We love and cherish many aspects of sports. We love arguing with friends about why our favorite team is superior to their favorite team. We love coming up with trade proposals that we think will enhance our team's chances of success and debating the merits of past transactions. We love looking at statistics that allow us to separate the good players from the bad. We love coming up with new statistics to prove the old ones wrong. We love the goals, the hits, the home runs, the strikeouts, the slam dunks, buzzer beaters, touchdowns, interceptions, and some of us even love the shootout.
Perhaps more than anything else, what we love about sports is that it provides us with an escape. Sports allow us to take time out of our busy everyday lives, forget all of our troubles, forget about all of the bad in the world, and momentarily get lost in the joy of a wonderful game. When you feel like everything else in your life is going wrong, you can turn to sports to help you feel right. Unfortunately, every now and then the sports we love the most and the problems of the real world collide head on.
When tragedy strikes the sports world we're often left with the reminder that at the end of the day it is just a game. We're reminded that the athletes we cheer for so strongly on the field are not just assets to be traded or a statistic in the game's history. Above all else, they're people. They're human beings who have worked their entire lives in the hopes of one day realizing their dreams. Yet at any given moment, that dream can be taken away. All within the blink of an eye.
Here are 20 tragic sports accidents than remind us just how precious life can be:
The list is in no particular order, as one cannot measure how tragic an event is.
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20 Soccer Team Killed by Lightning
In October 1998 it was reported that a match played in the Kasai province of the Democratic Republic of Congo between Bena Tshadi and Basanga was interrupted by a strike of lightning. Reportedly 11 players on Bena Tshadi between the ages of 20 and 35 were killed while 30 others were burned by the lightning. Miraciously, the entire Basanga team was left unharmed by the incident.
In the aftermath Basanga was accused of witchcraft, as many central and western African teams hired witch doctors to curse their opponents. Due to the amount of civil war in the area, the reports on this incident could never be officially confirmed.
19 2010 Olympic Luge Accident
During a training run on the day of the Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed and hit a medal pole, killing the 21-year-old. Kumaritashvili had previously told his father that the he was afraid of the tournament's track and was traveling more than 90 miles per hour at the time of the crash. After the accident, the track was adjusted in an attempt to slow the race down and by the 2014 Olympics more measures were put in place to ensure participants' safety in an increasingly fast sport.
18 Nick Adenhart Killed by a Drunk Driver
Nick Adenhart was a top pitching prospect at Williamsport High School heading into the 2004 MLB Draft before suffering a severe shoulder injury that required Tommy John surgery. Adenhart dropped down the draft board and was taken as a 14th round pick by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He worked his way up to the Major Leagues and made three starts for the Angels in 2008. Adenhart earned a spot in the team's rotation in 2009 and pitched six scoreless innings in his first start of the season. Several hours after that start, Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in a car accident on April 9, 2009 at the age of 22.
17 Don Sanderson Dies from a Hockey Fight
In a December 14, 2008 Ontario Hockey Association senior league game between the Brantford Blast and Whitby Dunlops, Dunlops defenseman Don Sanderson dropped the gloves with Blast forward Corey Fulton. Near the end of the fight, both players fell to the ice with Sanderson hitting his head. Sanderson went into a coma and was on life support until his death in January of 2009 at the age of 21. Don Sanderson's death sparked a nation-wide debate about the role of fighting in hockey.
16 Raymond Chapman Killed by a Pitch
Ray Chapman was a fan favorite and among the speediest players in the game throughout his career with the Cleveland Indians. In 1920, the 29 year-old shortstop was planning to retire from the game to spend more time with his wife if the team won the World Series. In the fifth inning of an August 20, 1920 game against the New York Yankees, Chapman took a pitch to the head from Yankees pitcher Carl Mays that knocked him unconscious.
Chapman awoke and tried to walk off the field, but collapsed and had to be carried to a hospital where he later died. Chapman's death led to baseball's ban of the spitball - the pitch that killed him - but it would be a few decades later before batting helmets would become mandatory. The Indians would go on to win their first World Series that fall.
