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The Most Tragic Deaths in Sports History


There is a reason why your mom is always nervous when you go out to play a sport, especially the combat ones. As fun and entertaining as sports are, there are a lot of precautions taken to prevent accidents from happening such as protective gear and referees. Yet, sometimes things just happen and someone gets injured. Unfortunately, that injury can also lead to a tragic death that no one was expecting. While it doesn’t happen often, we certainly don’t forget the ones that died doing what they love.

1. Arturo Gatti

The Italian boxer is known for his trilogy of fights against Irish Mickey Ward, which was one of the toughest and bloodiest in boxing history. Arturo Gatti was a world champion in two different weight classes and was known for his exceptional punching power. In 2009, he was found dead in a hotel in Brazel where he was vacationing with his wife and 10-month-old son.

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His cause of death is unknown but his wife was suspected as his murderer.

2. Payne Stewart

If you followed professional golf in the 90’s, chances are you were saddened by the news of Payne Stewart’s tragic death. He was a 3-time major champion and won 11 PGA tours. Just four months after he won the U.S. open, he was killed in a plane accident going from Florida to Texas.

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The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the cause of the crash was a loss of cabin pressure.

3. Malcolm “King Kong” Kirk

This was one of the most tragic deaths in professional wrestling’s history because although wrestling can get very gruesome, it doesn’t result in death very often. Malcolm “King Kong” Kirk was set to wrestle Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree in a tag-team match with King Kendo in August 1987. During the fight, Big Daddy used one if his signature body slams on King Kong, who immediately turned gray and looked severely sick.

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He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late–he died shortly after arriving but it was revealed that the wrestler’s preexisting heart condition was what killed him.

4. Jack Lovelock

The New Zealand athlete’s case is still a mystery because many people didn’t accept the fact that it was simply an accident. He was a decorated athlete and a champion at the 1936 Olympics in the 1,500 meters race. Evenly he retired and began working in a hospital in New York City. On 28 December 1949, he left early because he wasn’t feeling well and right before boarding the subway, he fell into the tracks, dying instantly.

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9 years earlier, he was thrown from a horse which caused him to receive dizziness spells regularly. Before falling in front of the subway, he had one of those attacks but some believed that he was actually committing suicide.

5. Reggie Lewis

Reggie Lewis wasn’t the first Boston Celtics to have a tragic death but his actually happened on the ball court. He was just 27-years-old when he went into cardiac arrest during an off-season practice session on July 27th, 1993. The basketball star had actually been showing symptoms of heart problem months before but was eventually cleared by his doctor to play.

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In his memory, his team retired his number 35 jersey, making him only one of two players to have a retired number without winning a championship.

6. Corrie Sanders

Corrie Sanders was a world heavyweight boxing champion and known for his strong knockout power in his left hand. One of the biggest upsets in heavyweight boxing history happened back in 2003 when Sanders knocked out the undisputed champion Wladimir Klitschko in two rounds. He retired from boxing in 2008 and went on to live with his family in South Africa. On September 22, 2012, he was fatally shot in the stomach at a restaurant where an armed robbery occurred.

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He died a hero that night as he shielded his daughter from bullets.

7. Michael Hogan

One of the worst sporting massacres happened on November 21, 1920, and is known as “Bloody Sunday.” 14 people were killed and 60 were injured at Croke Park during a match between Dublin and Tipperary. Michael Hogan, the captain for the Tipperary team was one of the people killed that night and the only player to have died.

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When the stadium was rebuilt in 1924, it was named after Michael Hogan, in honor of his death.

8. An entire soccer team in Congo

This freak accident happened back in 1998 in the eastern province of Kasai, in Congo and all 11 members of the visiting team were killed. It happened during the match when the score was tied 1-1 and the lightening only attacked one team. The home-team was left unharmed, although 30 people were said to have received burns.

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Since only one team was killed, people in Africa speculated that someone must have cursed the team.

9. Peter Blake

Peter Blake was a decorated New Zealand yachtsman who has many titles to his name, including his achievements at the Whitbread Round the World Race and holding the Jules Verne trophy. He gained a lot of popularity after he led his home country to many wins in the America’s Cup and was knighted in 1995. People were greatly saddened when they learned that he was killed by pirates on the Amazon River while he was monitoring environmental change.

