Many fans think athletes perfect human specimens who are invincible. But the truth is that they are also incredibly vulnerable. Injuries occur every week in sports, some more frequently than others. Something could happen in a flash to change the course of an elite athlete’s career. Some can bounce back, but not everybody is fortunate in that regard.
So today, we’re going to take a look at 25 sports stars who suffered terrible injuries. These include gruesome broken bones as well as a whole host of torn ligaments. All of these were career-threatening to some degree but in each case, the athlete came back and continued their career. Some were incredibly successful while others were just happy to keep playing even if at a slightly lower level than before. Check out the list below via Men’s Journal.
25. NaVorro Bowman
Everybody loves a good comeback story, and Bowman’s is better than most. The linebacker spent eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Raiders. In his third NFC Championship game, he tore several ligaments in his knee. This was a devastating blow as it ruled him out for the following year. Ligament tears are harder to bounce back from than clean broken legs, so his future was at risk.
But he bounced back with a vengeance. First, he led the NFL in solo tackles with an outstanding 116. This was enough to earn him All-Pro status. The Super Bowl champion showed his fellow athletes that the long road to recovery can make you a more pragmatic and balanced person. It’s not easy but players can get back on the horse if they have the required resilience.
Johnson is on this list for a bizarre reason. He played for the Arizona Cardinals in a game against the New Orleans Saints. After tackling Darren Sproles, the safety realized something was wrong. He hurt his middle finger and pulled off his glove to check it out. Then, to his horror, the top of his finger fell out. He literally lost a body part playing in the NFL.
He went into surgery because of the exposed bone and the risk of infection. After doctors sewed the wound closed, Johnson continued to play without the finger. Of course, this had an adverse effect on his ability to hold the ball because he no longer had the same grip as before. But he continued to play football. It’s definitely one of the strangest, nastiest entries on this list.
Woods is without a doubt the most famous golfer in the history of the sport. He is also one of the most decorated. What people don’t realize unless they follow the game, is that Woods is a very tough individual. Think back to 2008 when he put in one of his most incredible performances. After suffering a double-stress fracture in his tibia, he continued to play for five days. That’s heart.
Meanwhile, in 2019, Woods warmed the hearts of diehard golf fans when he won the U.S. Open. It was vintage Woods all over again. After years of back injuries and general wear and tear, he played like he was in his prime. In sum, it was incredible for him to bounce back and stay motivated after years of glory. When you’ve won everything, it’s easier to give it up and walk away but Woods would not.
Manning won Super Bowls with the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos. However, he entirely reinvented himself with the latter after recovering from injury. He didn’t miss a game in 13 seasons as a starter for the Colts but continuously suffered from neck problems and required four surgeries. Then he missed the entire 2011 season and the Colts decided they wanted Andrew Luck.
Manning’s arm wasn’t the same after his return with the Denver Broncos, but he still smashed the single-season touchdown pass record. He even continued to make the All-Pro game. In short, his comeback was nothing short of astounding especially when you consider his age and the fact he had nothing left to prove.
One of the NFL’s longest tenured quarterbacks, Rivers has seen it all. However, many people forget that he’s one of the toughest individuals in the sport. If you don’t believe us then look back to early 2008 when the Chargers played the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. Rivers suffered an ACL and meniscus tear six days earlier but still summoned the strength to play the game.
Rivers is still adding to his career as a starter – now for the Indianapolis Colts. It’s crazy that this incident didn’t have an adverse effect on his career because he could have aggravated the injury so badly. But somehow he didn’t and showed ridiculous mental fortitude to play through the pain. The Patriots won but Rivers could still hold his head up high after his show of heart.
Former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Sylvia is a giant of a man. At six-foot-eight and 265 pounds, he towered over many of his fellow competitors. But even he wasn’t indestructible. Horrendous injuries rarely occur in high-level MMA if you exclude knockouts. But Sylvia suffered a horrible arm break in his classic bout against Frank Mir. In sum, arms don’t bend that way.
