Athletes' Tragic Final Texts Before They Died

A text message is a tiny bit of data, an instantaneous and necessarily brief and direct form of communication. Billions of texts invisibly fly around the world every day with such regularity and normalcy that it's easy to take them, and the technology that makes them possible, for granted. But they can be quite poignant — a text message is a written document of a random, fleeting moment. And if tragedy strikes, or death arrives, an ordinary text message can serve as a human being's preserved last words, or one of their last interactions with another person.

Texts can be special, and final ones can be seen as especially meaningful, particularly if they're delivered by famous people. Many famous athletes who lived and died during the age of texting left behind something just before they expired — haunting last words of celebrities for their loved ones and fans of their athletic prowess and accomplishment. Here are the tragically final texts sent by elite sportspeople.

Steve McNair

When the Houston Oilers moved to Nashville in the late 1990s, it became one of the few sports teams to ever change names, rebranding as the Tennessee Titans. Young quarterback Steve McNair became the new team's first superstar. In 1999, he directed the team to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl appearance. Four years later, the Associated Press would name him the NFL's Most Valuable Player. McNair retired in 2007 after a stint with the Baltimore Ravens, but he returned to Nashville.

On July 4, 2009, McNair's deceased body, shot several times, was discovered in a Nashville rental condominium. Next to him, and also dead: Sahel Kazemi, laying near a pistol. Police concluded that the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide. McNair, 36 and married, and the 20-year-old Kazemi had been a couple for several months, having met while she was working as a server at a Nashville Dave & Buster's. Kazemi's former partner, Keith Norfleet, claimed that the relationship was in its final stages and that she was in a state of stress and anxiety over the affair. 

In October 2009, Nashville police made McNair and Kazemi's text exchanges public information. On July 3, Kazemi told McNair that she feared a mental breakdown over financial worries, and asked for money to pay off some bills. McNair set up a funds transfer, and then arranged, via text, a meeting at the condominium. He told her he'd meet her there, and asked that she leave the door open.

Tyler Skaggs

A first-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2009 draft, pitcher Tyler Skaggs made it to the major leagues for parts of two seasons in 2012 and 2013 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, before the Angels reacquired him and put him in its starting rotation in 2016. Over seven seasons, he'd pitch in 96 games but found momentum in 2019, amassing a 7-7 record.

On July 1, 2019, Skaggs, in Arlington, Texas, for a series against the Texas Rangers, was discovered dead in his hotel room. A medical examiner would later rule that the 27-year-old died from choking on vomit triggered by an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl, although he also was found to have oxycodone and alcohol in his body. In 2022, ex-Los Angeles Angels communications director Eric Kay was sentenced to 22 years in prison for supplying the drugs that killed Skaggs. 

Following a rough pitching outing on June 29, 2019, Skaggs sent a text to Kay, according to court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, asking for something to deal with his pain, possibly still lingering from an ankle sprain the previous spring. On June 30, while Skaggs was suited up for a game in Los Angeles, the conversation picked back up, with Kay told by Skaggs, "Don't need many." Hours later, the team flew to Texas, and upon checking into his hotel, Skaggs texted his room number to Kay, asking, "Come by."

Roy Halladay

Over a 16-year career, split between the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay generated numbers that would one day land him in the National Baseball of Fame. An eight-time all-star and two-time Cy Young Award winner, Halladay pitched rare feats like three 20-win seasons, more than 2,000 strikeouts, and an expertly low earned run average of 3.38.

On November 7, 2017, Halladay declined a lunch date offer from his wife, Brandy. Instead, he decided to take his plane for a short flight, and then he regretted it. "I'm so sorry. I feel like you're upset with me. I should've just gone with you," Halladay texted, according to "Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay" (via the Toronto Star). Brandy Halladay told the retired athlete that she wasn't angry, "just disappointed that you couldn't just go with me." Halladay then got into his plane, and mid-flight texted his wife to let her know that he'd meet her soon at their child's school for a recital. Minutes later, Halladay lost control of his aircraft while flying too low, and the plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. In one of the saddest tragedies to befall a legendary baseball star, Halladay didn't survive the accident; he was 40 years old.

Shane Warne

Shane Warne was such a beloved and respected player of test cricket (when top-level international squads square off over several days) that when he died of natural causes in 2022 at the age of 52, his home country of Australia's government honored him with an official state funeral at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Few matched what Warne accomplished over a cricket career that lasted from 1992 to 2007, including numerous records for hits and points.

