Winners never quit and quitters never win. That old expression is almost universally true, especially when it occurs in sports, and even more so when the result of the game, match, or competition is still on the line. Ask around, and most athletes - and probably fans too - will tell you there is no worse sin to commit in the wide world of sports than walking away from a challenge when there is still time left. Even when a team or individual is eventually defeated, it is often said that they should at least receive credit for giving it their all, battling until the last second, and leaving everything out there.
Yet there have been some notable - and surprising - exceptions to this rule. Numerous big names across all sports and generations have quit in the midst of the action for one reason or another. Many have done so at the cost of their own team. Others only penalized themselves in the process. Some even did so as a form of protest - be it well-founded or otherwise - and a few had a heck-of-a-lot to lose at the time.
Regardless of the reasoning, it was (and still is) always a shock to see generally-respected sports figures suddenly call it a day (or a season, or a career), not just by mentally or physically easing up in their efforts, but by completely removing themselves from contention. So, without further ado, here are the top 15 athletes who quit during games.
15 Jose Reyes
Although shortstop Jose Reyes had a memorable nine seasons with the Mets (in which he earned four All-Star selections and once swiped 78 bags in a single year), his last game in a New York jersey might warrant a bit of forgetting.
On September 28, 2011, Jose Reyes hit a bunt single in the first inning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds and promptly pulled himself from the game - to a very mixed crowd reaction. With that hit, Reyes had a .337057 average on the season, and a 2.5-point lead on the second place hitter, Ryan Braun, who would need four hits in his last game to catch Reyes.
Braun went 0-4 and the New York Mets had their first ever batting champion, Jose Reyes, who quit to win.
14 Rory McIlroy
While 2012 and 2014 were fantastic years for young Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, the start of 2013 was a disaster. Prior to tying for 25th place at the 2013 Masters Tournament, McIlroy missed the cut in Abu Dhabi, losing in the opening round of the World Match Play Championship, and struggled at the Honda Classic. Starting on the back nine of the latter as the defending champion, McIlroy was seven-over after eight holes, and opened the 18th by knocking his second shot into the water.
He quit the tournament at this point, later citing a toothache. McIlroy found his form again by the end of the year though, winning the Australian Open by a single stroke.
13 Claudinei Angelo
Claudinei Angelo probably isn’t familiar to most people for his name or his mixed martial arts abilities, but a whole lot of them probably remember seeing his video online.
On October 5, 2013, Angelo was controlling an MMA cage-fight against Evilasio Silva, but was troubled by a gum shield that wouldn’t stay put. After pausing the match twice already, referee Flavio Almendra declined to grant a third time-out to Angelino for once again losing his mouth-guard, believing that he spit it out intentionally. This upset the fighter, who verbally called for time, but was refused once again. A furious Angelo then paced the ring for a moment before attempting to open the locked cage door. When that failed, he simply hopped the fence, dropped to the ground, and left both the fight and the Brazilian arena.
12 John Kruk
John Kruk may have been a grimy, overweight, chain-smoking, non-Hall-of-Famer, but he still managed to make a name for himself as respectable player with three All-Star selections. Perhaps that’s why Krukky chose to exit the game of baseball in such a dignified manner.
On July 30, 1995, in the middle of his 10th major league season, John Kruk hit a first-inning single for the Chicago White Sox off of Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson. Although Kruk possessed a .308 average that year, he also had a pair of bad knees. He hobbled down the baseline, stood on first, and promptly retired from the game. Kruk finished his career with an average of exactly .300 with 100 home runs.
11 Kevin-Prince Boateng (and the rest of AC Milan and Pro Patria)
It may have only been an exhibition game, but when the fans got out of hand, the players for Italian soccer clubs AC Milan and Pro Patria took it seriously. No one could fault Kevin-Prince Boateng and the rest of these players for what they did.
Midway through the first half of the January 3, 2013 friendly, racist chants began to rain down on some of the players. Ghanaian-German midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng of Milan sparked the mass response by picking up the match-ball, kicking it into the crowd, removing his jersey, and walking off the field. Three of Boateng’s Milan teammates were also heckled with racist chants, and both teams walked off the field in solidarity.
The game ended there, but sadly, soccer’s racism problem still has not.
10 Alex Bogomolov Jr.
Bad calls by officials can really upset athletes, but rarely do they ever quit because of one. However, that’s exactly what Russian tennis pro Alex Bogomolov Jr. did during a Nielsen Championship match on July 8, 2013. Bogomolov didn’t return a ball during the third set against Bradley Klahn, believing it was out and called as such. But the call actually came from a fan, not the official, who ruled it in, resulting in a protest from Bogomolov.
When the chair umpire sustained his ruling, Bogomolov calmly approached him, shook his hand, packed up his gear and left.
9 Austin Krause
The actions of high school athletes rarely make headlines, but then again, we rarely see a player act like Farmington High School hockey goalie Austin Krause did.
It was Senior Night at the February 12, 2013 game against Chaske High, and Krause was in the goal with his team leading 3-2. That’s when things got weird. With only three minutes to go, Krause casually played the puck from behind his goal, eased it into the net to tie the game, flipped off his own bench, gave a Jaromir Jagr-esque salute to the crowd, and skated off both the ice and the team.
