Athletes of any sport are in their respective field for a number of reasons, the adrenaline rush, the passion burning within, the love of unwavering fans, and the love of the game. All of these emotions keep them coming back, pushing forward no matter the circumstance. Until they can’t push back anymore, until they suffer a sports injury so bad, they’re sidelined for good. Click through for proof of the worst, most devastating sports injuries to plague an athlete.
Michael Irvin – Dallas Cowboys
“The Playmaker” was considered the greatest wide receiver of his time. After winning three Super Bowls with the Cowboys, Irvin recovered from a collar bone injury and his return in 1997 and 1998 was ridiculously spectacular. During the fifth game of the 1999 season, Irvin was tackled by Eagles defensive back Tim Hauck and was sent flying head-first into the turf. As the Hall of Famer was being carted off, Eagles fans cheered gleefully. Later, Irvin admitted he “accepted Eagles fans cheering his injury because he’d been killing them for 10 years”. He announced his early retirement resulting from the spinal cord injury he sustained. He’s now an analyst for NFL Network.
Mike Utley – Detroit Lions
On November 17, 1991 in a game against the Los Angeles Rams, Utley’s life was forever changed. He used a hands-on approach to guard former Lions QB Erik Kramer when his assignment changed position. Utley went in to strike him down but ended up the one on the ground, he fell hitting his head and breaking his neck. His injury was to his sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae, which caused paralysis from the chest down. Currently, Utley has regained some function in his upper extremities, making him a paraplegic, and he runs the Mike Utley Foundation.
Reggie Brown – Detroit Lions
When a stadium full of 77,000 roaring fans is stunned into total silence, there’s a big problem. Reggie Brown was the second-year linebacker with the Detroit Lions and it was only his 26th game that delivered his most devastating injury. Fellow Lions linebacker, Antonio London, and Brown tackled Jets running back Adrian Murrell, while both players popped right back up, Brown remained on the field, not moving and not breathing. For almost 17 minutes, he laid unconscious on the ground. Doctors confirmed he suffered a spinal cord contusion but after months of physical therapy, Brown was again mobile and active, although he never made a return to the game. Currently, he manages a motor vehicle dealership in Austin, Texas.
Kirby Puckett – Minnesota Twins
Kirby Puckett’s 12 year career as a center fielder was spent with the Minnesota Twins. When he retired, his batting average was a stunning .318, which was a career high by any right-handed American League batter since the days of the mighty Joe DiMaggio. In 1995, while in the middle of yet another spotless season, Kirby suffered a broken jaw from a fastball thrown. Shortly after and Puckett couldn’t see a thing out of his right eye. Doctors diagnosed him with glaucoma, three surgeries later and his vision could not be restored. At 36, the Baseball Hall of Famer retired.
Bubba Smith – Baltimore Colts
Bubba Smith had a glowing college football career so when he started in the NFL, no was surprised he became a Super Bowl champion and a 2× Pro Bowl champ. During the 1972 preseason, he ran straight into a solid steel pole that the NFL used to mark yardage (it no longer does). He missed the rest of the season and retired not long after. After his retirement, Smith became an actor, best known as Hightower from the hilarious Police Academy movie series.
Eric LeGrand – Rutgers
Eric LeGrand didn’t get the chance to play professionally; his career started off as a defensive tackle for the Rutgers, a college team. On October 16, 2010, at a game against the Army Black Knights, LeGrand collided with ball carrier, Malcolm Brown. Many minutes passed as he lay motionless on the field, without the ability to even move his head. Doctors concluded that he sustained a severe spinal cord injury and LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down. There was nothing they could do.
Cam Neely – Boston Bruins
The mighty “Bam-Bam Cam” is remembered for his devastating body checks and fists, oh yeah, also for his goal scoring capabilities. After suffering two disastrous knee injuries, the Hall of Famer developed myositis ossificans (a small but agonizing bone growth within the muscle) in the injured area. Sidelined for all but 22 games of the next two seasons, Cam would go on to play 162 more games but it didn’t take long for him to officially retired, citing reoccurring knee troubles.
Kevin Everett – Buffalo Bills
After just two seasons, former tight end Kevin Everett’s career was over when he suffered a spinal cord injury while tackling Broncos kickoff returner Domenik Hixon. Doctors said his injuries were life threatening, as he had a fracture and dislocation of his cervical spine. They went on to say his injury would cause permanent neurological impairment, but two days later, he gained slight feeling and power back in his legs. With hard work and physiotherapy, at the Ralph Wilson Stadium Everett walked again in public for the first time, just three months after doctors said the odds of him walking again were near impossible.
Doc Powers – Philadelphia Athletics
While Doc was playing at Norte Dame, he also became a licensed physician, explaining the nickname. In 1909, Powers would became the first Major League player to suffer an on-field injury that led to his death. At Philadelphia’s Shibe Park during the first game that season, Doc crashed into a wall while chasing a foul pop-up. The collision lead to severe internal injuries and two weeks later, he died from post-surgery infections.