In 2007, Warne made headlines over the dissolution of his marriage, and wishing to respond to certain allegations, contacted a Melbourne, Australia, station where entertainment reporter Peter Ford worked. Warne asked for and received Ford's number and texted him a statement, beginning a purely text-based conversation that would last for more than 15 years. Just before his death, Warne sent a thoughtful text to Ford. "He'd read a tweet that I'd done about my dog dying, and he contacted me and said 'how you going' and that's why it became all the more impossible to believe when I got that news in the middle of the night," Ford told 2GB Sydney.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant joined the NBA at age 18 and would go on to win two scoring titles, be named to 18 All-Star teams, win an MVP award, and amass five championships, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. Upon his retirement in 2016, Bryant sat at number three on the NBA's all-time most-points-scored list. Less than four years later, Bryant would factor into the tragic history of the Lakers, dying at age 41.

Before he became the general manager of the Lakers, Rob Pelinka was Bryant's agent and friend, and he spoke at Bryant's public memorial service at Staples Center in February 2020. Pelinka told mourners that he'd had a text message conversation with Bryant, after the latter boarded a helicopter with his daughter and her basketball team, on January 26, 2020. 

The athlete asked the executive to help him find a baseball-focused agent on behalf of a friend's daughter. "I grabbed my phone and text Kobe back that I had seen the baseball agent at a Lakers game just the other night and was happy to help him with whatever he wanted," Pelinka said (via US Weekly). "Kobe texted back explaining his desire to help a friend of his secure a baseball agency internship for one of his young daughters. Kobe vouched for the girl's character, intellect and work ethic. He clearly wanted to champion a bright future for her." Pelinka promised to reach out, and moments later, the helicopter crashed, killing everyone onboard.

Chris Benoit

In the 1980s, wrestler Chris Benoit competed around Montreal and Calgary and then jumped to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where, as masked fighter The Pegasus Kid, he won a light-heavyweight title. He moved into the U.S. wrestling circuit in the 1990s, participating in Extreme Championship Wrestling and the made-for-cable-TV World Championship Wrestling, where he became the promotion's champion in 2000. Professional disputes led Benoit to jump to the World Wrestling Entertainment, where he'd claim the 2004 heavyweight title.

Over a three-day period in June 2007, the wrestler died under suspicious circumstances — Benoit, 40, presumably killed his wife, his son, and himself. Depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of brain damage suffered after repeatedly enduring concussions in wrestling matches, likely led to Benoit's decision to commit such violent acts. The last person that Benoit connected with was his friend and fellow professional wrestler Chavo Guerrero. "I think that he texted me after everything happened, after everything went down," Guerrero said on "Insight with Chris Van Vliet," meaning the murders of Benoit's wife and son. "He was texting me going, 'this is how you can find me,'" he added, believing that Benoit was preparing and alerting him to the eventual discovery of the bodies of himself and his family. "I think he texted me probably right before he committed suicide."

Madison Holleran

At Northern Highlands Regional High School, Madison Holleran was a standout in two sports. A leader on the track team as a middle-distance runner, she also played center-midfield for her New Jersey school's soccer team, leading it to two state titles. Recruited by storied programs at Lehigh University and Harvard University, Holleran opted to attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, enrolling in the fall of 2013.

While Christmas shopping in downtown Philadelphia in the early evening of January 17, 2014, Holleran sent a text to a friend who had been trying to get in touch with her for a while. "I just got back from a run. Whatcha doing?" Holleran wrote (according to Philadelphia Magazine). Then she took a photo of Rittenhouse Square for Instagram, ran into an acquaintance, and said she was on her way to meet friends for dinner. Instead, Holleran walked to a high-rise parking garage where she died by suicide, at age 19.

Ray Emery

Hamilton, Ontario-born hockey goaltender Ray Emery suited up for his first NHL games in the 2002-2003 season for the Ottawa Senators. Until 2016, he'd bounce around different minor leagues and various NHL teams, keeping goal for the Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers. For the 2012-2013 season, Emery was awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy, as he led his team to a league-leading goal defense.

