When people grow up with a dream to partake in a particular sport, they want to rise to the top of that sport, achieve fame and fortune, entertain people. They don’t really bear the risks involved in their chosen sport any attention. Risks like injuries. Injuries, depending on their severity, could potentially end careers, dash that dream of making it big. Frustratingly, they’re all too common. Pretty much every athlete on the planet has succumbed to an injury at one time or another. It’s just part and parcel of sport. Some would actually give anything to have these everyday injuries, would’ve traded up for their life-threatening injuries any day. Now, these serious injuries, they’re atypical. But even in sports where athletes wear protective gear, they happen, and when they do, they’re truly horrific. Careers are ended and lives are shattered. But there’s something that’s even more atypical, so far removed from the norm.
On extremely rare occasions, it’s not just careers that are ended; lives are ended. Sometimes truly heart-breaking things happen in sport, and an athlete ends up losing their life as a consequence. That’s something you don’t expect to see in sport, but it’s still happened far too often over the years. Athletes have perished doing what they loved. These are eight athletes who have tragically passed away in action, and eight who very nearly did too, eight close calls.
18 PASSED AWAY: FRAN CRIPPEN
As the name suggests, open water swimming is totally different to jumping in your local pool and swimming lengths in a controlled environment. Out there in the open, you’re exposed to the elements. The harsh mistress of the sea could turn at any time, the weather could be dicey, and if conditions aren’t favorable, you’re out in the water, you’ve just got to keep ploughing on, there’s not really anything you can do about it. Unfortunately, Fran found this out. He was swimming in a 10K event in the harsh conditions of the UAE. Because it was so hot, it’s thought he suffered from extreme dehydration and fatigue, or that he suffered heart complications because of the workload. When he didn’t cross the finish line, people went in search of him, and his body was found floating underwater, some distance way off from the shore. It sparked a massive investigation into open swimming regulations. Unfortunately, the inquests all came too late for Fran.
17 CLOSE CALL: RICH PEVERLEY
The biggest fear in the hockey community right now is seeing a player pass away in action due to an errant hit to the head. However, as with any sport, there are the possibilities of a player passing away due to an undiagnosed condition. During a 2014 game, Dallas Stars center Rich Peverley passed out while on the bench, suffering a cardiac episode. When he dropped, it was red alert," coach Lindy Ruff said after the game. "Don't worry about the game. It was about getting the doctors. The players don't want to play, and I don't want to coach the team right now."
Peverley would never play hockey again, as he underwent corrective surgery for his irregular heartbeat and retired from hockey in 2015.
16 PASSED AWAY: HANK GATHERS
Hank Gathers was an American college basketball star who was taken from the world way too soon. He was being tipped to make it big in the NBA, but his dreams were cruelly snatched away from him due to a serious health problem. In 1990, Hank was playing for his university, Loyola Marymount University, against the Portland Pilots. He was aware of his heart condition, knew he had an abnormal heartbeat, and was prescribed the appropriate medication. With this medication, doctors were happy to allow him to play. But Hank didn’t like the way the medication was affecting him. He thought it was affecting him on the court, so had started to cut back on the dosages. It’s thought that he stopped taking any form of medication on game days. One game, after scoring a dunk, he collapsed on the court. He stopped breathing a short while later, and was subsequently pronounced dead at the hospital.
15 CLOSE CALL: PETR CECH
In 2006, while playing for Chelsea against Reading, goalkeeper Petr Cech sustained a truly horrible head injury that’ll be remembered by all football fans. It was 30 seconds into the match, and what happened actually looked pretty innocuous at the time. Reading’s midfielder left a trailing leg while chasing the ball, and Cech got a knee to the face. People knew something was up when Cech didn’t get up, he didn’t react. There was a lengthy delay while Cech got treatment. No one at that stage knew just how serious the knock to the head was. Because of that, doctors later said that Cech almost lost his life. The correct diagnosis was eventually made, and Cech had surgery for a depressed skull fracture. He’s worn a protective head guard ever since.
14 Passed Away: Korey Stringer
While not during a game, Korey Stringer, offensive lineman of the Minnesota Vikings, passed away during a Vikings training camp practice after suffering from heat stroke. Stringer was weighing in around 350 pounds, and practicing in sweltering heat during the summer was not ideal. The NFL would use this episode to begin implementing policies to prevent heat stroke during practices. The league's CBA now includes policies that call for more breaks during practice, making sure players get shade more often and a doctor is present at all times. It's a shame it took a player dying for the NFL to implement these policies.
