustrious shoes of Joe Montana. Unfortunately, his Hall of Fame career was filled to the brim with concussions: he had seven confirmed head injuries prior to 1999.
He suffered an eighth head injury that year, and after going through all of that, Steve Young pulled the plug on his career for his own safety. Smart move, in our books.
Cam Neely actually managed to play in all 13 seasons of his NHL career, prior to his retirement in 1996. Fans would have liked for that career to be even longer, but honestly, it was several seasons longer than it should have been in the first place.
Suffering a crippling knee injury during Game 3 of the Wales Conference Finals, Neely tried to return to form after the fact, but only managed to play in 162 games in the last five years of his NHL career, and he was never quite as amazing as he had been before.
Concussions are a serious threat in all contact sports, not just football. Keith Primeau had a career in the NHL that lasted sixteen years, but he faced numerous head injuries along the way. Nine games into the 2005-200 season, the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers sustained yet another concussion.
Following that injury, he was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, and Primeau decided to retire mere days afterward, putting his health above any more glory on the ice.
After just two seasons in Buffalo, Kevin Everett’s NFL career was cut seriously short. During the 2007-2008 season, Everett suffered a terrible spinal cord injury, coming very close to paralyzing him. Needless to say, playing the NFL again was impossible.
Ultimately, he was able to regain some control of his legs and walk under his own power again, but never to an extent that would allow him to play contact sports. Thus ended Everett’s once illustrious career.
Joe Theisman managed to play his entire career in the NFL with the Redskins, and in that time, he managed to help the team win two Super Bowls. Unfortunately, his career, which could have been even longer and more illustrious, ended due to a catastrophic injury in 1985.
Taking a hit from Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, Theisman suffered a devastating injury when both bones in his lower right leg were broken. After that, he would never be able to play again.
Leg fractures are a common hazard for soccer players: with everything throwing their legs around with all their might, it is bound to happen sometime. Luc Nilis had a very successful career as a striker for both Belgium and the Netherlands, but one injury was enough to cut it short.
In September of 2000, he directly clashed with goalkeeper Richard Wright, and the result was a double compound fracture in his right shin. Even worse, that injury became infected at one point, and a possible amputation was in the cards. Needless to say, his career was over.
Michael Irvin was one of the most popular players in the league during his time as a wide receiver for the Cowboys. He was flashy and fun and knew how to make his presence known. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-ending injury in 1999 against the Eagles.
The sad part is that the Eagles fans were quite happy about the outcome, cheering as Irvin was carried out on a stretcher. We know it was technically a good thing for them, but that’s pretty messed up.
Kirby Puckett managed to play his entire eleven years in the MLB in Minnesota. Unfortunately, he took a fastball to the jaw in 1995, which broke it. He tried to recover from the injury in the Minors, but that was not to be.
In 1996, he woke up one night without vision in his right eye, and he was diagnosed with Glaucoma. Even after three surgeries, the issue was unable to be resolved, and he had no choice but to retire from the sport.
Mike Utley’s career with the Lions of the NFL seemed very promising at first, but in a game against the Rams in his third season, that career came to a very sudden end. The cause? A spinal injury that affected his sixth and seventh vertebrae.
As he was being carted away from the field, Utley gave fans a thumbs up, trying to tell them that everything would be alright. But unfortunately, it was later determined that he was paralyzed from the chest down.
LaFontaine had a very long career in the NHL, spanning fifteen years. However, one of those years was played against the advice of his physicians. He suffered a concussion in 1997 and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. Afterward, the Sabres refused to let him play again.
The Rangers, on the other hand, had no such qualms, allowing LaFontaine to play one more season, though he suffered another concussion in that time. Once that happened, he didn’t come back to the ice.
This professional English soccer player was playing against Manchester United in 1996 when he suffered his career-ending injury. Much like another soccer player on this list, he suffered two compound fractures in both bones of his lower right leg.
The injury was so bad, his leg almost had to be amputated, and he even contracted the MRSA virus while in the hospital. With 26 operations related to his injury after that, Busst did not manage to return to the game.
Steve Moore had a noteworthy, but brief run in the NHL that only lasted three seasons, all thanks to a super cheap shot from the Canucks’ resident jerkwad, Todd Bertuzzi. The hit gave Moore a concussion and three cracked vertebra, permanently taking him out of the game.
For his violent offense, Bertuzzi was formally charged with assault, a crime that he ultimately plead guilty to. Hopefully, that lawsuit included a great deal of money.
This NFL athlete played out his whole career in Seattle, but that means it ended there as well. In the 2007 to 2008 season, Mack endured a herniated disk during a game against the Steelers. Unfortunately, that trauma led to spinal cord damage.
Fortunately, that damage didn’t paralyze Strong in any way, but considering the close call to his physical health, he decided to call it quits on the sport afterward.
McCleary’s case is unfortunate: in his first season playing hockey, he suffered a major eye injury, but he ultimately managed to recover from it and play again. A year later though, he was hit in the throat by a hockey puck.
The impact resulted in a fractured larynx and a collapsed lung, and even though he tried to come back to the game later, the shortness of breath he suffered from the injury made it impossible to properly condition himself for the sport.
It’s hard to know how far Reggie Brown may have gone in the NFL, after being drafted by the Lions in 1996. He was only able to play 32 games before suffering a career-ending injury in a match against the Jets: a spinal cord contusion.
He was fading in and out of consciousness for a whopping seventeen minutes before medics were actually able to stabilize his condition and safely remove him from the field. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to save his career along with that.
Stingley only played four years in the NFL, with all of them being as a wide receiver for the Patriots. Unfortunately, a collision with Raiders player Jack Tatum resulted in two broken vertebrae and a compressed spinal cord.
Unfortunately, the injury paralyzed him. He was able to regain some feeling in his arms over time but spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. It just goes to show that players are taking truly great risks for the game and the entertainment of the masses.
Unfortunately, LeGrand never even got to play in the NFL. He was a defensive tackle for the Rutgers but suffered a catastrophic spinal injury in a game against the Navy in 2010. When he was taken off the field, he was only able to move his head and nothing else.
Doctors later determined that he was paralyzed from the neck down. Considering risks like this, we have to applaud players for facing it head-on, though perhaps science should find some better ways to keep players safe from things like this.
Roy was a three-time All-Star by the time he had played just four NBA seasons, so he had established himself as an amazing player in no time. Unfortunately, his identity as one of the top guards in the game was compromised when knee issues forced early retirement at age 29.
His unfortunate fate was this: he had surgery to remove some cartilage from his left knee, then tore part of his right knee soon after. Lacking cartilage in both knees led to a degenerative knee condition that forced his retirement.
Weishuhn had a very brief NFL career, but in 1983, he made the record for the Patriots’ single-season tackles, with 229. That amazing record was something he set in his second season of playing, but unfortunately, that was his last season as well.
A knee injury took him out of the 1984 season, and the persisting complications cost him the 1985 season as well. He injured his groin and hamstring in 1986, which led to a stunted season, not to mention his last in the NFL. It’s amazing how hard he hit the record books, despite his brief career.