Every time a professional athlete passes away, it can send a shock wave through the sports world. Whether the death is unexpected or after a long and successful life, it is never easy to lose someone that you once idolized.
When you are younger, athletes can almost seem superhuman. They’re strong, talented and seem almost invincible as they always get back up. Yet the reality is, that with every hit comes pain that may plague athletes their entire lives. When you look at the athletes that have passed away in 2015, there may be many on there that you idolized growing up. While you may not technically have known the people on this list, they may have inspired you just the same.
Sometimes the most inspiring people in the world of sports are not the people on the field. Coaches and announcers are as impactful as any other position and unfortunately we lost some amazingly talented sports figures in 2015. While they may not have had an impact on the game as it’s playing right now, there is no doubting the legacy that some of these individuals left behind.
There was no shortage of people that unfortunately passed away in 2015 that impacted the world of sports. If some of your favorite sports figures were among them, take the time to reflect and be happy that even though they’re gone, they have left a positive and lasting impact on you.
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15 Ken Stabler
Ken Stabler was a dynamic quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. Perhaps known for his party-boy ways as much as his talent on the field, Stabler played for the Raiders from 1970-1979. His accolades included not only winning the Super Bowl, but also taking home the MVP award in 1974. Stabler was coached by hall of fame legend John Madden, who would often praise Stabler's ability to stay calm under pressure. Throughout his 15 year career, Stabler had a record of 96-49-1. Stabler passed away at the age of 69 after battling stage 4 colon cancer.
14 Rowdy Roddy Piper
Rowdy Roddy Piper, one of the best ‘heels’ in WWE history, was known for his ability to not only cut a promo with the best of them, but to also put on some of the most entertaining matches in wrestling history. For all of Piper’s accomplishments, he was placed in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. Along with the honor came the recognition that Piper was one of the top 50 villains in the history of the WWE. Piper was seemingly in good health after battling Hodgin’s Lymphoma in 2006, but unfortunately passed away from cardiac arrest in July.
13 Bill Arnsparger
As talented as football players are, they need talented coaches alongside them to help make everything mesh. There may have never been a coaching combination that was quite as effective as Bill Arnsparger and Don Shula. The pair helped the Miami Dolphins win back to back Super Bowls, including an undefeated season. Arnsparger was known as the architect behind the affectionately nicknamed “no-name” defense that helped make the Dolphins a powerhouse. It was truly a testament to coaching as Arnsparger emphasized making sure everyone did their individual job correctly.
12 Moses Malone
Moses Malone was one of the most dominant NBA players to ever step on the court. A three-time MVP, Malone earned the nickname “Chairman of the Boards” with his stellar rebounding. Over his 20 seasons between the ABA/NBA, Malone averaged 20.3 points and 12.3 rebounds a game. Those numbers helped earn not only MVP honors, but also made him a 12-time All Star. Not content to only clean the boards defensively, Malone also recorded 7,382 offensive rebounds in his career. Malone’s highlight may have come when he led the 76ers to a championship in 1983. Malone was 60 when he passed away after suffering hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
11 Tommy Hanson
Tommy Hanson was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball in 2008. While he had a somewhat successful career, including a record of 49-35, Hanson was never able to live up to expectations. Injuries caused the young right-hander to miss some time and that unfortunately hampered his career. Despite this, Hanson was loved in the Braves organization and it was tough for them to find out that Hanson passed away earlier this year. It was reported that his death was caused by catastrophic organ failure on November 11th, 2015. Tommy Hanson was only 29 years old.
10 Dolph Schayes
It is totally normal for younger basketball fans to have absolutely no idea who Dolph Schayes is. I assure you though, he rocked the heck out of some thigh-high oldschool basketball shorts though! Schayes was a dominant force from 1949-1964, including a championship in 1955. Throughout his career, Schayes was nominated to 12 All Star games and averaged 18.5 points per game. It was perhaps that great scoring average that helped propel Scyates to be the first player in NBA history to reach 15,000 points. Schayes legacy to the game of basketball was continued on by his son Danny, who played 18 seasons in the NBA. Schayes passed away at the age of 87 as a result of cancer.
9 Charlie Sanders
The Detroit Lions are often teased for their inability to win playoff games, much less the Super Bowl. Yet when you want to look at loyalty to a franchise, there might not be a better example then Charlie Sanders. Sanders was a Hall of Fame tight end who played 10 years with the Lions, before an injury ended his career. Upon retirement, Sanders continued working with the Lions organization in a variety of roles. This included broadcasting, as an assistant coach and as a member of the personnel department. Nicknamed “The Ultimate Lion,” Sanders clearly embodied loyalty and passion to your job. Sanders passed away earlier this year at the age of 68, after a battle with cancer.
