Id like to get something out of the way right off the proverbial bat. This is not a list of athletes we want to be dead. Regardless of who they are as people, whether delightful, or awful, these are athletes who have put their bodies through hell and have lived to tell the tale.
With that out of the way, some of you might be wondering “well, Chris, don’t all athletes put their bodies through hell?” Fair point, dear reader. Between training and competition, those who choose a life of athleticism put their bodies through quite a bit. We’ve all heard the stories, whether it be vomiting from exhaustion on the running track to pushing oneself over the edge in the weight room, few occupations require more self-discipline and more willingness to put oneself in harm’s way. Training for firefighters, cops and combat trades in the military are the only occupations that come to mind, but feel free to list more in the comments section.
Moving past all this, I am talking about athletes who have either put themselves in situations that should result in death or have ingested enough harmful substances that would have resulted in the death of a normal person. From dangerous games to dangerous lifestyles or even a circumstance beyond their own control, whether they did it to themselves or not, here are our fifteen athletes who should probably be dead right now.
15. John Daly
Known as a jokester by most casual fans of golf, John Daly, like many other funny people, is a troubled man who has his share of demons. It came out just last year that he grew up in a hostile environment due to his own alcoholic father. While he was always seen as an out-of-control character on the tour, few knew of his own troubles with alcohol until a few years ago. He entered rehab and no longer drinks, but even some of his closest friends have said that they were concerned for his health for some time.
In recent years he has settled down, and while he consumes more than a pack of cigarettes per day and drinks an obscene amount of diet soda products, he no longer drinks.
14. Todd Marinovich
Taken by the Los Angeles Raiders in the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft, many people had high hopes for Todd Marinovich. He wasted no time, however, making it clear that football was not his only love, as he was also heavily into drugs. While unrealistic people require me to say “he should have controlled himself,” it is well documented that Marinovich’s father was on another level of crazy and was hell-bent on creating God on Earth, no matter how his son felt about it.
Marinovich was out of the league and into the CFL by 1993 and after sustaining a knee injury, he fell into really serious drugs that could’ve had drastic effects on him.
He has since gotten clean and is now an artist, with a wife (who he met in rehab) and a son.
13. Dwight Gooden
Dr. K was one of the best pitchers in MLB for a number of years. With four All-Star selections, three World Series (two with the Yankees and one with the Mets), and a Cy Young Award, his 17 year career was an impressive one. Three years into that career however, his substance abuse became well known around the league after testing positive for cocaine.
During his career, he was widely known to be an abuser of drugs after his first positive test, but after his playing days were over he was caught many times on many different things and had several DUI’s; one of which involved a child passenger. He entered a rehabilitation program in 2010.
12. Maya Gabeira
Maya Gabeira was one of the most successful, and beautiful surfers in the business for a few years, but had a near-death experience back in 2013. She was trying to surf a gargantuan wave in Portugal, but lost control and drowned. She was saved by another surfer, Carlos Burle, who got her to shore and saved her life.
11. Josh Hamilton
The three time Silver Slugger and five time All-Star who now plays for the Rangers has had an on and off addiction problem for about a decade and a half. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd after his parents were hurt in a car accident and took his bad habits with him when he was in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ farm system.
From 2003 until 2006 he was basically in and out of rehab, and while he got clean for much of the past nine years, he has had some notable flare-ups. These events, however, usually end with him admitting to what he’s done and not doing it again for some time. He’s clearly a changed man, but given the amount of drugs he has talked about having done in his youth, he is to some extent, lucky to be alive.
10. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
This is “Big Nog” for the casual mixed martial arts fans out there. He retired earlier this year after his third loss in a row. While he never had a great stand-up game, he is recognized as one of the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu masters in the history of MMA. While I could say he put his body through punishment by participating in a combat sport, and letting Frank Mir break his arm rather than tapping, I refer to something before he even started to compete.
Did you ever notice how he has a slight dent in his back? That is from a surgical procedure during which doctors removed a rib and a piece of liver while resetting his insides after he had been run over by a truck. He was ten years old at the time and spent four days in a coma. Any ten year old that lives through being run over by a truck belongs on this list.
9. Mike Alstott
The A-Train was never known as a heavy drug user or anything like that but the way he treated his head and neck area was almost painful to watch. Arguing that Mike Alstott should probably be dead by now is just one way of saying, nobody in the NFL took and dealt as much punishment week after week as he did. While players in all positions take hits during games, Alstott just took it to a nearly masochistic level. With reckless abandon was the way he played the game and that meant taking hits to the head every week and sometimes on every play in a series. He now suffers from chronic head and neck pain.
He now speaks out against painkiller abuse and with that in mind I’ll add, it is a miracle that this man never got addicted to painkillers.
8. Paul Gascoigne
While he is considered to be among the best midfielders in the history of English football, Paul Gascoigne is notorious for having mistreated his body with alcohol. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been drinking heavily for about twenty years. He was brought to rehab once while passed out after drinking over two dozen shots of whiskey and has been in and out of various clinics during and after his playing career. He’s widely considered by friends and family to be a serious threat to himself. Hopefully he can sort things out but people have been hoping for that for years.
