When athletes push their bodies to the limit against other top competitors, injuries are unavoidable. Spectacular careers have ended with one wrong step or a devastating hit, and once-promising young athletes, as well as established ones, have seen their careers end prematurely.
Players of all skill levels have had their careers ended or drastically impacted by a major injury. Many of the most upsetting moments in sports history have come when all-star-caliber players were hurt.
Football and hockey are particularly rough contact sports. Concussions stemming from hard hits are prevalent in the NHL and NFL, though basketball and baseball players are not completely safe. MLB stars have suffered career-ending injuries from errant pitches and foul balls striking their heads. And basketball players often risk head, neck, and spinal injuries when jumping high for baskets or rebounds.
To determine the greatest sports careers cut short by injuries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the history of the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA for successful and promising players whose careers were either ended or dramatically altered by an injury.
Some players can come back from awful injuries. Shaun Livingston had a grisly knee injury but has become an important bench player and three-time NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors. Sidney Crosby has suffered several concussions but has always come back strong.
Many of the players on this list had enough great seasons that they still made the Hall of Fame. The NFL’s Terrell Davis and MLB’s Sandy Koufax had dominant but abbreviated careers, winning championships and MVP awards. Still, their legends may have been even greater if not for Davis’s knee injury and Koufax’s arthritic elbow.
Many players’ careers could have continued longer had they been injured today thanks to advances in modern medicine. Injuries to a player’s rotator cuff or anterior cruciate ligament once spelled disaster for a career, but new surgeries and rehabilitation techniques have allowed players to come back from such injuries and even play at an MVP level. Running back Gale Sayers had to retire early after damaging his knee ligaments, but Adrian Peterson was an All-Pro rusher for the Minnesota Vikings the year after tearing his ACL. An undiagnosed rotator cuff ruined the career of 1969’s AFL Rookie of the Year Greg Cook, but fellow QB Drew Brees won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints after overcoming a similar injury.
To determine the greatest sports careers cut short by injuries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the history of the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA to find successful and promising players whose careers were either ended or dramatically altered by an injury sustained either on or off the field. To be considered, an athlete had to have been a notable player, either through on-field success or a promising start.