The 2014 National Football League season took an unusual turn this week when news reports surfaced that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had been injured in an auto accident. According to the reports, the former #1 overall draft pick was driving his pickup truck to the stadium in Charlotte to study game film on Tuesday afternoon when a car pulled out in front of him. The powerful collision sent Newton's truck tumbling on an interstate overpass before coming to rest on its passenger side. The quarterback had to slide through a broken window to exit his truck.
Newton was lucky, because his injuries were not as severe as they could have been. He did suffer two lower back fractures, but they don't appear to be too serious. However, Newton will sit out this weekend's game against Tampa Bay. Neither he nor the other driver were charged in connection with the crash.
Sadly, this incident reminds us about the lengthy history of traffic collisions involving athletes; in fact, three of them have been killed in such accidents this year alone. In August, former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen was killed after being ejected from a car which was being driven by an intoxicated man. St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras perished in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic in October. And South African runner Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, a former world champion in the 800 meters (and his country's first black athlete to ever achieve a world #1 ranking), lost his life in October as well while driving in Johannesburg.
There have also been quite a few auto accidents over the years involving athletes who survived the crashes, often at the expense of their careers. Here are ten of them which took place in the 21st century.
10 Devin Davis, Indiana Hoosiers
The sophomore forward is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury that he suffered last month when he was hit by a car in Bloomington. Just after midnight on November 1st, Davis was dropped off at Memorial Stadium by fellow basketball player Emmitt Holt, who then drove out of the parking lot onto the street. But Davis stepped into the roadway and was struck by Holt's Jeep. Davis lost consciousness and had to be hospitalized for about two weeks. He's still undergoing speech and physical therapy at home in Indianapolis, but there's no guarantee that he'll ever play for IU again.
9 Josh Brent, Dallas Cowboys
Even though the Cowboys' defensive lineman suffered only minor injuries in a December 2012 car crash, it still changed his life. After a night of partying, Brent was reportedly driving his Mercedes at a high rate of speed in the Dallas suburb of Irving when the vehicle struck a curb, flipped over, and became engulfed in flames. The accident killed Jerry Brown, Brent's teammate in Dallas and at the University of Illinois. Brent, who had allegedly consumed as many as 17 drinks that night, was eventually convicted of intoxicated manslaughter and sentenced to six months in jail. He's currently back on the roster for Dallas.
8 Dany Heatley, Atlanta Thrashers
Heatley knows what Brent is going through. The MVP of the 2003 NHL All-Star Game was driving his Ferrari in September of that year when he lost control on a curve and crashed into a brick pillar. The 22-year old Thrashers' winger tore up his knee and broke his jaw, but his teammate in the passenger seat, Dan Snyder, suffered severe injuries and lapsed into a coma, then died several days later. Heatley was convicted on charges including second-degree vehicular homicide, but received three years' probation after Snyder's parents asked the judge for no jail time. He now plays in Anaheim.
7 Hermann Maier, Austrian Skier
Maier became famous around the world after winning gold medal in the slalom and supergiant slalom events at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan. But in August of 2001, Maier was riding his motorcycle in his native Austria when he was hit by a car. The 28-year old was hurled into a ditch and suffered severe injuries to both legs. At first, doctors considered amputating his right leg, but ultimately decided not to; however, they felt that Maier would never walk again. They were wrong - Maier was back on skis that December, returned to World Cup skiing in 2003, and even won two more medals at the 2006 Winter Games in Italy.
6 Chad Jones, New York Giants
This tragedy stopped a pro football career before it even started. A standout defensive back at LSU, Jones was taken in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Giants. After a minicamp in June, Jones returned to New Orleans and picked up the brand new Land Rover he had just acquired. Shortly thereafter, he was driving with two passengers when he lost control of the vehicle and slammed into a pole. Jones almost died from blood loss from his leg being pinned beneath the Land Rover, and he suffered multiple fractures and nerve damage. He tried to rehab back into shape, but never returned to the field and was cut by the team in 2012.
5 Jay Williams, Chicago Bulls
The second overall pick of the 2002 NBA draft wound up being the league's version of Chad Jones - although Williams did play in his rookie year in Chicago. But in June of 2003, Williams was riding the motorcycle he had just purchased when tragedy struck. Williams hit a light pole on Chicago's North Side and reportedly flew more than ten feet through the air before hitting the pavement. He suffered a fractured pelvis, a severed nerve in his leg, and three dislocated ligaments in his knee. Not only had Williams not been wearing a helmet, but he wasn't permitted to ride a motorcycle due to his contract with the Bulls. After drafting a point guard named Kirk Heinrich about a week after the accident, the team waived Williams and he never played in the NBA again.
4 Kellen Winslow II, Cleveland Browns
Motorcycles can be dangerous even for longtime riders. Which wasn't what Winslow was when he stepped on a sport bike in a parking lot in May of 2005. While learning to ride the motorcycle, Winslow struck a curb at 35 mph and flipped over the handlebars, tearing the ACL in his knee in the process. That injury forced the Browns' tight end to miss the entire 2005 season. Fortunately, Winslow rehabilitated the knee and got back on the roster - and then recorded 171 receptions and 1,981 yards over the next two seasons.
3 Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Guess athletes and motorcycles don't mix very well. Just months after leading the Steelers to a Super Bowl win in the 2005 season, the quarterback was riding his Suzuki Hayabusa in downtown Pittsburgh in June when a car turned left in front of him and struck the bike. A helmetless Big Ben was thrown from the motorcycle onto the car's windshield before hitting the ground head first. Roethlisberger went through seven hours of surgery to repair multiple facial fractures and a nine-inch head laceration. Thankfully, he returned in time for the 2006 season.
2 Dario Franchitti, Formula One Racer
The "Murphy's Law of motorcycles" apparently extends to non-American athletes as well - even those who are no stranger to driving. In the summer of 2003, Franchitti was traveling from his home in Nashville (with his then-wife Ashley Judd) to Japan for an Indy Racing League event when he stopped over in his native Scotland and decided to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather by riding his MV Agusta. According to Franchitti, the bike sustained a mechanical problem and the racer was thrown into a hedge, fracturing a vertebrae in his back and forcing him to sit out most of the remainder of the '03 season. Four years later, he won his first of three Indy 500 races.
1 Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Pats fans' hearts skipped a collective beat in 2010 when their team's star quarterback was involved in an auto accident three days before the season opener. Brady was driving his Audi in a neighborhood when a minivan ran a red light and struck Brady's vehicle. The quarterback had to be tended to by paramedics, but did walk away from the collision. Evidently, the Patriots thought he was okay, because the next day, Brady signed a 4-year, $72 million contract extension to make him the highest-paid player in the NFL (at the time).