The NFL is already perceived as a dangerous sport by many viewers. The hard and often times injury-causing hits are sometimes painful to watch. All the negatives aside, the players have a mutual respect for one another and the fans are wildly passionate about their players and teams.
With so many players in the league, unfortunately, tragedy is bound to strike a few lives each year. While we see these men as superstars and larger-than-life, these sad stories are a humble reminder that they’re human, just like us.
Sean Taylor was a special talent. The safety hit hard and earned All-American honors as a junior at the University of Miami. He got drafted number five to the Washington Redskins and began to leave his mark. He was just entering the prime of his career when tragedy struck.
On Nov. 27, 2007, Sean Taylor was shot in a home invasion. He had just recently begun to be a better father to his daughter and focus more on his career. The Pro Bowler was honored in the game right after his death as the Redskins sent out every player but a safety to leave his spot open.
Brandon Burlsworth has the story of someone who does not quit. The offensive lineman was a walk on at Arkansas University. When you are a walk-on you have to prove yourself even more and work harder than those who are on scholarship just to get the attention of the coaches so you can get playing time.
He worked his tail off and gained All-American honors. He was then drafted in 1999 by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round. Not bad for a walk-on. Two weeks later he was killed in a car crash. The NCAA has created a trophy honoring him called the Burlsworth trophy awarded to the best player who started their career as a walk-on.
If you want to talk about what could have been bright futures, then this man’s name has to be in the discussion. Darrent Williams was the heir of Champ Bailey. Even though he was riddled with injuries in college, he still managed to set records like the most interceptions returned for a touchdown.
He was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005 and in his second year he was already putting up major statistics. Those stats include 86 tackles and four interceptions for the season. Sadly, 12 hours after his last game of the season, he was killed in a drive-by shooting.
There was a movie made about Ernie Davis called The Express. The young man had an amazing college career racking up a ton of awards in the process including the Heisman. He ended up being the number one draft pick before his rights were traded to the Cleveland Browns.
This was when Jim Brown was on the Browns. A little back story, Davis idolized Brown and went to the same college as him. Now he was given the chance to play with his idol. Tragedy came when Davis was diagnosed with leukemia. He never got the chance to play a game of professional football.
Rodney Culver is the definition of making the best of what you are given. When he first came into the league he was scarcely used only in certain scenarios but when he got in he made sure it was known. He scored seven rushing touchdowns in his first season and two extra receiving touchdowns as well.
He was originally drafted by the Colts but as they started to worsen, so did Culver’s play. He ended up on the San Diego Chargers where he made an impact as they fought to the Super Bowl. In 1996 he and his wife were killed in ValuJet crash. Their two daughters got a settlement of $28 million.
Fred Lane was an undrafted free agent acquired by the Panthers back in 1997. He proved his worth by setting a franchise rushing record of 147 yards in one game. It took him just three years to gain 2000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
In July of 2000, Lane was shot dead. The person who shot him was his own wife, Diedra. She pleaded guilty in court three years later for voluntary manslaughter. The story is, she was an abusive woman looking for the insurance money from his passing. She was only sentenced to serve seven years for his killing.
Marquis Cooper & Corey Smith
These two went missing after a boat incident way in 2009. They were not the only ones who missing as did two University of Florida players. The boat they were on capsized and sent the players into the waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast. They were just on a friendly fishing trip.
The only survivor, Nick Schuyler, was found clinging to the boat. He claimed the others were also clinging but soon after they just drifted off into the water. They were reportedly out there for hours clinging to the boat. Cooper and Smith were both promising players in the NFL.
How Korey Stringer passed away was for sure unfortunate. Stringer was drafted by the Vikings 24 overall and played for them for five seasons. He helped them reach the conference championships in 1998 and received pro bowl honors his last season in 2000. He was a big reason the Vikings had the record of 15-1 in 1998.
After the 2000 season, the Vikings reported to training camp and Stringer had a heat stroke at practice. He died soon after the stroke and it prompted his wife to file a lawsuit against the NFL. The NFL had to change rules after his death.
Jerry Brown was another undrafted player back in 2010 that ended up playing for a number of teams including the Dallas Cowboys. He also played Arena Football for the Jacksonville Sharks and Canadian Football for the Hamilton Tiger Cats. He died in a high-speed car crash.
He was the passenger when this crash took place as his teammate from the Cowboys was the driver. They were also teammates in college at the University of Illinois. The driver, Josh Brent, was reinstated back into the NFL in 2014 and said is “very blessed person to be able to be in this position I am now.”