7. Travis Pastrana
While we’ve chosen to only include Pastrana here, we could probably include just about any X-Games participants. These guys, whether their choice of death machine is a skateboard or a bike, are insane and basically get injured for a living. The Nitro Circus leading man and NASCAR driver has had an absurd amount of injuries and has gotten to the point of shrugging off just about everything. He’s had as many concussions as anyone in the NFL, has broken most of his bones once and has destroyed the ligaments in his left knee. His “gnarliest” injury, in the parlance of X-Games folk from years ago, is a dislocated spine that he suffered ages ago. He’s a complete physiological mess and is held together by the medical equivalent of duct tape.
6. Vin Baker
Fourteen-year NBA veteran and four time All-Star Vin Baker is also one of the league’s most notorious drinkers, having admitted to getting blasted constantly throughout his career. He felt the pressure, it got to him and he needed a crutch, it was that simple. After his playing career, he experienced financial trouble, much of which was due to alcohol related spending and mismanagement. He’s been sober for four years as of 2015 and is training to be a manager at Starbucks.
5. Lawrence Taylor
He’s admitted it himself, even LT is amazed that LT is still alive. The relentlessly talented retired outside linebacker was a threat to linemen, quarterbacks and running backs alike, but around the end of his career and during his retirement, he was a threat to himself. He had done cocaine for most of his career, but it really got out of hand after he left football. He was jailed a few times for drug related offenses and drank more than most people could without kicking the proverbial bucket. In a documentary released a couple of years ago, several of his friends have indicated that the greatest defensive player in NFL history (debatable?) is very lucky to be alive.
Keep in mind how he played the game on top of what was blasting through his veins. All football players are aggressive and play a tough game, but LT played with intensity that was on another level.
4. Theoren Fleury
If there is an equivalent to the movie Rudy for the NHL, it probably wouldn’t be Theoren Fleury. There are some similarities, in that Fleury was undersized and played with arguably more heart than anyone else on the ice, but his backstory is more tragic and his demons more apparent. Aside from scoring goals and pushing people around a foot taller than himself, Fleury became known for alcohol and cocaine (among other drugs) by the end of his career and in retirement.
Fleury experienced sexual abuse at the hands of his junior hockey coach, Graham James, who has been incarcerated for years due to multiple sexual abuse charges. It was because of this abuse that Fleury picked up the destructive habits that he did. For years, Fleury did tons of drugs and was a serious threat to himself. He has indicated that his wife is the main reason for his being able to quit. His autobiography details the tragic events of his life well. In recent years, he has become a spokesperson for sexual abuse victims.
3. Diego Maradona
There are two sides to Diego Maradona’s reputation. The first of these is one of the greatest Argentine football (soccer) players of all time. The second is of course the cocaine and alcohol fueled maniac. He scored the most notorious goal of the century, but more recently since his retirement from playing, he has been widely recognized as a problematic drug user. He has acknowledged his rampant use of cocaine for roughly 20 years and has suffered a heart attack as a result. Maradona also suffers from hepatitis due to his decades of alcohol abuse. He has claimed to have been clean since the mid 2000s, having realized the affect his drug and alcohol use had on his health.
2. Clint Malarchuk
Former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk, who played from 1981 to 1992, is most famous for having cheated death on the ice in the most graphic way possible. During a game between the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues, two players battling for puck possession crashed Malarchuk’s crease. In the process, one of the players’ skate hit the goalie’s neck, damaging his jugular vein and severing the carotid artery. Damage to the jugular is bad, but more often than not, a severed carotid artery means death, as it is the vessel that provides a large amount of blood to the head.
It came down to a matter of seconds and the Sabres’ trainer, Jim Pizzutelli, who was a medic during the Vietnam War, managed to pinch the severed artery to help control the bleeding. I’m no doctor, but when someone has their carotid artery cut, they are medically supposed to die, but thankfully, first aid and quick action helped Malarchuk.
1. Jeb Corliss
Jeb Corliss is an American BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer. While there aren’t really any professional leagues or competitions for these activities, if poker and auto racing are sports, then so are these. What I say of Jeb Corliss can be said of any other person who successfully participates in wingsuit flying, they are lucky to be alive.
Most people who get into an accident while BASE jumping or flying do not live to tell their story. Back in 2003, Dwain Weston, a friend of Corliss, died while the two were flying in Colorado. Corliss has said multiple times that no matter what, he’s okay with the idea of dying doing what he loves.
He has had two accidents that have brought him close to that point. In 1999, he broke several bones and nearly died when a parachute malfunction caused him to get caught in a waterfall in South Africa. In 2012, also in South Africa, he hit part of a mountain while flying, breaking several bones in both legs and ankles, tearing ligaments and sustaining a massive laceration in the process. If he had hit that rock face a foot or two lower, it would have been his torso and he would not have lived to fly another day.
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