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More than 40,000 people attended his memorial service at the Auckland Domain.

10. Drazen Petrovic

Basketball fans over the world were saddened by the news of the sudden death of one of the greatest European players. Drazen Petrovic was one of few foreign NBA stars and won 3 Olympic medals. In 1993, he decided to drive back to his home in Croatia from Poland instead of taking flying and this decision cost him his life. His girlfriend was driving the car when they got into a traffic accident.

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He was asleep and unbuckled when the accident occurred. His girlfriend survived but had major injuries.

11. Rocky Marciano

He was one of the greatest heavyweight boxers who ever lived and certainly one of the most popular boxers considering even non-boxing fans know his name. Rocky Marciano was the only boxer ever in history to retire undefeated and unfortunately, had to have a tragic end to his amazing life. On the day before his 46th birthday, his small private plane crashed into a tree outside of Iowa, killing not only the legend but also Frankie Farrell, son of the boxer, Lew Farrell.

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His legacy lives on through anyone who picks up a pair of boxing gloves, hoping to train just like the great Rock from Brockton did.

12. Salvador Sánchez

Salvador Sánchez was one of the boxers who could have been on the lines of Rocky but we never got the chance to see his potential because he died in his prime. He was a WBC Featherweight world champion and was about to become unbeatable when his life tragically ended on August 12, 1982. It happened early that morning when he was driving his Porsche 928 sports car when it crashed on the freeway, killing him instantly.

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In honor of his memory, Sánchez was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

13. Steve Prefontaine

Steve Prefontaine had a similar fate to Sánchez as not only did he die during his prime but his death was also the result of a car accident. He was one of the greatest American middle-and-long-distance runners of all time and still holds the American record in seven different distance track events. He was also the first track athlete to wear Nike, which would be the start of a tradition. On May 30th, 1975, Prefontaine was driving back from a party when his car swerved and hit a rock wall.

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A nearby resident claimed that when they first arrived at the car crash, the track star was still alive but trapped under the wreckage. Unfortunately, by the time the medics came, he was dead.

14. Len Bias

Len Bias was the other famed Boston Celtics player who had a tragic end to his life. He was a first-team All-American college basketball forward at the University of Maryland and in 1986, he was the 2nd overall pick in the NBA draft. What surprised the world was that two days later, he overdosed on heroine. Bias’ official cause of death was a cardiac arrhythmia and was ruled an accident.

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Although he never got the chance to play professional basketball, he is still considered one of the greatest basketball players.

15. Joaquim Agostinho

Joaquim Agostinho was a Portuguese bicycle racer who was a six-time national champion. He is known for his 13 bouts in the Tour de France race and other decorated international races. Unfortunately, it was at one of those races that his career ended. It happened during the Tour of the Algarve at Quarteira in 1984 when a dog ran onto the path, just a few hundred meters before the finish line. Agostinho collided with the dog, causing him to fall to the ground and hit his head.

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The injury to his head sent him into a coma that he would never recover from.

16. Andrés Escobar

Andrés Escobar made the biggest mistake in his soccer playing career and it ended up resulting in his death. He was a Columbian defender whose team made it to the second match of the 1994 FIFA World Cup. During that match against the United States’ soccer team Escobar accidentally scored into his own team’s goal net. This caused Columbia to be eliminated from the tournament. When returning back to his home country, he was murdered outside of a nightclub by two men who were not happy with his mistake.

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One of his murderers was a member of a powerful cartel in Columbia.

17. Marc-Vivien Foé

Marc-Vivien Foé’s death is greatly remembered in the soccer community because it was broadcasted live and the whole world saw it. He played for the Cameroon team who got to play in the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup. On June 23rd, his team played the United States at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France and 72 minutes into the came, he collapsed in the center circle. Medics were unable to be revive Foé  and he died shortly after. The cause of death was said to be a heart condition that could increase sudden death during physical activity.

