Worst Sports Injuries
One of the few things guaranteed in sports is injuries. Almost every athlete from every sport has to deal with getting hurt at some point. Some injuries only knock out an athlete for a few days or weeks. Others keep them out for years or maybe even for good. And in rare cases, injuries become famous.
This fame can be because of the athletes involved in the injury, what caused the pain or the gruesome nature of the damage done. Many doctors will tell you that some of the strangest and least common injuries they’ve ever come across happened during a sporting competition.
If you can stomach it, take a look at the most famous and gruesome injuries in sports history.
Warning: The following contains graphic content some may find disturbing.
Kevin Ware — Open Fracture of Leg
What happened: Kevin Ware jumped to block a shot and landed awkwardly on his right leg.
Famous words: "I'm fine, just win the game." — Ware, while receiving medical attention on the court
Bottom line: If you prefer not to watch a clip of Kevin Ware’s horrific injury, all you have to do is look at the reactions of the Louisville, Kentucky, bench during the college basketball play. That will tell you just how gruesome a scene it was.
Ware was a backup guard on a Louisville team that went on to win a since-vacated national championship, and when jumping to defend a 3-point shot, he landed in the worst way possible. Ware’s shin bone literally protruded through his skin so that his lower leg settled into a right angle.
He was somehow able to return to play just eight months after the injury and wrapped up his college career in 2016 at Georgia State.
Napoleon McCallum — Complete Hyperextension of Knee
What happened: Napoleon McCallum’s cleat got stuck in the ground as he was tackled causing a dislocation.
Famous words: "It’s just part of the game. It wasn’t a vicious play. I was playing football, and sometimes you get hurt." — McCallum
Bottom line: The former Los Angeles Raiders running back had the misfortune of getting his cleat stuck in the ground while being tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr.
That takedown forced a gruesome dislocation and hyperextension of his knee, with Norton trapped under him. Because of the seriousness of the situation, Norton was forced to remain under an injured Napoleon McCallum for a couple of minutes as medical personnel worked on McCallum.
In addition to the hyperextension, McCallum also tore three ligaments, tore his calf and hamstring muscles from the bone, ruptured an artery and suffered nerve damage. He never played another down of professional football.
Paul George — Compound Fracture of Leg
What happened: Paul George landed awkwardly at the base of the basket stanchion and broke two bones in his right leg.
Famous words: "This is a tough blow, not only for USA basketball but for the Indiana Pacers [...] When you have something like this, it puts things in perspective." — USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo
Bottom line: During an exhibition featuring USA Basketball, Paul George attempted a chase-down block on James Harden. He missed the block and ended up fouling Harden, but the worst part of the play was George’s foot landing in an awkward way against the hoop stanchion.
The way that George’s foot hit the stanchion caused his ankle to dislocate in such a way that his ankle was touching the court while he was still standing up. The scrimmage was immediately canceled with nine minutes remaining as George was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery.
He missed out on USA Basketball winning gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and also missed 76 games of the following NBA season, but he was able to return afterward and won gold at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Gordon Hayward — Fractured Leg and Dislocated Ankle
What happened: Gordon Hayward went up for an alley-oop but had an awkward landing causing his leg to collapse under his weight.
Famous words: "I knew something was off, but when I landed, it wasn't a huge amount of pain. I rolled over and saw my foot, and it was pointed completely in the wrong direction. My first thought was, 'Oh. This isn't good.'" — Hayward
Bottom line: Just six minutes into his first game with the Boston Celtics, Gordon Hayward had his season come to an end when his leg bent in a way it’s not supposed to bend. His leg buckled unnaturally under him as both players and fans in Cleveland reacted like they had just seen a ghost.
Play was suspended between the Celtics and Cavaliers for a couple of minutes, and Hayward was transferred back to Boston via MedFlight, where he underwent surgery. He then had a second surgery a couple of months later to remove some bothersome hardware, and he returned to action 364 days after the original injury.
Zach Miller — Torn Artery in Knee
What happened: After jumping to catch a touchdown pass, Zach Miller had his cleat plant and get stuck in the turf, causing his leg to bend in an uncommon way.
Famous words: "Last thing I said was just, 'Doc, don't cut my leg off.'" — Miller
Bottom line: In a Chicago Bears game versus the New Orleans Saints, an awkward landing on an overturned touchdown catch dislocated Zach Miller’s knee, and the dislocation caused severe arterial damage that almost led to amputation.
Doctors had to perform emergency vascular surgery in New Orleans to save Miller’s leg in which they used a vein from his good leg, according to Bears coach John Fox.