In addition to these changes, a foundation in Stringer's name was set up at UConn. Let's hope a similar incident never happens again.
12 CLOSE CALL: DARRYL STINGLEY
American footballer, Darryl Stingley, almost lost his life in a preseason game in 1978. He was playing for the New England Patriots against the Oakland Raiders, where he sustained horrific life-threatening injuries as a result of a collision. He was hit by the defensive back, as he stretched and attempted to gather an errant pass. His helmeted head smacked into the player’s shoulder pad, and due to the force of the collision, Stingley’s spine was compressed. He ended up shattering his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and was very lucky to have made it off the field alive. As a result of the injury, Stingley’s life as a pro sportsman was over. He’s since spent his days living with tetraplegia, characterized by total or partial loss of all limbs and the torso.
11 PASSED AWAY: AL LUCAS
Al Lucas played in the NFL for five years, between 2000 and 2005, before a horrific on-field injury ended up ending his career and his life. In 2005, whilst playing for the Los Angeles Avengers against the New York Dragons, Lucas died as a result of a serious spinal cord injury. Many say that he also died because of failed treatments that happened in the immediate aftermath of that injury.
During a kick-off return, Lucas tackled Corey Johnson and took a knee to the helmet, after which he remained on the ground, motionless. He was treated for an hour before being taken to hospital. Apparently, the treatment failed and Lucas was pronounced dead as a result of blunt force trauma and an upper spinal cord injury. He was pronounced dead in hospital, but Lucas was actually thought to have died on the field.
9 CLOSE CALL: DENNIS BYRD
Unfortunately, NFL defensive tackle, Dennis Byrd is no longer with us. His life was tragically cut short about a year ago when he died after a car accident. But he had 24 more years on this planet that many people didn’t think he’d have. That’s because in 1992, Dennis suffered a horrific injury on the field of play. He tried to sack Chiefs quarterback at the time, Dave Krieg, but Krieg managed to dodge the tackle. Instead, Dennis collided with his own teammate. He tried to minimize any damage by ducking his head at the last second. But this ended up making things worse. His head crashed into his teammate’s chest, causing him to break his fifth cervical vertebrae. The horrific injury left Dennis unable to walk, and therefore ended his career. But that wasn’t what he was thinking about; he was just happy to have survived such an injury.
8 PASSED AWAY: RYAN SHAY
Long-distance running can take a hell of a lot out of the body. But having said that, there aren’t many instances of death during races. Long-distance runners often go to places of high altitude and go to hot countries in Africa for example, to do their training, and you don’t really hear about any athletes collapsing and dying. Severe exhaustion, heat exhaustion and dehydration – those are the things that are the most likely to affect a long-distance runner. But Ryan Shay, winner of several U.S. Championships, is one athlete to pass away. He died during a race in 2007, but it wasn’t because he was pushing his body to the limit. It was discovered that his heart was like a ticking time bomb, and due to an enlarged heart condition, it could have gone into arrhythmia at any time.
7 CLOSE CALL: THOM EVANS
At the age of 24, Scottish international rugby union player, Thom Evans, said goodbye to rugby after his promising career was cruelly cut short after he suffered an injury in a Six Nations match against Wales. It was his tenth appearance for his country, and he was tipped to make many more, but when he regained consciousness, he was just happy to be alive. He collided with a Welsh player on the pitch and was immediately stretchered off and taken to the emergency room. He had a neck operation later that day, but doctors were amazed he was still around. Apparently, his cervical vertebrae had been knocked out of alignment, the extent of which was so bad, that if it had been knocked out a millimetre further, he would have died, or best scenario, would have been paralyzed.
6 PASSED AWAY: MARCO SIMONCELLI
I just had to include one motorsport racer on this list. They put their lives on the line each and every time they get out onto the track. One of the most recent high-profile casualties in the world of motor racing, was Marco Simoncelli. Marco was racing in MotoGP and was in Sepang, Malaysia, for the 2011 Grand Prix.
