Athletes Who Were Tragically Injured During The Height Of Their Careers

Highly paid athletes are typically willing to put themselves through punishing ordeals to entertain and excite us. Unfortunately, the body has its limits, and hair-raising injuries are all too common in most sports.

While it is expected that some players will sit out a few games due to accidents, in a few famous cases a small slip-up, an awkward collision, or a bad fall has ended an athlete's entire career. Bad sports injuries come in all shapes and sizes — and range from the heart-breaking to the grotesque. Many mighty athletes have been felled by a simple twist of a knee or a fractured foot. In extreme cases, spinal injuries and blows to the head have sometimes resulted in devastating tragedies, which have affected players' entire lives well beyond the stadium grounds.

From baseball players to boxers, these stars were never played quite as well again, or else bowed out of sports completely. Some rose to the challenge and carried on with their lives, while others struggled. Discover who lost their jobs, their talents, and their fortunes, thanks to broken bones and worse.

Tony Saunders

Tony Saunders, known for his bizarre broken arm, was a talented pitcher with an incredibly short run in the majors. His back-to-back career-ending injuries are among the most famous in baseball, not least because his initial arm break made a sickening crack that shocked the crowd (via the Chicago Tribune).

The Society for American Baseball Research recounts that while Saunders was never a strong batter, at his best he achieved an impressive strike record, achieving 102 strikeouts in 1997 for the Florida Marlins — a total that placed him among the best of the bunch. After showing great talent as a pitcher for the Marlins from 1992 to 1997, Saunders switched teams to join the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, during their expansion. Unfortunately, his shaky career with the Devil Rays would be shockingly brief. In May 1999, while pitching the ball, his humerus cracked during the delivery and he had to be carried away on a stretcher. The famously loud and completely unexpected self-inflicted break is legendary today for echoing through the crowd. The Devil Rays' manager recalled that "You could hear (the break) in the dugout ... "

Stranger still, after returning to the game in 2000, Saunders immediately broke his arm again in the exact same way. Speaking with the Tampa Bay Times, his perplexed doctors remarked that although the old break had completely healed, Saunders managed to cause a brand new break that resembled the old one and ran alongside it. Saunders retired from baseball for the second time in 15 months and took up coaching instead.

Kevin Everett

Buffalo Bills football star Kevin Everett had a catastrophic accident in 2007, which was among the worst in recent sporting history, as described by Scientific American. At the age of just 26, Everett's career came to an end, in a terrible accident that almost destroyed his entire body.

Everett was playing the Denver Broncos when he ran into another player, smacking his helmet against theirs, and the force of the impact sent shockwaves down Everett's spine, brutally crushing his vertebrae. Completely unable to move, Everett was paralyzed from the neck down. The Buffalo Bills' official site reports that the Bronco who crashed into him was also devastated when he heard the accident had changed Everett's life forever.

Thankfully, although Everett's spinal cord almost snapped, the use of a pioneering medical treatment gave him the use of his body back. Extremely cold ice water was used to cool his nervous system down in order to get it to recover. After a series of treatments as well as major surgery, Everett regained the use of his legs and was able to walk again. Today, he still has limited sensation in his hands, and he still mourns being unable to play the game that he loves.

Gerald McClellan

Once the world middleweight boxing champion, Gerald McClellan's lightning-fast rise to prominence ended abruptly after he sustained horrific injuries to his face and head. The American boxer's heart-breaking story is a harrowing reminder of the brutality of the sport.

According to the Chicago Tribune, McClellan had 20 first-round knockouts to his name by the time he entered his final fight in 1995. Known as a mini-Mike Tyson, McClellan went up against British boxer Nigel Benn in an attempt to move up a class to the super-middleweight division (via the Irish Examiner). But it was not to be: The ten-round bout put McClellan in a week-long coma and debilitated him for life. The fight itself has been heavily criticized ever since for various reasons. Some say Benn was on drugs. Others that the referee messed up.

Although a round of emergency surgery was able to save Mclellan from certain death when a blood clot was removed, the surgeon could do nothing to prevent the unfortunate boxer from becoming permanently disabled. McClellan was left with such serious brain damage he is no longer able to look after himself. Now completely blind, and almost completely deaf, his sister has stuck by his side ever since the fight to act as his carer. Today the pair are totally dependent on disability benefits and charitable donations.

