Throughout the years, there have been some tragic moments in the sports world. You are reminded of the time when the Marshall football team’s plane crashed, or when Sean Taylor was shot in a home invasion during the middle of his playing career. Sometimes, the tragedies aren’t caused by an outside force, but instead, an internal one.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 40,000 people taking their own lives each year. Most of these tragedies don’t make the news, but it certainly does when it’s somebody in the public eye that does it. While it seems like it’s more common for celebrities outside of the sports world to do it, it has happened in athletics.
Suicide prevention is a big deal, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Hopefully we will see September in the football season bring more awareness to Suicide Prevention Month this year. Which athletes have sadly took their lives when they had plenty left to offer the world? There have been over 100 notable names to do it, but 20 that really shook the sports world at the time. Here are 20 of the most famous athletes that unfortunately chose the route of self-harm.
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20 Randolph Turpin
Back when boxing was king, Randolph Turpin was regarded as one of the best boxers in the middleweight class, coming out of Europe. Turpin’s career spanned into three different decades, and his highlight came when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson to become the Middleweight World Champion. After his career ended, Turpin had struggles with the loss of his fame and lost all of his money in the mid 1960s. Turpin shot himself after some reported that he was also trying to take his daughter’s life in 1966, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001.
19 Rick Blight
Rick Blight bounced around many different hockey leagues coming out of Portage La Prairie in Manitoba, Canada. Back when the WHA was a competitor to the NHL, Blight was drafted by the Michigan Stags in 1974 with the 19th overall pick. The next year, Blight was selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the 10th pick in the NHL Draft and led the team in scoring for his first three seasons. Blight disappeared in April of 2005 and was found two weeks later after he committed suicide near Lake Manitoba at the age of 49.
18 Bill Robinzine
Though younger fans may not remember it, there was a time when DePaul basketball was very good. Robinzine was one of the stars from the Blue Demons and was drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 1975 NBA Draft by the Kansas City Kings. Robinzine played for seven seasons in the NBA with the Kings, Cavaliers, Mavericks and Jazz, averaging 10.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in his career. Robinzine committed suicide before the 1982-83 season in Kansas City from carbon monoxide poisoning in his car while in a storage garage.
17 Andre Waters
As a long shot to make the NFL, Andre Waters defied the odds as an undrafted player out of Cheyney to make the Philadelphia Eagles roster. Waters played with the team from 1984 to 1993 before playing his final two seasons with the Cardinals. Waters was a one-time All-Pro selection in 1991 and even won the 1993 Ed Block Courage Award. Waters finished his career with 15 career interceptions, but sadly took his own life at the age of 44 in 2006 after a gunshot wound to the head at his home in Tampa.
16 Edwin Valero
An aggressive punching boxer, Edwin Valero went undefeated in his professional career with a record of 27-0, with all of his wins coming via knockout. Valero is the only one in the history of the WBC to achieve that feat, and the Venezuelan southpaw won two world championships in his time. In 2010, Valero was arrested on suspicion of killing his wife and was sent to jail. While in jail, the 28-year-old hanged himself by his pants in his prison cell.
15 Ricky Berry
Ricky Berry spanned the nation before he was even in the NBA, coming from Michigan to attend college at Oregon State, and then San Jose State. In the 1988 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings selected Berry with the 18th overall selection and had a good rookie season with the squad when he averaged 11 points and 3.1 rebounds. After the season was over, Berry had an argument with his wife and was found dead after the altercation when he shot himself in 1989. It came out of the blue as Berry was well liked and seemed to show no signs of suicide.
14 Jovan Belcher
One of the most recent athletes to be involved in a tragic suicide is former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Belcher went undrafted in 2009 out of Maine, but made a quick impression with the team and saw plenty of starts in his second season. At just 25 years old, Belcher shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, early on December 1st, 2012. Belcher then headed to the Chiefs practice facility and took his own life in front of some of the team’s personnel.
13 Larry Kelley
Yale football was one of the biggest programs in the nation during the early years of college football, and the mid 1930s were spearheaded by Larry Kelley. Kelley was an offensive end for the Bulldogs, and won the Heisman Trophy in his final season in 1936. Kelley had a brief professional career in the American Football League, but he went into teaching and manufacturing after his playing days were over. The College Football Hall of Famer was found dead in 2000 at the age of 85 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
12 Jeff Alm
Jeff Alm came from New York City to play for Lou Holtz and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, winning the 1988 National Championship. The defensive tackle was selected in the second round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, where he spent three plus seasons and played 44 games. Alm was involved in a crash late in the 1993 season that saw his childhood friend pass away. Out of distraught, Alm took his own life with a pistol, shooting himself in the head.
