Finally! Ranking the top 20 worst sports injuries of all-time

Finally! Ranking the top 20 worst sports injuries of all-time

Claudia Kogi
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:21 PM

One undeniable fact about injuries is that they are common in sports. Athletes always stand a chance to get injured in football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, boxing, swimming, skiing, or even car racing. In fact, chances of any of these sports ending without injured players are often close to zero. These are some of the world's worst sports injuries ever ranked.

Most painful injury in sports
Finally! Ranking the top 20 worst sports injuries of all-time. Photo: Peter Dazeley (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

These are not just mild injuries: some of them have caused deaths. Talking about brain bleeding, eternal paralysis, intense concussions, and life threatening injuries that have had more than their victims in tears.

Top 20 worst sports injuries of all-time

Some of these injuries have been ingrained in sports fans' psyches and left indelible images of gruesome scenes in their already shocked minds. The human body is made so that it can only endure so much stress before finally succumbing to its physical limitations.

According to various online sources, here is a compiled list of the worst sports injuries recorded. Keep in mind that some of these injuries are fatal enough to make you cringe in your seat.

20. Tyrone Prothro

Tyrone is among those up-and-coming players whose careers got shattered due to injuries. He had a reputation for making spectacular catches in his college football career, which eventually came to a standstill during a match against Florida Gators.

Worst sports injuries
Tyrone Prothro of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Photo: M. Caulfield
Source: Getty Images

The talented basketball player suffered severe fractures in his tibia and fibula during the game. Despite various rehabilitative efforts, Tyrone Prothro has since been away from his football career.

19. Borje Salming

Borje Salming is one of the most decorated defensemen in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is renowned for his four-decade career before making his last appearance on the pitch.

Worst sports injuries to have
Borje Salming of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game against the Boston Bruins at Boston Garden. Photo: Steve Babineau
Source: Getty Images

But even though he is pretty remembered for his decorated career while at Toronto Maple Leafs, his dreams were shattered in 1986 when his opponent, Gerard Gallant's skate, sliced his face causing a gash that required over 200 stitches.

18. JA Happ

No one wants to wake up in an emergency room with a concussion. Ja Happ suffered a severe injury on the side of his head during his second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays. The injury was intensively severe and it took him eleven minutes to fully come around before finally being taken to the emergency room.

List of worst sports injuries
JA Happ of the Minnesota Twins pitches in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field on 23 July 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Adam Bettcher
Source: Getty Images

Upon further diagnosis, it was discovered that the player had suffered a skull fracture and laceration behind his ear.

17. Allan Ray

By now, you should be certain that head injuries in the sports world are common, and anything close to the face can be dangerously fatal. For Allan Ray, although it was not exactly his head that was injured, he suffered an eye injury that caused a temporary loss of vision.

Worst sports injuries of all-time
Allan Ray in action during the friendly basketball match against Vanoli Cremona at Unipol Arena on 23 September 2015 in Bologna, Italy. Photo: Roberto Serra
Source: Getty Images

It must have been a traumatic experience for him since he quit sports. Reports state that as of January 2023, Allan Ray is an entrepreneur in Italy.

16. Wayne Buck Shelford

It is no doubt that when the name rugby comes up, all sorts of injuries can be presumed, considering the nature of the game. Although Wayne was known to be the most demanding guy in the squad, he seemingly did not hold the title for long as he suffered a severe injury in his groins during the famed clash between New Zealand and France in 1986.

To date, Wayne Buck Shelford's injury is still considered the most painful injury in sports history.

15. Marcus Lattimore

Marcus Lattimore was on his way to a spectacular junior season with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks when his season abruptly ended in late October after he suffered a severe lunge on his right knee.

The lunge was severe as it caused further dislocation and knee ligament damage. However, even though he suffered the injury, Marcus still managed to be declared for the NFL draft and even got selected by the San Francisco 49ers.

14. Shaun Livingston

Another sport known for the nature of its injuries is basketball. It is alleged that basketball players are more prone to injuries than any other. Even though Shaun's career was full of injuries, one that sent him home was eventually fatal.

Worst sports for ACL injuries
Shaun Livingston smiles as he attends a game between the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs during the 2022 NBA Summer League on 10 July 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Ethan Miller
Source: Getty Images

In a match against Charlotte, Shaun ran down the left side of the court, dislocating his patella and tearing his ACL, PCL, MCL, and lateral meniscus. Today, Shaun's injury is categorised among the worst sports for ACL injuries.

13. Paul George

Paul George's career had just begun to nurture with the Indiana Pacers when he was named to Team USA for the FIBA World Championship. However, it nearly ended during a televised intra-squad game when George's foot wedged between the basket's stanchion and the floor.

What is the worst injury in sports
Paul George of the LA Clippers dribbles the ball during the game against the Denver Nuggets on 5 January 2023 at the Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Garrett Ellwood
Source: Getty Images

As a result, he fractured his tibia and fibula, missing the entire 2014/15 NBA season.

12. Anderson Silva

Let us all agree that anything happening in the UFC pentagon is already fatal. That said, you already know that such a sport is prone to fatal injuries from broken arms, necks, legs, and waist, and all these injuries are common in the UFC.

World's worst sports injuries
Anderson Silva poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session on 29 October 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Mike Roach
Source: Getty Images

Anderson experienced his share of injury during an encounter with Chris Weidman and crushed his leg bones.