Pat LaFontaine – New York Rangers
Pat LaFontaine’s 15 year career was epic, until 1997 when he sustained a concussion from a hit thrown by Penguins Francois Leroux. Doctors diagnosed him with post-concussion syndrome and told him to immediately retire. However LaFontaine was especially stubborn and he switched to play for the Rangers who held no skepticism with his playing. He would play one final season before suffering another collision with a teammate, causing another concussion. After this, he retired for good.
Jeff Beukeboom – Edmonton Oilers
Throughout Jeff Beukeboom’s 15 year career, he racked up three Stanley Cups and is easily remembered as a hard-hitting defenceman. Beukeboom probably could have carried on playing, extending his legendary legacy, until a sucker punch from Kings Matt Johnson hindered his career. He attempted to step back on the ice but was hounded by severe headaches, nausea, confusion, and memory loss. Beukeboom was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome (a condition he still suffers from) and forced into retirement. Currently, he’s the assistant coach for the New York Rangers.
Darryl Stingley – New England Patriots
Stingley played his four year career with the New England Patriots, racking up 110 receptions, 883 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. At a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders in 1978, Stingley was hit by defensive back Jack Tatum. Stingley’s helmet connected with Tatum’s shoulder pad, which compressed his spinal cord and broke his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. He would evtually regain limited movement in his right arm, but lived the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. This incident became a symbol of violence in football and was a wake up call for the NFL to change its rules to downsize aggressive plays. In 2007, tragically Stingley passed away from heart disease and pneumonia complications, commonly found in those suffering from quadriplegia.
Chris Spielman – Cleveland Browns
Chris Spielman is especially known for his kindness and talent. Many have said he’s an underrated linebacker, considering he captained the Lions’ defense to one of the best statistically in the mid 90s. While with the Buffalo Bills in 1997, Spielman sustained a neck injury requiring spinal surgery, he would miss most of the season. During the 1998 season however, he chose to miss the entire season to help his wife, who was battling cancer at the time. In 1999, he came back with the Browns but suffered another neck injury, forcing him to officially retire. Currently, he’s a sports broadcaster.
Scott Stevens – New Jersey Devils
You’ve got the perfect recipe for success with Scott Stevens – the defensive master who earned three Stanley Cup Finals wins and a Conn Smythe Trophy. This Hockey Hall of Famer was a force out on the ice and everyone knew his body checks were like getting hit by thunder. After a slapshot hit his head, he sustained post-concussion syndrome and was forced to retire. Currently he is the assistant to head coach Bruce Boudreau at Minnesota Wild.
Steve Moore – Colorado Avalanche
Any NHL fan will remember “The Bertuzzi incident”. During a Vancouver-Colorado game, Canucks player Todd Bertuzzi couldn’t get Moore to fight so he retaliated. He skated after Moore and punched him in the back of the head, falling on top of him. Simultaneously, as a result of the fight, Andrei Nikolishin and Sean Pronger also fell on top of Moore. The combo of the hit, fall, and piling-on caused Moore to suffer from three fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts and a concussion. Moore never played again.
Keith Primeau – Philadelphia Flyers
In case you didn’t know it, from 1990 to 2006, Keith Primeau dominated the ice. With the Flyers, he scored the game winning goal in the ~longest~ game to ever occur in modern NHL playoff history. As team captain, he led the team in goals and tied his career high in points (73) during the 2000–01 season. Primeau was also not a stranger to injuries, as he suffered many head injuries before the fatal blow. Just nine games into the 2005–06 season, he suffered a severe concussion, was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and retired within days.
Trent McCleary – Montreal Canadiens
In 2000, during a game against the Flyers, Trent McCleary dropped to the ice as he attempted to block a slapshot from Chris Therien but was instead struck in the throat. Unable to breathe, McCleary hurried to the bench and collapsed. He suffered a fracture to his larynx and had a collapsed lung. Doctors performed an emergency tracheotomy, where he remained in full equipment as hospital staff didn’t have time to even remove his skates. McCleary attempted to come back but his air passage was 15% more narrow, forcing his retirement.
Robert Edwards – New England Patriots
Edwards was drafted in the 1998 first round by the New England Patriots and that season, he would rush a whopping 1,115 yards before his “freak accident” came about. He blew out his knee during the NFL rookie flag football game during Pro Bowl week in Hawaii. Doctors said he was insanely close to having his leg amputated below the knee and that he might not walk again.
Andrew Bynum – Los Angeles Lakers
As far rookie seasons go, Bynum’s was filled with promised, going upwards and on-wards, until the 2007–08 season rolled around. At a a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Bynum partially dislocated his left kneecap after he landed awkwardly on fellow teammate Lamar Odom’s left foot after an attempt to grab a rebound. He missed the next 32 games and re-injured the same knee the following year, missing the start of the next season. To this day, he still suffers from knee troubles.
