20 Athletes Who Died Way Too Young

When someone lives in the public eye, every aspect of their life is a talking point. When they die, it can attract a lot of media attention. This is especially the case if they die young and unexpectedly as the news shocks their fans. It is even more shocking when the celebrity in question is a professional athlete. This is because people see athletes as young, fit, and healthy people and when they die young, it seems all the more tragic. Sadly, there are many professional athletes who have died young and unexpectedly, either through serious illness or involvement in an accident. Each of their deaths is a loss to their chosen field of sports and they are sadly missed by other athletes, their family, friends, and fans. Here are 20 athletes who died way too young.

20. Antonio Puerta

Antonio Puerto was a Spanish soccer player who was born in Seville on November 26, 1984. He joined Sevilla FC whilst he was still a child and remained with this club throughout his professional career. In total, he was with the club for 14 years. He played mainly in midfield position but sometimes also played in attacking left back position. On August 25, 2007, Puerta was playing in the first La Liga match of the 2007- 2008 campaign. He suddenly lost consciousness and collapsed on the pitch just 35 minutes into the game. His teammates immediately ran to his side. Puerta recovered enough to walk back to the dressing room but he then collapsed for the second time. Doctors at the match resuscitated him and he was taken to the hospital by ambulance and transferred to intensive care. It was discovered that he had suffered multiple cardiac arrests as a result of arrhythmogenic ventricular dysplasia, a hereditary heart condition. This caused multiple organ failures and he died on August 28, 2007, at the age of 22.

19. Dan Snyder

Dan Snyder was a professional ice hockey player who was born in Ontario, Canada, on February 23, 1978. He played for the Atlanta Thrashers in the National Hockey League (NHL) and predominantly played in center. During his career, he played in 49 NHL games. On September 29, 2003, Snyder was a passenger in a Ferrari 360 Modena which was being driven by Dany Heatley, his friend, and teammate. They were involved in a single-vehicle accident in which the car hit both an iron fence and a brick pillar. Both the driver and the passenger were flung from the car. Snyder was badly injured and in a coma following the accident. He never regained consciousness and died of septic shock on October 5, 2003. Heatley pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide and faced a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison. However, Snyder’s parents had forgiven him for the accident and requested he did not face a prison sentence. The judge also felt that it would not benefit the community to send Heatley to prison. Instead, he was sentenced to three years probation and a $25,000 fine. Heatley was also ordered to deliver 150 speeches about the dangers of speeding.

18. Reggie Lewis

Born on November 21, 1965, in Baltimore, Maryland, Reggie Lewis was a professional basketball player. Between 1987 and 1993, he played for the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association. In early 1993, he began to show symptoms of a heart condition. On July 27, 1993, he was playing on the basketball court during an off-season practice when he suffered a cardiac arrest and died. His death was attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition is considered the most common cause of sudden death in young athletes. It was also alleged that he had been using cocaine in the weeks leading up to his death and this may have been a contributing factor.

17. Tim Richmond

Tim Richmond was a racing car driver. He was born in Ashland, Ohio, on June 7, 1955. At the beginning of his career, he competed in IndyCar racing before switching to NASCAR. During eight NASCAR seasons, he had 14 victories and also won the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award in 1980. He is considered one of the top 50 NASCAR drivers of all-time and achieved his top season in 1986 when he was in the third position on points. Richmond first became ill in 1986 when he was diagnosed with double pneumonia. His illness left him too unwell to begin the 1987 NASCAR season. It was later reported that he had tested positive for AIDS, although Richmond himself denied this, and that his compromised immune system could be responsible for him suffering from pneumonia. He continued to race over the next year but was suspended when he tested positive for banned substances. It was later discovered that these were over-the-counter medications and his suspension was lifted. Unfortunately, he then couldn’t find a car to drive. He finally died from com0plications relating to AIDS on August 13, 1989, when he was 34 years of age.

16. Pelle Lindbergh

Pelle Lindbergh was a Swedish professional ice hockey goaltender. He was born in Stockholm on May 24, 1959. During his career, he played parts of five seasons for the Philadelphia Flyers in the National Hockey league. On November 10, 1985, he lost control of his customized Porsche 930 Turbo. He crashed into a wall and suffered critical injuries. His two passengers were also seriously injured in the accident. A few hours later, he was declared brain dead but kept alive on life support until his father arrived from Sweden. His parents gave permission for medics to cease treatment and his organs were harvested for donation. He died on November 11, 1985, at the age of 26.

