Although the life of a professional athlete is certainly exciting, there’s also a lot at stake. An injury, for example, can make it all come crashing down. Knee injuries and Tommy John surgery loom over the head of any athlete—these are injuries that end seasons, and even careers.
Few athletes, however, expect to lose their lives while playing.
It’s always a tragedy to lose someone young. In athletics, having an athlete pass away can affect not just the athlete’s family and friends, but the team, the league, and even the fans who watch the athlete play on a regular basis. These deaths can shake fanbases, and alter the course of team history for franchises for decades.
Just this week, former Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich said that everything changed for the team after José Fernández passed away. Had he still been alive, Yelich felt, Miami may be in the process of contending for a playoff spot now, instead of selling off their best players. And it’s hard to argue this; aside from the on-field loss of talent taken from losing arguably their best player, the loss of Fernandez clearly took an emotional toll on the Marlins team, as he was one of the most beloved players in the clubhouse.
Star athletes passing away in the prime of their careers isn’t particularly common, thank goodness, but it is common enough that there are several instances of a citywide mourning following a professional athlete’s death. Each death—regardless of the circumstances—is a true tragedy, felt by a community even bigger than the team itself.
Here are 27 professional athletes who died while in their prime, taken from their family, friends, and fans much too soon.