Thomas Howard was drafted by the Raiders back in 2006 and was at the top of his game, playing for Oakland. It only took until his second season for him to lead linebackers in interceptions. He bounced around a few teams after the Raiders before landing on the Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons would be the last team he played for and he only played in two games during the middle of the season prior to getting cut. Two people were killed in a high-speed crash in Oakland including Howard on Nov. 18, 2013. It was six days after he was cut.
Not many athletes have ever died while on the field playing the sport they love. Chuck Hughes is one of the very few to do so. The Lions were in a division rivalry match against the Chicago Bears in 1971. An important game of course, but what took place was shocking.
Late in the game Hughes suffered a heart attack. Out of respect, The Lions retired his number 85. One receiver had worn 85 his entire career and asked the Hughes family if it was okay for him to wear the number even though it was retired. They gave him permission.
Gaines Adams was the fourth pick in the star-studded 2007 draft which featured Adrian Peterson. Much like a couple from that draft class, Adams did not live up to his hype while in Tampa Bay. That got him a one-way ticket to the Chicago Bears in exchange for a second round pick.
Adams death was due more to genetics than anything else. In his third season, he played only ten games with the Bears and did not even get a single sack. His death was due to cardiac arrest because of cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart. He died at 26.
His death was heard around the NFL, frightening everyone and making international headlines. The star NFL player was subject to a murder and suicide all in one day. What he did was dreadful and sad all in the same breath.
Belcher came home from the nightclub one day and shot his wife dead. After that, he drove to the Chiefs’ practice field where he would proceed to kill himself in front of members of the Chiefs organization. This included the GM and the head coach Romeo Crennel. After an autopsy, it was revealed that he had brain damage.
Chris Henry came into the league under two of the best receivers at the time. These two were Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh. He learned well and as a result, he brought in 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Before the tragedy, his career was struck with injuries which caused him to miss a total of 25 games through five seasons.
Henry’s death came in 2009. He was a part of a car accident where he fell off the back of a moving truck. His death was the cause of blunt force trauma to his head. He was only 26.
Consistency was his middle name. Rob Bironas was always counted on to make a clutch field goal. He broke an NFL record when he made eight field goals in one game back 2007. He was undrafted in 2001 but found a way to stick with the Titans in 2005.
In 2007, the kicker was killed in Houston after being in a car crash. Apparently, he was chasing another car while driving out of control. The autopsy revealed that he had three times the limit of blood alcohol permitted in Tennessee. He was ranked top 100 on the all-time scoring list.
Derrick Thomas was a beast on the field. He was feared by many. He held the single-game sack record with seven. “I was on a mission today,” said Thomas following his record-setting performance via the Chiefs website. “I read in the paper that Derrick Thomas was in a sack slump.”
Sadly, Thomas died five weeks after his birthday. He had just turned 33. The cause of his death was due to a blood clot that came about because of a car accident he was in. It seems many of the people on this list had something to do with a car accident.
This death draws parallels to the death of Javon Blecher who was mentioned earlier on this list. Seau had traces of a brain disease that is connected to the head trauma accumulated while in the NFL. The disease is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. You may have heard of it.
Seau was found dead at his home in Oceanside, California back in 2012. His girlfriend found him with a gunshot to his chest. The police had received a call earlier in the morning the day of his death about a possible suicide. The only explanation for this would be a suicide.
Pat Tillman was a brave man. Even if you do not know him, even hearing his name should ring a bell. At a time where players were holding out because they thought their contracts were not cutting it for them (granted they were one million dollar contracts) Tillman left it all behind him to go fight for the country after 9/11.
Admittedly, he was not the greatest safety in the NFL, but it was what he stood for as a person that he is remembered by. He turned down a deal worth $3.6 million to sign up for the Army Rangers. He passed three years after 9/11.
A Moment of Remembrance
These players are gone but never forgotten. Some of them were victims before they even knew it and could do nothing about. Even though some on the list were acts of suicide, the disease CTE is cited to be highly contributing to ill side effects like that. It is always important to cherish the people you have around you.
No one knows to the full extent of what is going on in a person’s mind or life. Just because someone is making millions and playing the game they love does not mean they are just fine. Always remember, we are all human.
Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found dead on April 19, 2017, in the prison cell where he was serving a life sentence for murder. He was 27 years old. Officers found him hanged with bed sheets. He had written the words “John 3:16” on his forehead and the walls first, and left a Bible open to that verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Hernandez had recently been acquitted of the double murder of Safiro Furtado and Daniel de Abreu in 2012, but was found guilty of murdering his friend Odin Lloyd in 2013. He began serving a life sentence in 2015. Upon news of his death, a Patriots spokesman told ESPN: “We are aware of the reports, but I don’t anticipate that we will be commenting today.” The team was due at the White House that day to celebrate their recent Super Bowl win.