Miller spent a total of 23 days in two hospitals — one in New Orleans and one in Chicago — before being released and was still in rehab a year-and-a-half later.
He announced his retirement in April 2019, saying he "physically cannot give the game and our fans what they deserve."
Bobby Valentine — Compound Leg Fracture
What happened: Bobby Valentine’s spikes got caught in an outfield chain-link fence as he attempted to rob a home run.
Famous words: "Not spending another thousand bucks for a solid fence was the worst mistake of my life." — California Angels general manager Harry Dalton.
Bottom line: Bobby Valentine was a promising young outfielder with the California Angels who was hitting over .300 in his third major league season.
But the trajectory of his career changed when he lept to catch a home-run ball and caught his leg between two supporting poles in an outfield fence. The wall gave way a bit, which trapped his leg and caused his leg to bend at the shin.
He suffered multiple fractures in his leg, and despite being put in various casts, his bones did not heal properly. He elected to return to play the following season instead of having more surgery, and the injury hampered the rest of his career.
After hitting .302 during the season he was injured, he hit just .251 over the rest of his career and played his last game at 29 years old.
Tony Saunders — Fractured Arm
What happened: On a 3-2 pitch to Juan Gonzalez, Tony Saunders’ upper arm snapped with the sound resonating through Tropicana Field.
Famous words: "You have a situation that a gentleman that made his living by using that left arm has to eventually get over the traumatic experience of the pitch he threw." — Tampa Bay Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar
Bottom line: You could argue that the human body isn’t conditioned to throw pitches at as high a velocity as possible over and over and over and over again.
Saunders discovered that fact as he broke his humerus bone on a wild pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999. He also suffered torn ligaments on the pitch and immediately went to the ground and pounded it with his good arm.
He didn’t require surgery since doctors were able to set the bone without an operation, but he broke the same arm the following year during a rehab assignment, ending his career at 26.
Akil Mitchell — Dislodged Eyeball
What happened: The finger of an opposing player dislodged Akil Mitchell’s eye during an Australian NBL game.
Famous words: "With the palm of my hand, I felt my eyeball on the side of my face. I could still see out of the eye." — Akil Mitchell
Bottom line: Shoulders, elbows, hips and eyeballs. All are parts of the body that can pop out of their sockets.
Former Virginia Cavalier Akil Mitchell was playing abroad when an opponent unintentionally poked him in his eye, causing the eyeball to come out of its socket.
Mitchell said even with the injury that he could still see out of it and never went blurry. He freaked out while on the court, but while in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, the eyeball popped right back into the socket.
He described it as a "weird sensation" and was a little bruised afterward but suffered no long-term effects.
Grant Hill — Sprained Ankle/Staph Infection
What happened: A sprained ankle that Grant Hill continued to play on caused lingering damage and ended with a life-threatening staph infection.
Famous words: "There were times where I played when my gut was telling me not to play. The regret is that I should have trusted my gut, and maybe some of this stuff would have been avoided." — Grant Hill
Bottom line: It’s almost hard to believe that a sprained ankle playing for the Detroit Pistons in 2000 caused Grant Hill to miss 357 games over the next six years, but it turns out the ankle injury wasn’t the worst of it.
After lingering pain from multiple surgeries, doctors performed an unorthodox operation of purposely fracturing Hill’s ankle to realign it with the rest of his leg. That procedure went well, but five days afterward, Hill was rushed back to the operating room due to a potentially fatal staph infection.
He was hospitalized for a week and was on antibiotics for six months but overcame it to play nine more NBA seasons and make it to the Hall of Fame.
Tony Conigliaro — Fractured Cheekbone and Dislocated Jaw
What happened: Tony Conigliaro, who was wearing a batting helmet without a protective ear flap, was beaned in the face with a fastball.
Famous words: "When I got to him, he said, 'It hurts like hell. I heard a hissing sound, and that was all.'" — Red Sox team physician Dr. Thomas Tierney
Bottom line: To date, the Boston Red Sox's Tony Conigliaro still holds the major league record for most home runs by a teenager (24). But at 22 years old, his career changed forever when he was hit by a pitch from California Angels right-hander Jack Hamilton.
Conigliaro had a tendency to crowd the plate, and this pitch came a little too inside and left him with a broken eye socket, cheekbone and jaw. He also suffered damage to his retina that nearly killed him and put him on the shelf for 20 months.
While he had a promising return to the diamond, he suffered long-term damage to his eye and played just four more seasons after his injury.
Steve Yeager — Impaled by Bat on the Side of his Neck
What happened: While standing in the on-deck circle, a broken bat barrel flew toward Steve Yeager and hit him in the neck.