Bo Jackson

The extremely charming and scarily talented all-rounder, Bo Jackson, had a devastatingly short career that was still incredible enough to give him a legendary reputation. Today the sports world has never quite gotten over the loss of Jackson, whose abilities were almost unmatched.

According to ESPN, Jackson's stunning ability was already obvious in high school, and he was almost signed to the New York Yankees at an extremely young age — however, he chose to play college football instead. After college, in 1986, he started playing Major League Baseball, but he didn't give up on football — one year later, he started a contract with the Los Angeles Raiders as well. He was the first person to ever play both professional football and baseball at the same time at such a high level.

Riding on a high from many successful matches and plenty of lucrative endorsements, just four years into his football career he was subject to a violent tackle that ended it all. ABC News Cincinnati recounts that while playing the Cincinnati Bengals in 1991, Jackson's hip was injured so badly that it eventually needed replacing. His doctors diagnosed him with avascular necrosis, a degenerative condition that can wear away a joint till it becomes totally useless (via Los Angeles Times). He never played football again, and his baseball career limped on for just three more years before he retired.

Bobby Orr

Sometimes hailed as the greatest hockey player to ever grace the rink, Bobby Orr's illustrious career was sadly cut short by a trick knee (via the National Post). Orr had a veritable tower of trophies to his name, including two Stanley cups he won while playing for the Boston Bruins. However, once his knee pain started, it was game over.

According to the National Hockey League, if Orr were playing today instead of the '60s, when the accident occurred, his knee would have probably been saved thanks to considerable advances in keyhole surgery. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Orr recalled that his left knee was crushed against the boards by an opposing player, and was never quite the same again.

Orr went through an incredible amount of anguish and at least 17 knee operations in an attempt to save his career. In interviews, he has sometimes blamed himself for his crippling injuries, stating that the way he held his stick left his legs vulnerable to clobberings. On multiple occasions, when doctors went in to clean up his knees, they found evidence of these clobberings in the form of lumps of broken bone. Finally, at just 30 years of age, he hung up his hockey stick for good, leaving fans devastated. Today he is enjoying his retirement with two brand-new artificial knees.

Yao Ming

The most famous basketball player to come out of China, Yao Ming stormed the courts as a member of the Houston Rockets for a few short years, before repeated injuries forced him to pack it in (via Sports Illustrated). As reported by AFP (via France24), Ming was so skilled at the game he helped to popularize American basketball at home in China for a brief time. Tall even for a basketball player, Ming towered over his teammates at an incredible 7 feet 6 inches and dominated the game for much of his career in the NBA.

Before long, however, Ming wound up injured. In 2016, he told ESPN that after he did serious damage to his toe, his injuries multiplied. He began to miss games, and a particularly nasty recurring fracture in his left ankle eventually crippled him. Ming quit for good in 2010, at the age of just 30. Despite his short run, Ming still made it into the NBA hall of fame. Today he lives quietly in China, where interest in the NBA has once again waned.

David Busst

In 1996, Coventry City defender David Busst had just begun to build his reputation as a solid midfielder when he was involved in what was one of the worst accidents in soccer history (via The Guardian). According to Coventry Live, Busst began playing for the English Premier League club in 1992 and was a popular fan favorite, until he went up against soccer titans Manchester United.

In the first minute of the game, two Manchester players crashed into Busst from different directions, contorting his leg at a bizarre angle, and gruesomely spurting blood across the grass. While leg injuries are common in all sports, Busst's accident was unusually grotesque.

According to The Independent, Busst was lucky not to lose his entire leg after his distended bone was left pointing through his skin. Today, Busst's bone is still just visible under his skin, his leg having been cut to shreds during almost a year of reconstructive plastic surgery. His tendons were so badly damaged he never played again, and today he still walks with a limp.