Alvin Williams – Toronto Raptors
Williams was drafted in the second round of the 1997 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. The following year, he joined the Raptors, and for two straight seasons, he appeared in all 82 games. Suddenly after a severe knee injury, he missed a third of the 2003-04 and the entire 2004-05 season. Eventually he re-joined the lineup of the 2005-06 season but was back on the injured list after just one game.
Mack Strong – Seattle Seahawks
Strong’s entire 15 year career was with the Seattle Seahawks; in this time, he was chosen as an Associated Press All-Pro and is considered one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL. During the 2007 season against the Steelers, Strong sustained a herniated disk in his neck, causing serious trauma to his spinal cord. Doctors informed him that if he were to retire immediately, the injury would not lead to paralysis. Therefore he retired, and is now a football sportscaster for Root Sports Northwest.
Baron Davis – New York Knicks
In 2012, Davis and the Knicks made it to the playoffs, facing off against eventual champs, Miami Heat. However in Game 4, Davis grabbed a rebound and marched up the court, that’s when it went wrong. As he started to take a shot, extending his arms, his knee buckled and suddenly, he was on the floor. At first glance, the fall doesn’t so bad until you look at the replay. His knee buckles inward while his foot stays planted on the court – ouch.
Bill Walton – Boston Celtics
Long before Walton joined the NBA, he was known in the industry for being a powerful player, part of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins dream team. During his NBA career, he earned the Most Valuable Player award and two NBA championships. Inducted to both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1993, he’s a legend. Although his entire professional career was restricted with many foot injuries, not even reconstructive surgeries were enough to bring him to winning form.
Daunte Culpepper – Minnesota Vikings
Daunte Culpepper’s breakout season as a quarterback was one of the the greatest ever seen. Per contra in 2005, Culpepper suffered a gruesome knee injury during a game against the Panthers. He had damaged three of four major ligaments in the knee and was placed on IR. A year later though, he was drafted to the Dolphins during his attempted comeback but he just couldn’t shake off his injury.
Brandon Roy – Minnesota Timberwolves
Spanning five seasons, Roy racked up NBA Rookie of the Year Award, while playing the most minutes of any Western Conference player, and tied for most points in the West in the 2008 season. However, after a degenerative knee condition, he was compelled to retire. He did make a comeback in 2012, playing for just five games, and had to re-retire.
Bo Jackson – Oakland Raiders
Bo Jackson is only one of a few athletes to be named All-Star in TWO major sports, baseball and football. To this day, he is still considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. After he sustained an NFL injury in 1991 to his hip, that was it. Jackson was diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the hip joint and lost all of the cartilage supporting his hip, which forced him into early retirement.
Clayton Weishuhn – New England Patriots
Although Weishuhn played two years in the NFL, he still holds the Patriots’ single season record for the most tackles. His staggering 229-tackle campaign resulted in his second season, which was also the last full season he’d ever play. During week one of the 1984 season, he suffered a gruesome knee injury. His knee problems lingered for so long that he would also miss the 1985 season. After suffering a groin and hamstring injury, he played just four games in the 1986 season, his last in the league.
Joe Theismann – Washington Redskins
As quarterback, Theismann racked up a long list of accolades, from Super Bowl champ (XVII), NFL Man of the Year, NFL MVP, 2× Pro Bowl champ, and so on. Perhaps though, he’s best remembered for his crushing career ending injury, voted the NFL’s “Most Shocking Moment in History.” The Washington Post even named the tackle forcing him to retire as “The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget.” On November 18, 1985, the Redskins played the New York Giants when Theismann was sacked by Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. This forceful hit caused a comminuted compound fracture of his leg and during his recovery, there was insufficient bone growth. This caused Theismann’s right leg to become shorter than the other, forcing him to retire at just age 36.
Tony Conigliaro – Boston Red Sox
At 22, Tony Conigliaro achieved a milestone as the youngest home run champ in American League history – he earned a career total of 100 home runs. In 1967, during a game against the California Angels, Conigliaro was hit directly on his left cheekbone by a pitch from Jack Hamilton. As you can clearly see, he suffered a linear fracture of the left cheekbone, a dislocated jaw, and severe damage to his left retina. A year and a half later, he would return to the pitch, earning Comeback Player of the Year, but he was forced to retire as his eyesight had been permanently damaged.
Andrew Bogut – Milwaukee Bucks
This injury is one quite literally heard round the world. At a 2010 game against the Suns, Bucks center Andrew Bogut went up for a dunk in the second quarter, which may sound normal but here’s the catch. As soon as Bogut landed on the court, EVERYONE knew it was devastating. Announcers cried, “Oh no,” over and over, the entire stadium was ushered into silence and disbelief, and for those at home, all you could hear over the telecast was Bogut screaming out in agonizing pain. The way he landed on the court lead to a bone crunching break as he suffered a broken hand, sprained wrist, and dislocated elbow.