Competitive sports are exciting to watch, but they can also be incredibly dangerous. This list of the top 10 worst sports tragedies highlights some of the occasions when athletes have given their lives in the pursuit of what they love, or simply had their lives taken far too soon.
10. Derrick Thomas
Derrick Thomas was a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. He lost his life in a car accident. He was driving to Kansas City Airport and he lost control of his vehicle during a snowstorm. He, along with one of his passengers, was ejected from the vehicle. The passenger that was ejected died instantly, while Thomas was paralyzed from the chest down and died two weeks later because of a blood clot that entered his lungs. Thomas had one other passenger in the vehicle, who was wearing a seatbelt. That passenger walked away from the accident uninjured.
9. Dale Earnhardt
Dale Earnhardt was a famous NASCAR driver. His favorite race track, Daytona, turned out to be his undoing. He crashed on Turn Four during the last lap of the Daytona 500. His car hit a retaining wall, and was then hit by Ken Schrader in the No. 38. The incident did not look serious at first, but just hours later, Mike Helton, NASCAR’s president, announced that Dale Earnhardt had died.
8. Hansie Cronje
Hanse Cronje, the South African cricket captain, died in a plane crash two years after he was accused of match fixing and banned from the sport. Cronje’s death sparked many conspiracy theories, because he was a powerful man in the South African betting community. We may never find out whether the crash was an accident, or something more sinister.
7. Korey Stringer
Korey Stringer played the offensive line for the Minnesota Vikings. He died aged 25 after passing out through heat exhaustion during a training camp. Stringer’s core body temperature rose to 108.8 degrees Farenheit. He collapsed, failed to regain consciousness, and died the next day. The NFL introduced training precautions to prevent such incidents from happening again.
6. Ayrton Senna
Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian Formula 1 driver with a reputation for pushing his car to the limit. Driving at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix, his car’s steering column developed a fault, and he crashed into a wall. The crash may have been survivable, if it were not for one of the suspension bars on the front of the car breaking loose and hitting his head.
5. Roland Ratzenberger
The San Marino Grand Prix weekend in 1994 was one of the most tragic events in Formula 1 history. The day before Ayrton Senna died, Austrian race driver Roldand Ratzenberger was killed during qualifying. He damaged the front wing of his car, and when his car reached a high speed the following lap, the wing broke off, causing him to lose control at the Villeneuve Corner, and hit a wall at 195MPH. Ayrton Senna had an Austrian flag in his car when he died, because he had planned to pay tribute to Ratzenberger at the end of the race.
4. Dan Snyder
Hockey player Dan Snyder died in a car accident when team mate Dany Heatley lost control of his Ferrari and struck a wall. Heatley escaped with minor injuries, but Snyder suffered a fractured skull and died one week later.
3. Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman was a linebackger for Arizona State University. He went on to play for the Cardinals in the late 1990s, but took a break from the sport to join the Army after the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001. He died in a friendly fire incident in 2004.
2. Eddie Guerrero
Professional wrestler Eddie Guerrero was one of the most popular figures in the WCW, WWF and WWE. Like many wrestlers, he struggled with drugs ad alcohol throughout his career. In November 2005 he was found unconscious in his hotel room, and was pronounced dead that day. He was just 38 years old when he died, and the autopsy ruled that heart disease was the primary cause, but that HGH and steroid use was a contributing factor.
1. Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit was another professional wrestler who died too young. What makes his death such a tragedy is that it was a murder-suicide. He killed his seven year old son and his wife, before hanging himself. It is thought that the murder-suicide was brought on in part by dementia and depression caused by repeated concussions sustained in his professional wrestling career.
It seems almost unfair to list the top 10 worst sports tragedies, because any death in sport is tragic. This list of the top 10 worst sports tragedies included some of the most high profile incidents, but that in no way means that other deaths are in some way less important. Any competitor that puts their safety on the line deserves to be respected and remembered.