Tony Conigliaro

Tony Conigliaro was a 1960s baseball star who shot to fame at a young age as a top-tier batter for the Red Sox (via the Bleacher Report). Conigliaro gained considerable notoriety as the youngest person ever to hit 100 career home runs — but his moment in the sun was all too brief. He began his career in the majors in 1964, but just three years later, in 1967, he took a devastating smack to the face from a poorly aimed ball.

While playing a home game against the California Angels, pitcher Jack Hamilton hit Conigliaro square in the face, striking him across his left cheek. In Conigliaro's memoir, "Seeing it Through," the player recounts that he not only instantly lost his eyesight, his mouth also swelled up so much that he struggled to breathe. Panicking and in agony, he was carted off to the hospital for examination. Thankfully, Conigliaro did not go completely blind, but his eyes were never the same again. The ball had hit him so hard that his left retina detached, permanently affecting his depth perception.

Incredibly, Conigliaro's injury did not prevent him from making a brief comeback from 1969 to 1970, during which time he retained a remarkably impressive batting average. But nothing could prevent his eyesight from steadily growing worse. Speaking with The New York Times in 1971, he lamented, "I just can't see the ball ... I've been getting headaches and my nerves are ready to crack ... " Conigliaro retired for good that year and sadly died at the young age of 45 after suffering a massive stroke. Today his bravery is commemorated through the Tony Conigliaro award, offered to athletes who struggle through adversity to keep on playing.

Mike Bossy

Canadian superstar Mike "the Boss" Bossy was one of hockey's greatest goal-scorers in the 1980s. While playing for the New York Islanders, he won four Stanley cups and broke records by scoring 50 goals in 50 games (via Sportsnet). As an international player, he also took Canada to victory against Sweden in 1984. To cap it all off, he was also just an extremely nice person that fans loved to love: The Washington Post notes that he was unusually quiet and humble for a megastar, and totally devoted to his wife when not at work. His vast but gentle presence was sorely missed when he was forced to retire early.

Bossy's weak back, as well as his knees, became a major problem in the final years of his career. In an interview with The New York Times, Bossy told reporters that he used to play in agony, determined to hold on to his job for just a little while longer. Despite extensive physical therapy, his last two years on the ice proved to be a major struggle. At 30 years of age, he finally hung up his skates, and hockey fans everywhere mourned his loss.

Darryl Stingley

Darryl Stingley was a talented wide receiver for the New England Patriots in the 1970s (via the Bleacher Report). Nick-named "The Stinger," Stingley's performance got better and better within a few short years, and by 1978 he had been offered one of the most lucrative contracts in football. Sadly, that same year, he was crippled for life in one of the NFL's worst-ever accidents.

Stingley's neck was broken during play, when the notoriously aggressive Las Vegas Raiders player Jack Tatum crashed into him. After being knocked unconscious, Stingley spent three whole months in hospital under the watchful eye of his doctors, but they could not repair the damage. Stingley's vertebrae were so badly crushed during the collision that he never walked again. According to The New York Times, the accident was so shocking at the time that the NFL changed its rules to make the game safer. Shockingly Tatum never apologized for paralyzing Stingley, and he even continued to boast about his savage style of play.

Stingley, on the other hand, remained remarkably positive after his accident and continued to work with the Patriots in a consulting role. Although he would eventually regain the use of his hands, Stingley died quite young due to complications from his accident, aged just 55.

Brandon Roy

NBA newbie Brandon Roy was a rising star in the NBA in the 2000s. Right from the off, Roy showed real talent playing for the Portland Trailblazers. He scored a record-breaking 52 points in one game and looked set to be the next big thing in basketball (via Oregon Live). But Roy was suffering from a rare degenerative knee condition which ended up putting the breaks on his career for good.

According to the Bleacher Report, Roy was rookie of the year in 2006, but was already sitting out games by 2008 thanks to his bad knees. Knee injuries are something of an inevitability in sports, but Roy's case was particularly bad. Saddled with a particularly nasty form of degenerative arthritis, Roy was warned his knees were reaching the end of their useability at just 26 years of age.

Like many serious sports stars, basketball was Roy's life, so he attempted to make a comeback despite the concerns of his doctors. CBS Sports reports that Roy signed with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves for $10 million, but only managed to play five games. His knees suffered once again, and the Timberwolves immediately removed him from the team.