11. Kevin Ware

Not only do players get injured during a match, but also the subordinate stuff like referees, guards, and so many others. Kevin Ware was a promising sophomore guard on the University of Louisville Cardinals basketball team.

However, his dream got shuttered after he suffered a gruesome compound fracture on his lower leg. It happened when he tried to save a shot in Louisville's Elite Eight matchup against Duke and painfully fell in front of the bench.

10. Joe Theismann

Joe Theismann's leg injury saddened the NFL at the hands of Lawrence Taylor, and he twisted his leg and folded underneath the pile of bodies. The moment had a lasting impact on the NFL, considering Joe was a vital part of the squad.

What sport has the worst injuries
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann stands on the field before a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on 15 August 2019 in Landover, Maryland. Photo: Patrick McDermott
Source: Getty Images

The injury must have impacted Joe's career as he signed an early retirement at age 36.

9. Willis McGahee

If you are an NFL diehard fan, you will attest that Willis McGahee was such an integral part of the Miami Hurricanes team that is renowned for going undefeated for nearly two consecutive seasons.

However, that took a turn in the 2003 4th quarter when the NFL player caught a screen pass and got cut down by his opponent, Will Allen's tackle to his knee that bent backwards, resulting in tears of his ACL, MCL, and PCL.

8. Steve Moore

Steve is renowned for being one of the most brutal cheap shots in the history of the NFL. His life nearly came to an end in a 3rd period matchup with the Vancouver Canucks when he was struck in the back of his head by Todd Bertuzzi.

World's worst sports injuries
Steve Moore looks on from the sideline during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on 6 October 1985 in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: George Gojkovich
Source: Getty Images

Consequently, he suffered three fractured vertebrae and a severe concussion. The impact was later discovered to be a deliberate knock, and as a result, Moore sued Bertuzzi in a civil lawsuit seeking $68 million.

7. Richard Zednik

In 2008, during a game between the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabers, Zednik's neck was cut by a fellow teammate, Olli Jokinen's skate. The injury was so severe that Richard lost almost five units of blood following the cut.

Fortunately, after surgery, it was reported that the player's life was out of danger thanks to his carotid artery not being severely ruptured.

6. Clint Malarchuk

At the sixth position sits Clint Malarchuk, whose nearly 20-year career in professional hockey is remembered for a single moment in a match with his Buffalo Sabers and the St. Louis Blues, when two players, Skaters Uwe Krupp and Steve Tuttle, entangled and crashed into Malarchuk slitting his throat.

What is the worst injury in sports
Clint Malarchuk of the Calgary Flames watches from the bench in a game against the Nashville Predators at Scotiabank Saddledome on 21 March 2014 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Photo: Brad Watson
Source: Getty Images

5. Mike Utley

Talk of losing balance during a game. This was the case with Mike Utley during the 4th quarter of a 1991 game between the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions, and he lost balance and fractured his cervical vertebrae leaving him paralysed from the chest down.

What sport has the worst injuries
Mike Utley attends the Broadway Opening Night After Party for Escape to Margaritaville' at Pier Sixty on 15 March 2018 in New York City. Photo: Walter McBride
Source: Getty Images

As of 2023, Mike Utley remains dedicated to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries.

4. Eric LeGrand

Eric LeGrand's life took a complete turn instantly as he tore down the field on Kickoff coverage during the 4th quarter of a game between Rutgers and Army. He collided with the ball career with his head down and remained still for several minutes.

It was later revealed that LeGrand had fractured two of his cervical vertebrae, leaving him paralysed below the neck.

3. Dale Earnhardt

Of course, an injured car racer must be on the list, and that is Dale Earnhardt, famously dubbed The Intimidator, following his tenacity on and off the track. During the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt's son, Dale Jr, came second place as the race ended.

However, in the race's final lap, the NASCAR driver slammed into the outside wall of the turn to block Sterling Marlin. The impact was intensively fatal as Dale Sr was pronounced dead upon reaching the hospital. To date, Dale's encounter is categorised among deadly injuries of all-time

2. Bill Masterton

Another yet legend who died during a game is Bill Masterton. He paid the ultimate price for his sport while in his first season with the expansion Minnesota North Stars in 1968. The impact could be described as a head-on-collision as he skated at full speed, meeting with Larry Cahan and Ron Harris.

The impact was so intense that it sent him flying backwards and caused him to land on his head. It was unfortunate for him as he had not won his helmet. Bill bled from his ears, mouth and nose, and by the time he was being rushed to the hospital, Bill had already taken his last breath.

1. Ray Chapman

To date, Ray Chapman remains the only player to have ever died of injuries from being hit by a pitch. The impact occurred on 16 August 1920 between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds.

According to accounts, the impact was alleged to be similar to hitting a bat. After an autopsy, it was later discovered that he passed due to a skull fracture.

Even though the mentioned injuries are categorised among the worst sports injuries of all time, it does not rule out that all injuries are emergencies and that all of them should be taken seriously. Nevertheless, some of these players, although dead, are still remembered for their input in sports.

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The NFL has gained popularity, attracting over 184 million fans globally. With their love for the game, millions of fans would love to be part of the thrill as they see their favourite athletes battle live. Click this article and find more information about these stadiums.

Claudia Kogi photo
Claudia Kogi
Claudia Kogi is a Kenyan content creator with over 3 years of experience. Claudia joined as a writer in January 2022, covering sports and relatable content.