11 Terry Long
Terry Long was an offensive lineman that was drafted in the fourth round out of East Carolina University by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he spent his entire eight year career with the team. The Columbia, South Carolina native started 89 games for the Steelers, but sadly had problems from brain injuries that he sustained in the NFL. Long took his own life in 2005 by drinking antifreeze, and was suffering from depression at the time, as well.
10 Dave Duerson
Spending his high school and college careers in his home state of Indiana, Duerson was selected out of Notre Dame in the third round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Duerson played for the Bears for seven seasons and spent his final four seasons with the Giants and Cardinals. Duerson was a four time Pro Bowler and two time Super Bowl Champion. Duerson suffered from CTE as a result of concussions, and he shot himself in the chest in 2011 after sending a text to his family saying that he wanted his brain to be researched.
9 Freddie Mills
Using both of his hands aggressively, Freddie Mills was a feared English boxer that won the Light Heavyweight World Championship, a title that he held for two years. He was the biggest star in the England boxing scene, finishing with a record of 76 wins, 18 losses and seven draws (and 49 knockout wins). In the summer of 1965, Mills shot himself in the head while he was in his car behind the nightclub that he owned as he was in deep debt to an organized crime ring.
8 Shane Dronett
Shane Dronett lived the dream of every young Texan, playing for the Longhorns and being named an All-American. In 1992, the defensive lineman was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos and had a career that spanned an entire decade. Dronett had a lot of injury problems in the last few years of his career, cutting it short. Dronett had a brain tumor that made his behavior change and he threatened his wife with a gun in 2009 before he turned it on himself, taking his own life.
7 Jim Tyrer
A long-time professional football star, Jim Tyrer was a standout at Ohio State before being drafted in the third round of the 1961 AFL Draft by the Dallas Texans (who would later become the Kansas City Chiefs). Tyrer was named to eight All-AFL teams and was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1978. Tyrer got involved in business after his career, but his ventures didn’t go well. In 1980, Tyrer shot his wife and then committed suicide with his four children surviving him.
6 Ryan Freel
Utility men can make a long career in baseball, which is what Ryan Freel did. Freel played for five teams (Blue Jays, Reds, Orioles, Cubs and Royals) between 2001 and 2009, with his best days coming with Cincinnati. Freel was beloved by players as he never turned down an autograph opportunity and did a lot of volunteer work. People started to get worried about Freel when he said that he had a voice in his head, and it came to a culmination in 2012 when he shot himself and donated his brain tissue to science.
5 Benny Friedman
Benny Friedman was a two-time All-American with the University of Michigan as a quarterback in 1925 and 1926. Friedman played with early NFL teams such as the Cleveland Bulldogs and Detroit Wolverines and finished with a seven season career before becoming a coach. Friedman was inducted into the 1951 College Football Hall of Fame class, but not the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This really got to Friedman, and he killed himself in 1982 at the age of 77, and was later inducted in 2005.
4 Kenny McKinley
It can be hard to crack the All-SEC Team, but that’s what Kenny McKinley did in 2007 as a member of the South Carolina Gamecocks. McKinley was later selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in 2009 by the Denver Broncos where he spent one full season as a special teamer. McKinley was found dead early in the 2010 season by Arapahoe County police, where they found out that McKinley stressed over his finances that resulted from a gambling problem, and he took his own life on December 1st, 2010.
3 Wade Belak
Wade Belak started out in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades before being drafted in 1994 by the Quebec Nordiques. Belak was an imposing figure as a right wing, playing with five different NHL teams before retiring after the 2010-11 season after being sent down to the AHL and having arthritis in his pelvis. Belak accepted a job in the front office, but only two months into the offseason was found dead in his apartment in Toronto. Although it was ruled a suicide by police, the case is still open.
2 Rick Rypien
Rick Rypien didn’t get drafted into the NHL, but he made his way to the big leagues anyway. Rypien earned a contract with the Vancouver Canucks after impressing in the junior leagues, but scored just 16 points in 119 career games with the NHL squad. Rypien was suffering from depression during his career. After signing with the Jets, Rypien was found dead by a family member in his home in the summer of 2011. Rypien had missed his flight for a physical, which is what prompted the search in the first place.
1 Junior Seau
Perhaps the most memorable case of an athlete tragically taking his own life was former NFL linebacker Junior Seau. Seau was a dominant force in college and the pros, getting drafted by the Chargers out of USC with the fifth pick in 1995. Seau was a 12 time Pro Bowler and 10 time All-Pro member. The amount of accolades Seau received is among the best for linebackers, and he was always personable and charismatic during his public appearances. Seau was in his hometown of Oceanside, California when he was found dead in May of 2012 after a gunshot wound to the chest. What was strange was that there were no drugs, alcohol or brain damage found in Seau’s body, and no note to speak of. The sad day remains a mystery for all sports fans.
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