8 Yogi Berra
There might not be a sports franchise that has more legends then the New York Yankees. Whether it’s Ruth, Mantle, or any other great name, one that may not be far from your mind is Yogi Berra. The Hall of Fame catcher helped lead the New York Yankees to an unbelievable ten World Series championships. Berra was known for his quick wit as much as his play and his several catchphrases, such as “it ain’t over till it’s over,” which are still used in everyday jargon. Berra had a life well lived and passed away at the age of 90 due to natural causes. It is hard to imagine many names who were more important to the game of baseball then Yogi Berra and he will be greatly missed.
7 Justin Wilson
Justin Wilson was an amazing IndyCar racer who unfortunately passed away earlier this year at the age of 37. Wilson was struck in the head by a piece of debris during a Verizon IndyCar Series race in August. It was reported that parts from rookie driver Sage Karam’s crashed car started falling onto the track and one of which hit Wilson during the 179th lap, which sadly took his life. Wilson’s success on the racetrack is only matched by his sense of character off of it, when asked about his death Mark Miles (CEO of Hulman and Co) stated:
“Justin’s elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility — which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock…. our efforts moving forward will be focused on rallying around Justin’s family to ensure they get the support they need during this unbelievably difficult time.” Truly a tragic loss to the sport of racing, Wilson’s legacy will not be forgotten by the community.
6 Tyler Sash
There is no doubting the physical toll that playing professional football can have on your body. Sash was a sixth round pick for the New York Giants in 2011, but was cut from the team. Part of Sash’s inability to make it in football was due to chronic shoulder pain, as well as a recent dislocation of that shoulder. It was the pain of both these injuries that led Sash to taking several different types of pain medications. Unfortunately, two of the ones that Sash was taking, hydrocone (prescribed) and methadone (unprescribed), when mixed can cause a fatal overdose. Sash was only 27 years old when he passed away in September.
5 Ann Mara
The Mara family is one of the most influential in the game of football. Ann Mara is the widow of Wellington Mara, who was once the owner of the New York Giants. Mara in her own credit was the co-owner of the franchise and was always looked at as one of the faces of the franchise. Mara’s son, John, is the current CEO of the team and two of her other children also work for the franchise. Ann Mara passed away earlier this year after suffering complications from a fall on the ice which led to a head injury. Upon her death, Roger Goodell made the statement: "Mrs. Mara was a tower of strength, dignity and inspiration for her family and all of us in the NFL."
4 Flip Saunders
There are few head coaches that will ever impact basketball more than Flip Saunders. Saunders was a head coach for 35 years, 17 of which were spent coaching in the NBA. Saunders was influential in helping mentor countless young prospects, perhaps none more notably then Kevin Garnett. Garnett was drafted out of high school and having a mentor like Saunders helped turn him into a Hall of Famer. Saunders unfortunately was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma back in August. While it was originally hoped to be treatable, a setback during treatment led to Saunders passing away in October. There is no doubt that Saunders legacy will live on through the countless players that he impacted.
3 Ernie Banks
The city of Chicago has no shortage of iconic superstars. If you love basketball, look no further then Michael Jordan. Hockey? Well I hear that Toews and Kane are doing alright for the franchise. While the Cubs may have not won a championship in a while (but who's counting?), they too have a legend in the name of Ernie Banks. A Hall of Famer, Banks was known as much for his upbeat attitude as his amazing play on the field. Banks was also monumental in helping change the physical face of the game, being the first black player in the history of the Chicago Cubs. Banks was 83 when he passed away earlier this year.
2 Al Arbour
When you think of head coaches that are intertwined with a franchise, there might not be a better example then Al Arbour and the New York Islanders. Arbour coached an astonishing 1,500 games with the New York Islanders. Granted, the last game came a few years after his retirement at the age of 75, but it was still a nice round number to end on. Arbour will forever be known for his ability to transform the Islanders into a powerhouse franchise in the 80s that helped them capture four consecutive Stanley Cups. A Hall of Famer, Arbour also received the Lester Patrick award, which was given in recognition of his accomplishments to the game of hockey. Arbour was 82 when he passed away due to complications with Parkinson’s and dementia.
1 Stuart Scott
One of the best anchors that ESPN has ever had, Stuart Scott was passionate about his job and helped introduce countless people to a world of sports with his enthusiasm. Whether it was his signature phrase “boo-yah” or other traits that helped you love Scott, there was no doubting his talent. Scott, unfortunately, had been battling cancer for the past few years and passed away in January of this year at the age of 49. Shortly before passing, Scott was awarded the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. When giving his speech accepting the honor, Scott beautifully summed up the proper attitude to have when dealing with cancer "When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."
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