Marco’s bike suddenly veered into the path of another rider and Marco was attempting to cling on, holding onto the right side of his bike. There was nothing American rider Colin Edwards could do to stop himself striking Marco. Edwards struck Marco’s lower body, and then Valentino Rossi couldn’t avoid hitting Marco’s head, and the impact caused him to lose his helmet. An hour later, Marco was pronounced dead. He was 24 at the time, and was one of the best MotoGP racers around.
5 CLOSE CALL: NICK BLACKWELL
26-year-old British Boxer, Nick Blackwell, was an unknown entity when he stepped into the ring for his British bout against Chris Eubank Jr. in 2016. It was a title fight, but it wasn’t your usual, tactical, boring fight. It was fast-paced, full of drama, a hugely entertaining affair. Midway through the fight Eubank Jr. was inflicting some damage, so much so, that his legendary father was shouting from the corner for his son to stop punching Blackwell in the head. He could see that Blackwell wasn’t in good shape. The referee eventually stopped the fight in the tenth round, and Blackwell was given oxygen and was stretchered out of the arena. Due to bleeding of the skull, he was placed in a medically-induced coma, and a week later he was brought around again. He immediately announced his retirement from boxing, saying he was lucky to be alive.
4 PASSED AWAY: PHILLIP HUGHES
Phillips Hughes was an Australian international cricketer, rated as being one of the best batsmen in the world. A lot of you are probably wondering, how the hell can you die during a cricket game? Well, have you ever held a cricket ball? It’s made of tough leather, and weighs approximately 160g. Imagine that being propelled at you from 22 yards away at around 90 mph. That’s why batsmen wear all that protective gear, because if it hits you, it’s going to cause some serious damage. Whilst playing a domestic match in 2014, Phillip was wearing all of this gear. But he ended up turning his head while trying to play a ball, and the ball hit him just below his left ear, the unprotected bit of the head. The impact dissected the vertebral artery, supplying blood to the brain, and he haemorrhaged. He never regained consciousness and later died.
3 CLOSE CALL: EVANGELISTA “CYBORG” SANTOS
Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos is a recently-retired MMA fighter. He didn’t really set the world alight, but he did enjoy a pretty long career, having been around in the octagon since 1997. But he really had no option but to call it quits, after an injury sustained in the summer of last year in London left Santos fighting in another sense, fighting for survival, for his life. His opponent during that fight, Michael Page, won by a vicious flying knee to Santos’ forehead. When he received the blow, it was evident that Santos was in serious strife. He was writhing about on the floor in agony, and medical personnel rushed into the ring. His brain had swollen due to a fractured skull and frontal sinus fracture. His ex-wife later posed horrific images of Santos’ injury on social media.
2 PASSED AWAY: PIERMARIO MOROSINI
Get the hankies at the ready because this one’s a real tear-jerker. You just can’t even write things like this, make it up, it’s unimaginable the pain Morosini suffered during his short life.
Morosini was a soccer player who was playing in the Italian leagues. He always wanted to play football, but had to contend with a hell of a lot of grief growing up. When he was 15, his mom died. A couple of years later, his dad also died, and soon after, his disabled brother followed suit. 17-year-old Morosini was left to take care of himself and his disabled older sister. It’s a miracle he managed to get his club career off and running.
While playing for Livorno in 2012, Morosini had a heart attack on the pitch. It was seriously hard to watch. He fell to the ground, tried to get up, stumbled again, before remaining on the ground unconscious. The match was abandoned with players leaving the ground in floods of tears. Morosini died on the pitch. Morosini’s disabled sister was left on her own with no family. His former teammate, Antonio Di Natale, said he’d take responsibility to support her. What a heart-breaking story.
1 CLOSE CALL: DADA 5000
Dhafir Harris, aka Dada 5000, is a figure similar to that of Kimbo Slice. He gained a massive fan following due to his street fights, which made him an internet sensation. But of course, street fights aren’t sanctioned, can be mightily dangerous, and so Dada wanted to go legit. He won his first two MMA fights with ease. Then it came time to face his childhood friend and now bitter rival and fellow street fighting internet sensation, Kimbo Slice. He lost by technical knockout, although the fight was later deemed to be a no contest after Slice had tested positive for steroids. It was a brutal fight, and when it was over, Dada collapsed and was immediately rushed to hospital. Apparently, he’d suffered a heart attack, severe dehydration and renal failure. It’s a miracle he made it out of the octagon alive.