Famous words: "He’s very fortunate. The wound just missed the nerve column that controls feeling in the hands and arms. It was also close to his windpipe and close to a major artery." — Los Angeles Dodgers team spokesman
Bottom line: Steve Yeager, the Los Angeles Dodgers catcher, was getting ready for his plate appearance in the on-deck circle when teammate Bill Russell hit a grounder to third base.
The contact broke Russell’s bat with him still holding the handle and the barrel flying toward Yeager, where it connected with his neck.
Yeager didn’t have time to protect himself and immediately went down "as if he was struck by a bullet." There was blood everywhere, and nine splinters went into a three-inch gash on his neck.
He needed another 4-inch incision for doctors to remove all of the splinters, and he was back in the lineup just 19 days later.
Mickey Mantle — Torn ACL
What happened: Mickey Mantle was chasing after a fly ball in the outfield when he stumbled over a sprinkler head, injuring his knee.
Famous words: "All of a sudden, Mickey throws on the brakes, and his legs went out from under him. Then he couldn’t get up, and it didn’t look like he wanted to get up." — New York Giants shortstop Al Dark, who saw the play from the dugout
Bottom line: There’s still some debate about the exact knee injury Mickey Mantle suffered as a 19-year-old rookie for the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series. Some opinions say a torn ACL, torn meniscus or torn cartilage.
But the fact remains that Mantle played two more seasons before having surgery and then played 15 more years while being in pain every single game. The advanced surgical techniques of today weren’t around in the early 1950s, and Mantle was never the same after the injury, even though you could never tell from looking at the box score.
Mantle suffered the injury while trying to avoid an outfield collision with Joe DiMaggio, and since Mantle’s rookie year coincided with DiMaggio’s final season, this was the last game that the two Yankees legends ever played together.
Mick Foley — Ear Torn Off
What happened: Part of Nick Foley’s ear loosened when his head was tied between two ropes and then knocked off by his opponent.
Famous words: "I later asked what did it look like. It looked like a piece of uncooked chicken with tape on it." — Foley, on his injured ear
Bottom line: Wrestling may be scripted and "fake," but the injuries are quite real. Foley, in his "Cactus Jack" character, was wrestling "Big Van Vader" in Germany when Foley got his head tangled between two ropes.
When he finally freed himself, his ear was split, and then Foley and Vader began trading blows. Vader then reached at Foley’s ear, and off fell part of that split ear into the middle of the ring. The referee picked it up and handed it to the ring announcer, who took it to the back.
Foley could have had surgery to reattach the part of his ear, but he was booked to win the tag-team titles and didn’t want to miss that opportunity.
So, to this day, he is missing part of his ear but is a one-time WCW Tag Team Champion.
Jessica Dube — Face Slashed by Blade of Skate
Sport: Ice skating
What happened: Jessica Dube’s partner veered too close to her during a side-by-side spin, and his skating blade came into contact with her face.
Famous words: "We were skating the best we've skated our long program all year, and all of a sudden, maybe there was a lapse in our focus. The half-revolution before my skate hit her face, I knew we were too close." — Bryce Davison, her partner
Bottom line: Ice skating usually isn’t the first sport you think of when it comes to gruesome sports injuries, except when the blade of a skate slashes against someone’s face.
Jessica Dube and her partner Bryce Davison were competing in Colorado Springs when they drifted too close to each other during a horizontal spin. His skate accidentally slashed her face, and she immediately crumpled to the ground with blood pooling on the ice.
Dube was rushed to the hospital where she underwent surgery that night to repair facial lacerations. There were no other major injuries, and after both Dube and Davison were treated for PTSD, they resumed skating together.
Shaun Livingston — Shatters Knee After Awkward Landing
What happened: After a layup attempt, Shaun Livingston landed awkwardly and tore two ligaments, tore his meniscus and dislocated his kneecap.
Famous words: "It's probably the most serious injury you can have to the knee." — Los Angeles Clippers physician Dr. Tony Daly
Bottom line: Shaun Livingston was just 21 years old when his NBA career with the Los Angeles Clippers got put in jeopardy after a knee injury had doctors discussing possible amputation. Fortunately, that wasn’t required, but Livingston did require 16 months of rehab before being cleared for basketball activities.
He described how his leg looked after the injury as "a pole with a pineapple in the middle of it" since it was deformed and leaking with puss. Livingston eventually made it back to the NBA, but the former No. 4 overall pick was a journeyman from that point after.
He played for eight different teams over the next five years before finding a home with the Golden State Warriors and winning three NBA championships.