In the early morning of July 15, 2018, Emery and some friends took a boat out to Hamilton Harbour in Lake Ontario. The water-experienced Emery decided to take a vigorous swim. Physically compromised, having not slept the night before after participating in his first hockey match in more than a year, Emery never resurfaced, and his body was found that afternoon. Emery was 35 years old. The previous evening, before his game, a charity match organized by one of the NHL teams, the Philadelphia Flyers, Emery sent a group text to his family, linking to an Instagram post announcing the game. "Wish me luck," Emery wrote (according to The Athletic). "Hope I don't pop a hip."

Kosta Karageorge

Being a talented athlete in multiple sports is rare, but Kosta Karageorge was just that. He spent three years in Ohio State University's wrestling team before switching pursuits in his senior year, trying out for and making the varsity football team in 2014, when the Buckeyes were one of the top-ranked squads in the nation. Karageorge served on the team's defensive line for just part of one season.

Karageorge's body was found in a waste receptacle near his Columbus, Ohio, apartment on November 30, 2014. Authorities determined he died by suicide because a pistol lay near the body, and Karageorge's final texts indicated suicidal ideation. Karageorge was reported missing on November 26, after sending his former girlfriend a text message late at night, expressing his love and a need to talk to her. After she requested Karageorge not contact her anymore, he wrote: "I am gonna kill myself" (per NBC News), and suggested his ex-partner not attend his funeral. Immediately after, Karageorge sent multiple texts to his mother, theorizing that the concessions he'd suffered in sports had left him with mental health issues. He signed off after worrying if he was an embarrassment to his family. The college athlete was 22.

Tyler Hilinski

During the highly competitive 2017 college football regular season, Washington State amassed a 9-3 record, cementing third place in the Pac-12 North and a berth in the Holiday Bowl. Backup sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski saw some playing time during that winning season and in the bowl game, filling in for injured starter Luke Falk and making his case to be the team's starting QB upon Falk's graduation.

On January 16, 2018, Hilinski was discovered dead in his apartment in Pullman, Washington. It was later observed that the quarterback showed signs of CTE, the suite of brain damage and mental health issues often caused by repeated sports-related concussions. In the hours before Hilinksi's death, he'd sent a series of texts. He wrote a group message to his football team's wide receivers to remind them about an upcoming off-season workout, and then told his brother that he'd like to set up a time where they could play the video game "Fortnite" together. Hilinksi also texted a former girlfriend, writing: "I'm sorry for everything," according to Sports Illustrated.

Rebecca Lorch

Rebecca Lorch studied theater at Adelphi University, but during her senior year, she broke her leg so severely that doctors warned that her walking could be impeded forever. Lorch threw herself into rehabilitation and discovered a passion for weight training, and by 2015, she was competing in strongman events. Such athletic competitions test feats of strength, like hauling hundreds of pounds worth of weights over a large span, pulling vehicles with a rope, or lifting cars. Lorch quickly rose to the top of the U.S.'s amateur strongman rankings and, in 2020, she won her weight class division in one of her sport's top competitions, America's Strongest Woman.

Amidst serious, career-affecting injuries and a split with her partner, weightlifting coach Alec Pagan, of whom Lorch accused of financial and psychological abuse, the athlete moved in with her mother, Susan Steiner, and stepfather in Connecticut. On December 17, 2022, "She went downhill," Steiner told The New York Times. The next day, Steiner left home to attend a Hanukkah party at her son's house; Lorch said she'd be along shortly, but later sent a text to her mother to let her know she wouldn't be attending. Worried, Steiner texted back and called Lorch, but got no answer. She went home to find the body of her daughter. Lorch, who died by suicide, was 32 years old.

Jon Huber

Combining physical intensity with speed and an emphasis on the psychological aspect of his sport, wrestler Jon Huber competed for several promotions under the names Brodie Lee and Luke Harper (and the nickname "The Exalted One"). A veteran of independent, World Wrestling Entertainment, and NXT circuits, he was a two-time tag team champion and after joining All-Elite Wrestling in 2020, he won that league's inaugural TNT Championship.

On December 26, 2020, Huber, who'd checked into the Mayo Clinic for treatment of a lung problem not related to the then-rampant COVID-19 pandemic, died at age 41. A few days after Huber's death, the wrestler's wife, Amanda Huber, posted to Instagram screenshots of the couple's final text exchange — heartbreakingly mundane, effusive, optimistic, and affectionate. "I love you. Holy f*** do I love you. We're going on vacation after all this and we're gonna do everything we ever wanted. Yolo for real," Huber wrote. To his wife's reply of "I love you," he responded, "How's dinner."