Sylvia and Mire fought for the vacant title. Referee Herb Dean saw Mir snap Sylvia’s arm with an armbar submission and immediately called an end to the fight. But Sylvia was a crazy individual who didn’t feel pain like a normal man. He wanted to continue fighting. You almost have to respect that level of commitment to your dream. However, he later thanked Dean for potentially saving his career.
A six-time All-Star, the LA Clippers star overcame adversity at various points of his career. Arguably, his toughest moment came as a member of the U.S. national team in 2014. As George hustled backward to compete for a ball, he accidentally stood on the base of the hoop. In one of the most gruesome freak injuries you will ever see, he fractured his tibia and fibula.
It was a horrible injury and potentially career-threatening. George missed almost the entirety of the 2014-15 season as he rehabbed following surgery. However, he made it back for the last six games of the year to the delight of fans. Then, the following year, he put up some of the best numbers of his career as he played in every game for the Indiana Pacers. You have to love it.
Brazilian-born Croatian international Eduardo looked like a potential superstar during his early days with Arsenal. However, a game against Birmingham City in 2008 changed the course of his career. In the image below you can see the moment before his horror leg-break after a very dangerous tackle from Martin Taylor. The challenge wasn’t malicious but that doesn’t matter when the consequences are so significant.
He deserves admiration because he did return to action after the gruesome injury but no longer had the same searing pace as before. This resulted in his return to the Ukraine with Shakter Donetsk before moving back to Brazil to play for teams like Flamengo and Atletico Paraenense. Meanwhile, Taylor received death threats after the incident from irate Arsenal supporters.
A World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants, Posey looked like he had the world at his feet in 2011. But then he collided with Scott Cousins of the Miami Marlins. He broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments. In short, it was a cruel and devastating injury for an athlete to suffer in their supposed prime.
This is all depressing but don’t worry, because it gets a lot better. Posey returned and shocked the baseball world with his fantastic form. He won the National League batting title with a .346 average. Meanwhile, his durability was unquestioned because he played at least 147 games in each of the next four seasons.
Peterson’s injury and recovery set an unbelievable standard for returning athletes. In short, he was even better after his comeback. Santa Claus came early for opposition defenses on Christmas Eve in 2011 after Peterson tore his MCL, ACL, and a meniscus. The Minnesota Vikings star was out for the rest of the season and question marks arose over whether or not he’d be the same player.
Ligament tears often cruelly rob athletes of their pace. However, Peterson staged an unbelievable comeback. He fell narrowly short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s record for rushing yards and carried his team to the playoffs. He also won both the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and MVP awards for his incredible efforts. If you want to bounce back from injury, take inspiration from this seven-time Pro Bowler.
A one-time Pro Bowler, Wood spent his career with the Buffalo Bills where he was a starting center. He also made a habit of suffering and bouncing back from horrible injuries. His first occurred in 2006 when a Jaguars’ player ran into his planted leg. He snapped his fibula and tibia at a horrible angle. Honestly, this one was not nice to look back on at all. However, that wasn’t the only time he broke his leg.
He did it again a remarkable 10 years later in 2016. But Wood showed resolve and recovered to play one last season. Finally, in 2018, he retired because of recurring neck and back problems that made it dangerous for him to play. It takes a special type of person to endure that type of punishment multiple times and continue to put their body on the line. All for money and the love of the sport.
One of the best lightweight fighters in the UFC, Ferguson is a savage. He is also one of the most eccentric individuals in the sport with a very unusual style. Furthermore, the former interim champion uses some bizarre training techniques to maximize his effectiveness. Whatever he does obviously works, including when it comes to rehabbing really bad injuries.
In 2018, he tore one of his knee ligaments while on media duty for the UFC. Allegedly, he tripped over an exposed wire, resulting in a nasty injury. Ferguson underwent corrective surgery and was miraculously back in action six months later. This type of injury can take over a year to heal but whatever craziness he employed worked. From then on, it was business as usual for the Californian.
Former Irish international O’Driscoll was one of the best rugby players in the world during his prime. He was also partly responsible for one of the most significant rule changes in the sport. The British and Irish Lions played against the All-Blacks in 2005 when one of the New Zealand players shot in with a vicious spear tackle. O’Driscoll’s shoulder dislocated horrifically as a result.