Clint Malarchuk — Neck Artery Severed by Blade of Skate
What happened: Clint Malarchuk and another player crashed into the goal crease with that other player’s skate coming into contact with Malarchuk’s throat.
Famous words: "All I wanted to do was get off the ice. My mother was watching the game on TV, and I didn't want her to see me die." — Malarchuk
Bottom line: There are injuries. Then there are career-threatening injuries. Then there are life-threatening injuries.
The latter is what Buffalo Sabres' Clint Malarchuk suffered when his carotid artery was severed, which caused a massive amount of blood to spill out onto the ice. Multiple fans in attendance fainted, two people suffered heart attacks, and three players vomited on the ice.
Malarchuk’s life was saved by the Sabres’ athletic trainer, who was a former medic in the U.S. Army and served in the Vietnam War. He pinched off the blood vessel and induced a low breathing rate for Malarchuk by kneeling on his collarbone and applying extreme pressure as work was performed to save his life.
Malarcchuk lost 1.5 liters of blood and needed 300 stitches to close the wound, but he was back on the ice just 10 days later.
Ronnie Lott — Tip of Pinky Amputated
What happened: Ronnie Lott’s finger was crushed against a helmet while trying to make a tackle.
Famous words: "I tried to stand up, but I broke into a cold sweat. It was just a total shock. I thought, 'Oh, man, I should have had the pin put in.'" — Lott, after first seeing the nub
Bottom line: Ronnie Lott suffered his pinky injury on a tackle during the 1985 season with the San Francisco 49ers. He learned in the offseason that a surgery to fix it would cause him to miss games in the 1986 season.
So, he elected to forgo the surgery and instead had roughly half an inch of his pinky amputated to not miss any time. It didn’t affect his play any, as he led the NFL with 10 interceptions the following season and ended up enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The decision has been called heroic, but at the time, Lott was regretful, and he says it gave him a new perspective on life.
Darryl Stingley — Spinal Cord Injury
What happened: As Darryl Stingley stretched out for a pass, Jack Tatum’s shoulder pad collided with Stingley’s helmet and broke two vertebrae.
Famous words: "I didn’t care too much for him, because I always said to myself, 'Did this man know he had a family or kids that my father had to take care of?'" — Darryl’s son Derek on Jack Tatum
Bottom line: New England Patriots'Darryl Stingley is the poster child for on-field football injuries after his life was altered forever on what was once a routine play.
He was a defenseless receiver on a play and suffered a hit to his head that left him a quadriplegic. Stingley and Tatum never spoke to each other after the play, and Tatum never publicly apologized.
This incident did spur the NFL Players Assocation to work to secure benefits for disabled players, and Stingley benefitted from those until his death in 2007 from complications from his quadriplegia.
Sam Bowie — Fractured Leg
What happened: Sam Bowie fractured his leg while jumping for a turnaround, and he came crashing to the floor with his bone protruding out of his leg.
Famous words: "It was not a pretty sight. He went to make a move, fell, and threw the ball down hard off the court. I remember seeing part of the bone sticking out of his leg and how he was beating the floor over and over with his fist." — Teammate Clyde Drexler
Bottom line: Most athletes who suffer injuries while jumping are hurt when they land awkwardly. But Sam Bowie was hurt during his liftoff, and his brittle bones couldn’t withstand the force of him pushing off the ground.
He fractured his leg early in his third NBA season with the Portland Trail Blazers, and the visual and sound of him pounding his fist into the court is one that Clyde Drexler and many in attendance will never forget.
Bowie had surgery for the fracture and had three screws placed in his leg. But two of the screws didn’t hold, which then required another operation for three more screws.
After a year on the sidelines, Bowie suffered a hairline fracture of the same leg and had another leg surgery just months later.
Joe Theismann — Compound Fracture of Leg
What happened: During a sack, Lawrence Taylor’s knee drove into Joe Theismann’s lower leg, breaking both the tibia and fibula.
Famous words: "The pain was unbelievable. It snapped like a breadstick. It sounded like two muzzled gunshots off my left shoulder. Pow, pow!" — Joe Theismann
Bottom line: Joe Theismann was sacked 340 times in his career, and it was the 340th that ended it.
The Redskins ran a flea-flicker, and as Theismann was moving up in the pocket to throw the ball for them, Lawrence Taylor pulled down the quarterback at the shoulders while LT’s leg drove into Theismann’s lower leg, snapping both his tibia and fibula.
Taylor, who was probably the most ferocious player in the game, then frantically signaled to the Redskins' sideline to bring medical personnel onto the field. They were able to save Theismann’s leg but couldn’t save his career, as insufficient bone growth in that leg caused him to retire at the age of 36.