15 Dan Snyder Killed in a Car Accident
Dan Snyder was a Canadian hockey player who played 49 games for the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers. In 2003, Snyder was a passenger in a Ferrari driven by friend and teammate Dany Heatley. Driving at roughly 80 miles per hour, Heatley lost control of the car and crashed into a brick and iron fence. Snyder fell into a coma and six days later, on October 5, 2003, he passed away at the age of 25.
Heatley was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide and reckless driving, but Snyder's family did not want him to receive any jail time. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received three years probation.
14 Payne Stewart's Plane Accident
Known for his flashy attire, Payne Stewart picked up 11 PGA Tour victories, including three Major Championships during his career. At the 1999 U.S. Open, Stewart trained the longest U.S. Open winning putt in history to par the 18th and pick up the victory over Phil Mickelson.
Just a few months later, on October 25, 1999, Stewart boarded a small plane from Orlando, Florida en route to Texas, but somewhere along the way a cabin leak caused the plane to lose air pressure. By the time the plane crashed, Stewart and five others had already died from a lack of oxygen. Stewart was 42 years old.
13 Bill Barilko's Disappearance
Bill Barilko played five seasons on defense for the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning the Stanley Cup four times. In Game 5 of the 1951 Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens, Barilko scored the overtime and Cup winning goal. The following summer, Barilko and a friend boarded a small plane to go on a fishing trip, but on their return the plane and both passengers disappeared. A total of 38 Royal Canadian Air Force planes and 270 personnel conducted the largest aviation search in Canada's history. Eleven years passed before the remains were found - shortly after the Maple Leafs' first Stanley Cup victory since Barilko's death. Barilko's story would become the basis for the Tragically Hip song 50 Mission Cap.
12 Sarah Burke's Training Accident
Sarah Burke was a Canadian freestyle skier. She was a four time Winter X Games gold medalist and winner of the 2005 World Championships in the halfpipe. She's considered a pioneer for her sport and successfully lobbied to have the halfpipe included at the 2014 Winter Olympics. During a January 10, 2012 training run, Burke fell and ruptured her vertebral artery. She passed away on January 19th at the age of 29. In September of 2012 Sarah Burke was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame.
11 Len Bias' Overdose
Len Bias' play at the University of Maryland garnered him praise as the best basketball player in the school's history and is said to have rivaled the talent of Michael Jordan. Bias was taken second overall by the defending champion Boston Celtics at the 1986 NBA Draft. Less than 48 hours after the draft, Bias died in his dorm room from a cocaine overdose.
Bias' tragic death led to United States Congress passing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which brought about harsher punishment for drug related crimes, including felony charges and mandatory minimum sentences for even small amounts of cocaine.
10 Roberto Clemente's Plane Crash
Roberto Clemente played 18 big league seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates winning the NL batting title four times, picking up the NL MVP award in 1966, and taking home 12 straight Gold Gloves along with two World Series titles. As much as Clemente was admired on the field, he was equally revered off it for his charity work as well as his desire to pave the way to a better life for all Latin American people.
On December 31, 1972 Clemente left from Puerto Rico aboard a small plane to help with an earthquake relief effort in Nicaragua. The plane crashed near the coast of Puerto Rico and the 38-year-old's body was never recovered. In 1973 a five year mandatory waiting period was waived and Clemente was posthumously inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame.
9 Owen Hart's Fall
Born in Calgary, Alberta, Owen Hart was the youngest of 12 children in the legendary Hart family. The Hart family is considered Canada's first family of wrestling with six brothers and four brother-in-laws among the many who have trained in The Dungeon of father Stu Hart's basement. Owen Hart joined the WWE in 1988 where he wrestled under several gimmicks, including teaming with his brother Bret "The Hitman" Hart as part of the Hart Foundation.
On May 23, 1999 as part of a publicity stunt at the Over the Edge pay-per-view, Owen Hart, wrestling as his Blue Blazer character, was to be lowered to the ring from the ceiling via a harness. The quick release mechanism on Hart's harness disengaged early and Hart fell 90 feet to his death.