He underwent surgery and required 16 stitches to set it back correctly. Furthermore, World Rugby addressed the issue because of an outcry in the sport. They banned spear tackles entirely because they compromised player safety too much. Fortunately, ‘BOD’ recovered and continued to enjoy immense success with his nation and club team, Leinster. But it could have been much worse.
Medical science has made significant advances in the past 10 years. We now have an understanding of things like stem cell surgery and various other ideas that weren’t about in the 1980s. If you suffered serious ligament damage in the ’80s, it could be a death sentence for your career. Andrews, a former running back for the Arizona Cardinals, hurt himself badly but bounced back incredibly, especially when you consider the circumstances.
The four-time Pro Bowler tore several ligaments in his knee in 1986. This sidelined him for two whole seasons because his wound also became infected. Remarkably, he showed the resolve and willpower to bounce back and play for one more season. While his comeback wasn’t as long as other athletes on this list, you still have to admire his courage and commitment to showing the world that it couldn’t beat him.
One of the great NFL what-ifs, Griffin had an astounding rookie season throughout 2012 until he tore his ACL and LCL. The prodigy quarterback missed out on the Pro Bowl and never recaptured the same form. It was very sad because he was amazingly productive in year one for the Washington Redskins, who thought that they had themselves a franchise quarterback.
Griffin did return from injury but suffered various other maladies. He fell behind Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins at different stages of his career in Washington. Later, after a spell in Cleveland, he moved to the Baltimore Ravens as a backup for Lamar Jackson and made his first start in three years. Griffin was never the same player but deserves some respect for still continuing to serve his franchises despite knowing he could have been much more.
This former Minnesota Vikings linebacker made the Pro Bowl once in 2011. He spent nine seasons in the NFL with the franchise but suffered a grim injury about halfway through his career. In a game against the Arizona Cardinals, he tried to tackle Tim Hightower from behind. But it went badly wrong and he ended up horribly injuring himself. We’re talking about a broken femur and toes.
Henderson managed to severely damage himself and the medical staff removed him from the field. He didn’t play again until the next season. But incredibly, he put up the best numbers of his career, resulting in his Pro Bowl selection. It’s remarkable how some athletes are able to bounce back even better than before their injuries. Maybe it’s the sense of relief to be back that gives them newfound inspiration.
Arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, the former New England Patriots star spent 20 seasons in Boston. However, he suffered cruel ACL and MCL tears in the first game of the 2008 season. This ended his run of 111 games as a starter and put him out of action for almost a year. Furthermore, it had severe ramifications on the Patriots’ season as they missed the playoffs without him.
Brady also suffered several infections, prolonging his recovery. Furthermore, Brady was 31 at the time which makes his recovery all the more remarkable. He continued to perform at a high level after his return and even won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. Brady bounced back after suffering the type of injury that changes players. Love him or hate him, fans have to respect that.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Krumie played in the Super Bowl with the Cincinnati Bengals. The nose tackle was consistent in his position all throughout his NFL career. However, his most famous moment came when he broke his leg in the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers. Some of the worst injuries happen in the most innocuous of circumstances, and that’s exactly what happened in this situation.
He tried to tackle the Niners’ Roger Craig but caught his cleat awkwardly in the grass. In a freak incident, he broke both his fibula and tibia. Most people would want to go to the hospital immediately but he insisted on watching the rest of the game. Finally, doctors forced him to leave as he showed symptoms of anaphylactic shock. In the end, the mad man played for six more seasons with a 16-inch steel rod in his leg.
For many years, Cech cut a very distinctive figure on soccer fields. The former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper wore a rugby-style helmet when he returned from a devastating injury in 2006. As he rushed out to grab the ball, a fully-committed Stephen Hunt kept coming. The Reading winger’s knee collided with Cech’s head and cracked his skull, instantly knocking him out.
Emergency responders reported that Cech almost lost his life after suffering a depressed skull fracture. However, he bounced back and from then always wore a rugby head guard to protect himself. This was also on doctors’ orders because of the risk of further damage to his head if he hurt himself again. Cech said that he has no memory of the incident. He still had a phenomenal career after the injury and the helmet arguably helped his image.
