What is a "career ending injury?"

I hear this term often (“career threatening injury” as well) and I was wondering:

  1. What kind of injuries would qualify?
  2. Are certain body parts more susceptible?
  3. Who has had one recently in the prime of their career, or at the cusp of a great career? (I’d love to hear examples from the NFL mainly, but any are welcome.)

Thanks. :slight_smile:

Amputation of multiple limbs is usually terminal for a sporting career.

The are fewer career ending injuries these days as surgical techniques have improved. Cruciate ligament damage can be particularly difficult to recover from.

Wouldn’t many brain or spinal cord injuries be career-ending? Or take a long time to recover?

My cousin was a professional rugby league player and suffered a career ending injury. He transferred to a team in Sydney and broke his neck in a tackle. The doctors told him he’d never play again.

Similarly, we had a player at our amateur rugby union club suffer a “career ender” (in as much as an amateur player can) at the start of last season. He’d already cracked one eye socket a few seasons before, and did the other one in a game. His doctor told him if he played again he’d be blinded.

There are degrees of “career-ending”… in some cases a twisted knee can be enough to prevent you competing at a professional level, even though you might be OK to continue in lower leagues.

Yes. Here’s one recent example. The first athlete I thought of when I saw the thread title was Bo Jackson. He suffered a serious hip injury that ended his NFL career immediately and brought his MLB career to an end a few years later.

Career ending depends on the injury, the sport, and the age of the participant.
There was a time when rotator cuff injury ended many baseball careers early. Now the surgery for it allows a return. When the injury occurs late enough in one’s career, the decision to return becomes predicated on how much career time the person might have left anyway and the personal decision comes into play. Gymnasts, particularly female, have a shorter envelope of competition because of the tendency to gain weight at puberty. So a shorter term injury can become career ending.

Nolan Ryan pitched for 26 straight seasons using a fastball that wears out other people’s arms much earlier. He was special and took care of his conditioning off the field. He was not injury free all those years and could have called it quits several times. He never gave up and his supporters knew he would not quit on them. Personal drive plays a huge part in what is career ending.

Shortstop Cecil Travis, three-time pre-war All Star and top-ten in MVP voting twice. Lost two toes to frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge and couldn’t adjust.

Bob Ojeda only pitched 46 innings, with a 5.67 ERA, after nearly being scalped by a dock.

Joe Mauer has two brothers, both of whom had the talent to play at major league levels. (Neither had Joe’s talent, both were really good ballpayers).

Billy Mauer didn’t make it out of the minors due to chronic shoulder problems (he was a pitcher). Jake had an elbow injury the ended his chances at a pro career - he coaches in the minor leagues.

For baseball players, a LOT of “career ending injuries” happen before they even have a career - or much of one. Shoulders, elbows and knees (in catchers) give out in high school or college).

In football, spinal injuries often wind up being career-ending. Even if the injury itself doesn’t lead to any permanent issues, it’s not uncommon that the close examination which the player receives after the injury uncovers a congenital condition, such as spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) which makes a neck injury more likely to be catastropic. Players who are discovered to have that sort of condition are almost always advised to retire immediately.

Beyond that, it’s usually blown-out knees which cut short NFL careers. Gale Sayers is a great example; even though he wound up in the Hall of Fame, he only played in seven seasons (and only four full seasons), due to injuries to both knees.

If you have a really strong stomach, or a perverse fondness for gruesome injury footage, google Joe Theisman injury. There’s likely video of it on youtube or somewhere.

See also Mike Utley, former guard for the Lions.

You could also go for Darryl Stingley. Quadriplegia would certainly be a career ender.

Gale Sayers might have been able to return to football at 100% of what he had been prior to his knee ligament tears, if modern orthopedic methods had been available then. He was already good enough for the Hall of Fame, but had to retire because of them.

Joe Theismann’s injury makes me cringe to this day, and it so ooks me out that I can’t even search for the video for a link. Seriously, it makes me shake just thinking about it.

Feel free to Google “theismann injury”.

I think “career-ending injury” tends to be used mostly for those injuries that don’t incapacitate an athlete from functioning in normal life, but prevent him or her from performing at a high-enough level to continue in an athletic career.

One example was Dizzy Dean. He was hit in the foot by a batted ball, fracturing his big toe. He tried to come back too soon, changing his pitching motion to compensate and hurting his arm. He was never the great pitcher he was before, although he limped along for a few more years before quitting.

Agreed that he was a fabulous player, but, truly, he had 3 1/2 great seasons, plus one very good one, and only played in 68 total games, under a 14-game schedule. In a modern, 16-game schedule, that’s a career of only 4 1/4 seasons.

I think that the thought process behind HoF voting is different now. Had Sayers come up for election in the present day, with his career, I’m not convinced he’d be elected at all (much less on the first ballot, as he was). There would be those who would argue that, while he was great, he wasn’t great for long enough (though surely by no fault of his own).

The Tim Krumrie was always the gold standard for me. Worse than the Theisman one I thought.

Nowadays he probably wouldn’t get in as people get less sentimental about things and the media has become so eager to go negative. But I don’t think that’s really a good thing. To hear everyone of Sayers contemporaries talk and to watch the highlight videos of his career the guy was truly something special. The game was a little less wide open then so to see him crack off those huge runs was something really special. The guy just feels like a Hall of Famer.

Not an injury, I guess, but one of my favorite baseball players of all time, Kirby Puckett, woke up blind in his right eye on March 28, 1996 and never played baseball again.

Dennis Byrd of the New York Jets suffered a broken neck on a play in 1992. He was paralyzed. Eventually, he was able to walk again, but his football career ended at the moment.

NFL Network was replaying the original NBC broadcast of SB XXIII a week or so ago. As a fan of the 49ers of that era, I watched it…and all the memories of Krumrie’s injury came back when I saw that play. The strangest part was that it was, really, a non-contact injury; Krumrie had pivoted to chase the running back (Roger Craig, I think), and his leg just snapped.

The amazing part is that he came back from that to play 6 more seasons, with a metal rod in his leg.

That, I’ll grant you. The first time I ever saw film of Sayers, I was maybe 14 or 15, and saw some old NFL films of him when I was at the Packer Hall of Fame. His moves were just amazing…the only player I’ve ever seen who came close to that was Barry Sanders, and I still think that Sayers was more fluid than Sanders.