8 Bill Masterton Dies from Hockey Injury
Raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Bill Masterton played four years of college hockey at the University of Denver and six years in the minor leagues before finally getting his shot in the NHL with the expansion Minnesota North Stars. Just 38 games into Masterton's NHL career he was checked in a January 13, 1968 game againt the California Seals and fell to the ice, hitting his head. Masterton died two days later at the age of 29. He remains the only player in NHL history to die from an on ice injury. Bill Masterton has been immortalized by the NHL with a trophy given out every year in his honor to the player who best "exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey."
7 The Munich Air Disaster
On February 6, 1958 a plane carrying the Manchester United soccer team was returning to Manchester from Yugoslavia after a 3-3 draw against Red Star Belgrade when it stopped in Munich to refuel. Two take off attempts from Munich failed and on the third attempt a build up of slush prevented the plane from reaching its required velocity. The plane went past the runway and hit a house, a tree and smashed into a hut before coming to a stop. In total, 23 passengers died as a result of the crash, including eight Manchester United players.
6 Dale Earnhardt's Death
Dale Earnhardt was a NASCAR stock car driver who won seven championships throughout his illustrious racing career. During the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt hit Sterling Marlin's car and crashed into a wall before being run into by Ken Schrader. The crashed happened just half a mile from the finish line where Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished 2nd just seconds later. Dale Jr. accompanied his father to the hospital where the elder Earnhardt died of head injuries at the age of 49.
5 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Air Disaster
On September 7, 2011 the Kontinental Hockey League's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was on its way to Minsk, Belarus to begin the season when the Yak-42 plane they were on crashed into the Volga River bank shortly after takeoff, bursting into flames. Forty-three of the flight's 45 passengers were killed with another dying a week later. The crash shook the hockey world which lost several former NHL stars, including Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Karlis Skrastins, and head coach Brad McCrimmon in the crash.
4 Marshall University Air Disaster
On November 14, 1970 a plane carrying the Marshall University football team from North Carolina to West Virginia clipped a row of trees and crashed into a hillside, just two miles from the Tri-State Airport in Kenova, West Virginia. All 75 of the passengers, including 37 football players, the coach, team doctors, Marshall University's athletic director, and 25 team boosters, were killed on impact. In the weeks that followed several memorial services were held and six of the players whose bodies could not be identified were buried together.
3 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster
The 1989 FA Cup sem-final was to feature a matchup between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest in a rematch from the previous year's semi-final. Thousands of spectators packed Hillsborough Stadium with more than 3,000 people being admitted into the central pens - nearly double the amount safely allowed.
Fans were crushed in the pens and some climbed over side fences to escape. Five minutes after kick-off a crush barrier collapsed causing people to fall on top of one another. In total 96 people were killed and more than 700 others were injured in the disaster.
2 1955 Le Mans disaster
The worst disaster in motorsports history took place during the 1955, 24 Hours of Le Mans race. A few hours into the race, British driver Mike Hawthorn turned abruptly to make his first pit stop. Behind Hawthorn, a driver in an Auston -Healey swerved and was crashed into by French driver Pierre Levegh in his Mercedes. The Auston-Healey crashed into a wall and acted like a ramp for Levegh's Mercedes which flew through the air, crashing into an embankment and splitting into three pieces. The pieces went into the crowd, crushing and decapitating spectators. A marshal on the scene threw water on the burning body of the Mercedes, but rather than douse the flame, it sent bursts of fire through the crowd. The total death count from the crash is unknown with most reports estimating it to be in the 80s and one suggesting it may have been as high as 130.
1 1972 Andes Flight Disaster
A plane carrying the Old Christians rugby team was on its way from Santiago to Montevideo when it crashed into the Andes mountains on October 13, 1972. Twelve of the flight's passengers were killed on impact with five more dying several hours after the crash and one more succumbing to his injuries a week later. Seventeen days after the crash, another eight people were killed by an avalanche.
Dealing with the harsh conditions and no food source and amid radio reports that the search for them had been called off, the remaining survivors had to turn to cannibalism, feeding on the flesh of their fallen comrades, to stay alive. Two of the survivors, Dr. Roberto Canessa and Nando Parrado, journeyed for 10 days through ice and snow before finally finding help, 72 days after the crash.
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