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In honor of his tragic death, he was decorated with the Commander of the National Order of Valour.

18. Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna was one of the greatest racers in the history of auto sports and has won three Formula One world championships for McLaren. On May 21st, during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, he was driving in his final race when his car crashed. He was in first place on lap 7 when the accident occurred and was removed from the wreckage within 2 minutes of it happening, but it wasn’t enough to save him.

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Although he was airlifted to Bologna’s Maggiore Hospital where he would be pronounced dead, the doctor stated that he actually died at the scene since that is when his brain stopped working.

19. Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman is considered to be one of the bravest athletes because he rejected a multimillion dollar contract in order to serve his country. After the attacks of 9/11, the NFL football player decided to join the army in 2002, where he became an army ranger and did several tours. In 2004, he was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan but there were a lot of speculations about the actual cause of his death.

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In honor of his service, he was promoted to corporal and given silver star and purple heart medals.

20. The Munich Air Disaster

This is one of the worst sports tragedy in British history, which resulted in 23 deaths, 8 of which were Manchester United players. The team was coming back from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on a British European Airways flight that contained 44 passengers, including journalists, photographers, and some of the soccer team’s staff.  On February 6, 1958, the plane crashed at Munich-Riem Airport in West Germany due to a slush-covered runway.

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It took 10 years for the Manchester United team to recover from this tragic accident that left them 10 players short and the loss of their club secretary, chief coach, and trainer.

21. The Munich Massacre

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich went down in history as the most tragic games in history and is known as the Munich Massacre. 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September. A German officer was also slain and in total, 17 men died that night, so of which tried to stop the masked men. German police officers were able to kill 5 out of the 8 terrorists and the rest were captured.

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Two days before the 2016 Rio Olympics, the International Olympic Committee honored the deaths of the Israelis for the first time, 44 years later.

22. The 1964 Lima Soccer Riot

The worst disaster in soccer history happened back in 1964 during a match between Peru and Argentina. The game itself was a qualifier where the winner would be sent to the Tokyo Olympics and was held at the Estadio Nacional in Lima. In the last 6 minutes of the game, Peru scored, which would have made the game tied 1-1 but the referee refused to count the goal. This decision resulted in a riot in the stands that led to 328 people being killed and 500 injured.

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After this tragedy, it was decided to reduce the seating capacity of the stadium from 53,000 to 42,000.

23. Raymond Chapman

Raymond Chapman was a shortstop for Cleveland back in the beginning days of baseball in the 1900’s, which was also a time when it was not required for baseball players to wear helmets while batting. He is greatly remembered for being the only Major League Baseball player to die from an injury that occurred during a game. Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch from Yankees’ Carl Mays on August 16th, 1920 and died 12 hours later in a New York City hospital.

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As a result of this game, Major League Baseball banning the use of dirty balls which made them hard to see and Chapman’s death was used greatly in the arguments in the future about the use of helmets.

24. The Heysel Stadium Disaster

The Heysel Stadium Disaster is another soccer game that caused a riot in the stands that left many killed and even more injured. The game in Brussels, Belgium was between two hostile teams Juventus of Italy and Liverpool of England and is known as  “the darkest hour in the history of the UEFA competitions.” An hour before the game even started, Liverpool supporters started attacking Italian fans, leading to a bunch of people being pressed into a wall that eventually collapsed. 39 people were killed and 600 injured.

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As a result of the Liverpool fans’ actions, indefinitely banned from all European competitions which lasted 5 years and 14 Liverpool fans were sentenced to prison for manslaughter.

25. The 1955 Le Mans Disaster

On June 11th, 1955, the deadliest disaster in the history of motorsport happened. It was during the 24 hour hours of Le Mans motor race in France on a 30-year-old old track that wasn’t capable of enduring the fast speed of the motor cars. It all happened when Mike Hawthrone cut off Lance Macklin, causing him to swerve into the driver, Pierre Levegh’s path. The 49-year-old driver ended up crashing into a concrete wall that not only killed him but also 83 fans after his car exploded and 120 were injured.

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In reports of the incident, it was said that the hood of Levegh’s car decapitated fans like a guillotine.

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