Kevin Durant — Torn Achilles’ Tendon
What happened: After missing a month due to a calf strain, Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles in that same leg while pushing off that foot.
Famous words: "He was cleared to play tonight. That was a collaborative decision. I don’t believe there is anybody to blame, but I understand this world. If you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department." — Warriors State general manager Bob Myers
Bottom line: There have been many torn Achilles in NBA history, but this one may have changed the trajectory of the league.
Kevin Durant had missed nine straight games due to a calf strain, and with his Golden State Warriors trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, he felt pressure to return to the lineup.
Just 12 minutes into his first game back, Durant tried pushing off his already-injured leg, and a noticeable ripple occurred at the back of his lower leg.
Not only did the injury end his season, as well as the Warriors’ NBA Finals comeback attempt, but it also knocked Durant out of the 2019-20 season.
David Robinson — Concussion via Karl Malone’s Elbow
What happened: Karl Malone swung his left elbow around, and it connected with the side of David Robinson’s head, crumpling him to the ground.
Famous words: "I wasn't trying to hit him, of course. David's a great friend of mine. That's just a play that we run, where I turn to the basket like that." — Karl Malone
Bottom line: Karl Malone had a history of delivering deadly elbows to fellow Hall of Famers. He once bloodied Isiah Thomas to the tune of 40 stitches earlier in his career. But this elbow to David Robinson’s temple seemed accidental, as Malone jumped and spun around and his elbow connected with Robinson’s head.
Playing for the San Antonio Spurs, "The Admiral" immediately fell to the ground with his head also crashing into the floor. Knocked out cold and spasming, Robinson was unconscious for two minutes and spent the night in a hospital, where Malone visited him after the game.
Even though it was accidental, "The Mailman" was still fined $5,000 and suspended for one game.
Rudy Tomjanovich — Broken Face via Kermit Washington
What happened: Rudy T ran up to help break up a fight, but Kermit Washington didn’t realize that and sucker-punched him and fractured his face.
Famous words: "What happened? Did the scoreboard fall on me?" — A confused Tomjanovich after the punch
Bottom line: A fight broke out between Rudy Tomjanovich’s Rockets and Kermit Washington’s Lakers that involved numerous players. Tomjanovich ran toward the altercation while Washington had his back to him.
Washington then spun around and saw someone running toward him, so he delivered one right-handed punch to Tomjanovich’s face. Rudy T immediately fell to the floor with the back of his head bouncing off the court.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was involved in the melee, and he likened the sound of the punch to a giant melon being dropped on concrete. Tomjanovich started bleeding and within a matter of seconds was laying in a pool of his own blood.
He broke his skull, nose, jaw, had a concussion and was even leaking spinal fluid into his mouth, which he said he could taste.
Washington was suspended 26 games, and Rudy T missed the rest of the season (59 games) before making a full recovery.
Samantha Cerio — Broke Both Legs on Gymnastics Routine
What happened: While landing during her floor routine, Samantha Cerio dislocated both kneecaps at the same time.
Famous words: "My pain is not your entertainment." — Cerio to those who shared the video of her injuries online
Bottom line: Perhaps the most famous orthopedist in the world is Dr. James Andrews, and he said that he’s never seen a double knee dislocation in his 45 years as a doctor.
But that’s what happened to Auburn University gymnast Samantha Cerio during one of her routines in which she did a 720-degrees flip in the air. Cerio didn’t quite get her feet down in the right position, and the force caused her to shatter both knees as she tore six ligaments in all.
The doctor who operated on Cerio said that this happened because she was slightly hyperextended when she landed which caused all of the force to go through the backs of her knees. He also said that she under-rotated by just one degree, but that was enough to cause the damage.
Rod Woodson — Torn ACL
What happened: While trying to tackle Barry Sanders, Rod Woodson’s cleat got caught in the artificial turf, which resulted in a torn ligament.
Famous words: "I'm the only one that was given the opportunity to do it." — Woodson on becoming the first player to return from reconstructive knee surgery in the same season
Bottom line: Before Jerry Rice did it in 1997, Rod Woodson became the first player to have reconstructive knee surgery in a season and then return to play later that same season.
Woodson tore his ACL in Week 1, but the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t put him on the injured list with the thought that the team would make it to the Super Bowl, giving Woodson more time to recover and possibly return.
But everything fell into place, and the Steelers did make it to the Super Bowl, which was 21 weeks after Woodson’s injury. He was limited to playing in the nickel defense, but Woodson suited up for Super Bowl XXX and played 12 snaps, including a pass deflection while covering Michael Irvin.