15. Salvador Sánchez

Salvador Sanchez was a professional boxer who died tragically young. He was born in Santiago Tianguistenco in Mexico on January 26, 1959. He was considered one of the greatest featherweight boxers of all-time as he fought in 46 fights of which he won 44, drew one, and lost only one fight in his whole career. Of the fights he won, 32 were as a result of a knock out. On August 12, 1982, he was driving to a training session in preparation for a fight in the September of that year. He crashed his Porsche 928 sports car and died on impact. He was 23 at the time of his death. In 1991, he was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Also after his death, ‘The Last Fight’ was released in movie theaters. He had appeared as himself in the movie which was dedicated to him on release.

14. Ernie Davis

This professional American football player was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, on December 14, 1939. Although he was initially selected to play for the Washington Redskins in 1961, he was traded to Cleveland Brown the following year. He was a halfback who showed extreme talent and was the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy in 1961. Davis was diagnosed as suffering from leukemia in the summer of 1962 and this cut his career as a professional American football player short. He sadly died of this condition less than a year later on May 18, 1963, when he was just 23 years old.

13. Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig was also known by the nickname ‘The Iron Horse’. He was a baseball first baseman who was born in Manhattan on June 19, 1903. He spent his whole career in baseball playing for the New York Yankees in the Major League Baseball from 1923 to 1939. He was once a Triple Crown winner and he was an All-Star seven consecutive times. Over his career, he had a batting average of .340 and hit 493 home runs. In 1939, he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Gehrig began to notice he was unwell halfway through the 1938 season and at one point even benched himself for the good of his team. In 1939, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This later also became known as Lou Gehrig Syndrome. This is a degenerative and debilitating condition that destroys the central nervous system. Due to his illness, Gehrig was forced to retire from baseball. He finally died from ALS on June 2, 1941, just weeks before his 38th birthday.

12. Malik Sealy

Malik Sealy was a professional basketball player who was born on February 1, 1970, in The Bronx, New York. During his eight-year career, he played for the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Sealy was also keen to establish an acting career and had a role in the 1996 film ‘Eddie’ starring Whoopi Goldberg. He also made a few small appearances on television. On May 20, 2000, he was driving home from the birthday party of Kevin Garnett, who was his friend and teammate at the Minnesota Timberwolves. A pickup truck was driving in the wrong direction on the highway and hit Malik Sealy’s vehicle head-on. The other driver, who had been drinking prior to the accident, suffered head and chest injuries. Sadly, Sealy was killed in this tragic accident. The other driver was given a four-year prison term as he was charged with vehicular manslaughter.

11. Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez was born in Bristol, Connecticut, on November 6, 1989. He was a professional American football tight end for the National Football League. He played for the New England Patriots for three seasons and had the potential for a very successful career. However, his career was cut short when he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée. He was found guilty of the murder in 2015 and was given a sentence of life imprisonment. While he was on trial, he was also indicted for the double homicide of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu in 2012. Although he was acquitted of the double homicide, he was found dead in his cell on April 19, 2017. His death at the age of 27 was ruled a suicide.

10. Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente was a professional baseball right fielder who played for the Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons. He was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, on August 18, 1934. He won many awards throughout his career in sports and is often considered one of the most talented baseball players of all-time. On December 23, 1972, Nicaragua was affected by a massive earthquake that left behind devastation. Clemente wanted to help the people of Nicaragua who were suffering and offered to fly out to the country to do all he could to help. The plane in which he flew had a history of mechanical problems and it crashed off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, into the Atlantic Ocean on December 31, 1972. His body was never recovered.

9. Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine was a middle and long-distance runner who was known by the nickname ‘Pre’. He was born in Coos Bay, Oregon, on May 30, 1951, and became one of the most successful athletes of his era. At one time, he held the record for seven different track events, including the 2,000 meters and the 10,000 meters. He also famously competed in the 1972 Olympics. Sadly, the career of this talented man was cut tragically short. On May 29, 1975, Prefontaine took part in an event against the Finnish and then agreed to attend a party with the other athletes. On his way to the party, he swerved into a brick wall in his orange MGB convertible. The car flipped and Prefontaine was trapped beneath it. He was pronounced dead at the scene by medics.

8. Thurman Munson

Thurman Munson was a Major League Baseball catcher who was born in Ohio on June 7, 1947. His career as a professional baseball player spanned 11 years and he spent the whole of this playing for the New York Yankees. He own multiple awards throughout his career in recognition of his talent and the contributions he made to the success of his team. Off the pitch, he was learning how to fly and had been flying for over a year by the summer of 1979. He had even bought a Cessna Citation I/SP so that he could fly to Canton to see his family when he was not training or playing. On August 2, 1979, he was at Akron-Canton Regional Airport practising his take-offs and landings. On his fourth landing of the day, he misjudged a manoeuvre and caused the plane to clip a tree close to the runway. It then hit a tree stump and burst into flames killing Munson, his flight instructor Dave Hall, and his friend Jerry Anderson who was a passenger. Munson was 32 when he died.