The last of the injuries that didn’t occur in competition, Mitchell’s is particularly gruesome. The UFC fighter was at home doing some DIY when he made one of the worst decisions in the history of mankind. For some reason, he thought that it was a smart idea to put his power-drill in his pants as he lifted up a plank of wood. Gentlemen, this is where you should properly stop reading because it’s nasty.
In sum, the power drill went off in his pants and proceeded to wrap up his scrotum. It ripped it up and left him bloody and scrambled in that most sensitive of places. Luckily for Mitchell, doctors were able to reassemble his private parts and he suffered no lingering effects. Later, he posted a picture of his bloodied underpants, so at least it didn’t affect his sense of humor. Ow.
Bridgewater isn’t a spectacular quarterback but he is solid and consistent. This suits the Carolina Panthers perfectly as they look to consolidate and move forward after Cam Newton’s departure. For Bridgewater is finally a starter again after four years in the wilderness. The former Minnesota Vikings’ star tore his ACL and dislocated his knee in a 2016 preseason practice to derail his career for a long time.
He spent a couple of seasons as Drew Brees’ backup but failed to oust the New Orleans Saints’ legend. However, in 2020, he is back in business and is enjoying life as a starter again. It’s been a long road back for Bridgewater, but you have to respect him for his dedication to the sport and ability to stay motivated. In sum, mindset is such an important part of an elite athlete’s armory, especially when they face adversity.
Currently playing for Juventus in Serie A, Ramsey’s career is nothing short of a marvel. The Welsh international soccer player broke onto the scene as an 18-year-old and convinced Arsenal to bring him to the Premier League. But a gruesome leg break after a clumsy tackle threatened to derail his career. It took him almost three years to play for the Gunners again.
After his leg healed, he spent two seasons with Nottingham Forest and Cardiff City on loan as he tried to return to his earlier form. He recovered and developed into an exciting player for club and country. His horrible leg break could have ended his career before it truly began, but he had the mentality to battle back. Unlike others on this list, he even improved and suffered no negative long-term effects.
In 2020, Smith returned to action with the Washington Football Team after two years on the injury list. It was a miracle that he was still able to walk, nevermind play in a football contest. In 2018, the three-time Pro Bowler faced off against the Houston Texans in a career-changing game. He shattered his fibula and tibia but to make matters worse, he later suffered from sepsis and his life was at risk.
Smith underwent a ridiculous 33 surgeries as surgeons battled to save his life and to even keep his leg. Amputation was a genuine option if the surgeries were unsuccessful. In one of the most inspiring stories in NFL history, Smith bounced back and returned against the LA Rams in 2020. Meanwhile, the guarantees in his contract ensured that Washington still paid him so he didn’t lose out financially.
The legendary former UFC middleweight champion was an unstoppable force for seven incredible years until he ran into Chris Weidman. Weidman stunned the world by knocking Silva out in 2013 after he caught the Brazilian showboating. But the pair met again in a rematch. Silva suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in MMA history when he broke his left fibula and tibia off of Weidman’s shin. It was horrible and potentially career-ending.
Just over a year later, Silva was back. He fought nine more times in the UFC but only won one of those bouts with one no-contest. It’s fair to say that his injury definitely sent his career into a downward spiral, but from a financial perspective, he was a winner. In 2020, UFC President Dana White confirmed that the Brazilian icon earned massive paychecks despite his downward spiral.
One of the great feel-good stories in modern NFL history, Tagovailoa bounced back from a devastating injury during his final year in Alabama. The Hawaiian quarterback dislocated his hip in a career-threatening game with Mississippi State. Furthermore, he suffered a concussion and also broke his nose. The seriousness of the dislocated hip can’t be overstated, his future was absolutely on the line.
However, the combination of Tagovailoa’s recovery and evident skills convinced teams to take a risk. The Miami Dolphins used the fifth overall pick to bring him to South Florida. After waiting patiently behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, he finally started in Week 8 of the 2020 season and inspired his team to three straight wins. He looks like he has the quality to be the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback for years to come.