Today brought the stunning announcement from UFC President Dana White that heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar may never return to action to defend his belt. The company's biggest star has an intestinal illness that requires major surgery, which could end his career. If so, it won't be the first time a promising sports career was cut short way too early.
Lou Gehrig - ALS
The Iron Horse was a consumate player and a real gentleman. He played 2,130 consecutive games with a career batting average of .340, only stopping when his disease began to exhaust him too much to continue. His brave retirement announcement--"I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth"--set the standard by which all future tragic early retirements would be judged.
Magic Johnson - AIDS
Basketball hall-of-famer Earvin Johnson Jr. was a member of the 1992 Olympic-gold-medalling U.S. basketball team and scored 17,707 points before his public announcement of immediate retirement based on his positive AIDS test. At the time, he was the biggest celebrity to be infected by the illness, but the story has a happy ending: 18 years later he is still healthy and raising awareness about HIV and safe sex.
Len Bias - Cocaine
Len Bias was supposed to be the next Michael Jordon; he became an All-American player at the University of Maryland and the day before he died was draft-selected by the Celtics. His career ended before it truly began when he decided to celebrate with a little cocaine, which cause a heart attack. In death, he became the posterboy for the idea that drugs can kill you the first time you try them.
Rob McCall - Cancer/AIDS
Rob McCall and ice dancing partner Tracy Wilson placed 8th at the 1984 Winter Olympics and took home a bronze in '88, but the success was not to last long. AIDS-related brain cancer took McCall's life at the age of 33.
Kirby Puckett - Glaucoma
In 1996 Kirby Puckett woke up without vision in his right eye and found that glaucoma was the cause. He retired in 1995 with a .318 batting average and 207 home runs to his name. Unfortunately, just 14 years later, he would die of a stroke. He is still celebrated in Minnesota as one of the state's greatest athletes, who died way before his time.
Heather Farr - Breast Cancer
Heather Farr won the United States Girls' Junior Golf Championship in 1982 and the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in 1984. She joined the LPGA in 1986, but three years later was diagnosed with breast cancer and died four years later; throughout her fight with cancer she hoped to return to golfing.
Flo Hyman - Marfan Syndrome
Marfan syndrome is a congenital disease that affects the heart valves and aorta; in 1986 it claimed the life of Olympic silver medalist volleyball player Flo Hyman during a match in Japan. Great height is a characteristic of the disease, so it turned out that her strength was also a fatal weakness.
Roberto Clemente - Plane Crash
Robert Clemente played 18 seasons with the Pittsburg Pirates and won twelve Gold Glove Awards. In 1972 his career ended when he boarded an overloaded charter plane, which promptly crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff. Much like the Big Bopper, Clemente was a talent who died suddenly way too early.
Kenny Mason Easley Jr. - Kidney Failure
Kenny Easley was drafted in the first round of the 1981 NFL draft and was elected to the Pro Bowl five times. He was also drafted by the Chicago Bulls but never ended up playing. Unfortunately an overdose of Advil caused his kidney to fail, ending his career. Yes, Advil. Think about that next time you're hung over.
Nick Esasky - Vertigo
Nicholas Esasky played first and third base during his career with the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves and hit 122 career home runs, but in 1989 he was forced to retire after an ear infection caused a career-ending case of vertigo. Insurance paid off his salary.