With the score now bizarrely tied, Chaske took the opportunity and ran with it, eventually winning 4-3. As for Krause, he claimed his unsportsmanlike actions were part of some ill-conceived protest over playing time.
8 Bobby Isaac
Bobby Isaac has 73 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins, 170 top tens, 49 poles and a place in the 2016 Hall of Fame class, but he famously exited mid-race during the 1973 Talladega 500. Despite holding the lead on lap 90 of the August 12 race, Isaac suddenly pulled into the pits, got out of his car, and quit. He may have been spooked by the death of Larry Smith earlier in the race, but the driver cited voices in his head instead. Isaac allegedly told his car’s owner, Bud Moore, “I heard a voice tell me to park this thing, and that’s exactly what I did.”
7 Mike Wallace
Back in his days with the Miami Dolphins, wide receiver Mike Wallace had a tendency to get upset about his lack of playing time. In the worst instance, after not receiving a pass in the first half of a December 28, 2014 game against the New York Jets, Wallace walked off the field with 2:49 left in the second quarter and told coach Joe Philbin that he no longer wanted to play in the game.
Making things even weirder, Wallace refused to answer postgame press questions, electing instead to have teammate Brandon Gibson stand in front of him and speak on his behalf. Wallace was traded to the Minnesota Vikings three months later.
6 Sol Campbell
English footballer Sol Campbell was an elite defender on the pitch, but his off-field life wasn’t always easy. While a member of Arsenal on February 1, 2006, Campbell was largely responsible for two goals scored on his team early in the game by West Ham United and responded by asking to be removed at halftime. He then exited the stadium completely, did not contact the club for several days, and left the country to reflect on his life and some undisclosed family issues.
Although he rejoined his team a week later and played again for them in April, Campbell left the team permanently in August, eventually joining Portsmouth of the Premier League.
5 Niki Lauda
Niki Lauda was both a skillful and cautious Formula One driver. Despite being the favorite for the 1976 German Grand Prix, he protested the safety arrangements a week before the race, unsuccessfully rallying his fellow racers to boycott it. Lauda raced, crashed, and almost died in the second lap of the August 1 contest, suffering severe burns to his face and head.
He returned only three races later, and eventually entered the last contest, the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, holding a narrow lead. Facing extremely rainy and foggy conditions on race day, Lauda and some other drivers again unsuccessfully protested the safety of the track. The race began, but Lauda stopped after only two laps, saying, “my life is worth more than a title.” Several other drivers followed his example.
James Hunt ended up finishing the race in third, besting Lauda for the title by a single point.
4 Mike Tyson
Following a fourth round knockout from Danny Williams in 2004, a career 50-5 Mike Tyson stepped back into the ring on June 11, 2005 to face Irishman Kevin McBride. Despite being labeled as the underdog and having to fend off a headbutt and an attempted arm-break by Tyson during a clinch, McBride managed to wear his opponent down so much that an exhausted Tyson ended the sixth round on the canvas.
Although he led 57-55 on two judges' scorecards and only trailed 55-57 on the third’s, Tyson shockingly quit on his stool before the seventh round, handing McBride a TKO victory. This would be Tyson’s last professional boxing match.
3 Jeff Tarango
Others may have done it since, but American Jeff Tarango was officially the first tennis player to quit mid-match in a major tournament.
After receiving what he deemed as several bad calls by Wimbledon 1995 chair umpire Bruno Rebeuh, which led to a deficit against unseeded Alexander Mronz, a frustrated Tarango shouted, “Oh, shut up!” at some hecklers in the crowd, and was hit with a violation for an audible obscenity. After unsuccessfully protesting, Tarango then hurled an insult directly at Rebeuh, was again penalized and quit the match, shouting as he walked out. He was banned from the tournament for one year.
To add to the absurdity, Tarango’s wife personally sought out Rebeuh after the match and slapped him across the face. Twice.
2 Patrick Roy
One of the greatest goalies of all time, Patrick Roy was a fixture in Montreal for the first decade of his career. But things changed four games into the 1995-96 season when former teammate Mario Tremblay was hired as the team’s new head coach. The two previously never got along, and almost came to blows twice in late ‘95 alone. Then, on December 2, 1995, Roy was pulled in the second period of a game against the Detroit Red Wings after allowing nine goals on 26 shots in the worst game in franchise history, an eventual 11-1 loss. Angry at being left in for so long, Roy immediately stormed past Tremblay and told Canadiens President Ronald Corey, “It’s my last game in Montreal.”
Roy received a team suspension and was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche four days later in an event known as “Le Trade.”
1 Roberto Durán
Roberto Durán finished his 30-year professional boxing career with 103 wins (70 by KO), 16 losses, and world titles in four different weight classes: lightweight (1972-79), welterweight (1980), light middleweight (1983-84), and middleweight (1989). Although he clearly had a lot of success, some of the fights weren’t pretty for Durán.
After beating then-undefeated WBC Welterweight Champion Sugar Ray Leonard in June of 1980, a rematch was soon set up for November 20 of the same year. The second bout was heavily lopsided against Durán, with Leonard even showboating in the seventh round after he took a slight lead on the scorecards. In the middle of the next round, Durán suddenly stopped fighting, turned to the ref, and famously uttered in Spanish: “No más” (no more.) The fight was over.