7. Len Bias

Leonard Kevin Bias is often considered by sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all-time to have not played at a professional level. He was born in Maryland on November 18, 1963. While at the University of Maryland, he was a first-team All-American college basketball forward. He showed real promise to have a career in this sport and was selected by the Boston Celtics in the NBA draft in June 1986. Sadly, he never got to play for this team at a professional level, so he never reached his dreams. On June 19, 1986, just days after his selection, he died of an accidental cocaine overdose. He was just 22 at the time of his death.

6. Hank Gathers

Hank Gathers is another athlete who was an up-and-coming star in his chosen field, which was basketball. Gathers was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 1967. He originally played in the college basketball team for the University of California but switched after a year to Loyola Marymount University. It was widely believed that he would soon be selected by a team to play professionally as he was one of the most talented basketball players of the time. However, this was something that he never achieved as he died suddenly on March 4, 1990, when he was just 23. He had been diagnosed with a heart condition after collapsing on the court a few months earlier. He was prescribed medication but decided to reduce the dosage against medical advice as he felt it was affecting the way he played. He died while playing in a match against the Portland Pilots.

5. Drazen Petrovic

Drazen Petrovic was born in Croatia on October 22, 1964. He was a professional basketball player who played the position of shooting guard for several teams across Europe during the 1980s. In 1989, he joined the National Basketball Association. He is also a medal-winning Olympian who has won one bronze and two silver medals at the Olympics. He also won a gold and a bronze in the FIBA World Cup. Petrovic represented the national teams of both Croatia and Yugoslavia. This player is considered influential in the influx of European players playing for the NBA. Drazen Petrovic was tragically killed on June 7, 1993, when he was 27 years of age when he was involved in a road accident. He was a passenger in a car that was hit by a truck in Denkendorf, Bavaria, Germany.

4. Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman was born in California on November 6, 1976. He was a professional American football player in the National Football League and played for the Arizona Cardinals between 1998 and 2001. He decided to retire from his sports career and enlisted in the United States Army after the September 11 attacks in the United States. He was a member of the Army Rangers and served several tours in combat. While in Khost Province in Afghanistan, he was shot by friendly fire in the mountains. He died on April 22, 2004, when he was 27. There was controversy surrounding his death as the army initially blamed enemy fire before admitting that is was actually friendly fire that had caused his untimely death.

3. Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor was a professional American football player. He was born in Miami, Florida, on April 1, 1983. He played as a free safety for the Washington Redskins of the NFL and was well-known for his ferocious hits which earned him the nickname ‘Meast’. This nickname is an expression meaning half man, half beast. While at home in the Miami area on November 27, 2007, intruders entered his home. The intruders shot Taylor and he died form his injuries. When he died, he was just 24 years old. He was honoured at the 2008 Pro Bowl by his teammates Chris Cooley, Chris Samuels, and Ethan Albright who all wore his number 21 shirts rather than their own numbers. His death led to an outpouring of national support.

2. Christian Benitez

Christian Benitez was an Ecuadorian soccer player who was also known as Chuco. He was born in Quito, Ecuador, on May 1, 1986. At the beginning of his career, he played for El Nacional in Ecuador before joining Santos Laguna. From 2009 to 2010, he was on loan to English club Birmingham City before moving to Club America. While in Doha, Qatar, on July 29, 2013, Beitez suffered from severe abdominal pain. He went to the local hospital but did not receive medical treatment. It was only a few hours later that he went into respiratory failure and then died from complications that led to a cardiac arrest. He was just 27 when he died. Although the Ecuadorian Football Federation announced that they would retire his number 11 shirt, they were later forced to reinstate the number due to FIFA regulations.

1. José Fernández

José Fernández is one of the most recent athletes to have died too young. This professional baseball pitcher was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, on July 31, 1992. He played for the Miami Martins in the Major Baseball League for the entirety of his three-year career in baseball. On September 20, 2016, his friends, family, and fans were delighted that he was expecting his first child with his girlfriend Maria Arias. Sadly, he never got to see the birth of his child. On September 25, just five days after he made the announcement, he was tragically killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach, Florida. His boat was found overturned by the U.S. Coast Guards and found Fernández dead. He was just 24 years old when he died in this accident. His two companions, Emilios Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero, were also found dead. His daughter Penelope Jo Fernández was born on February 24, 2017.


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