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Top 10 Tragic Sports Deaths

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Julian McKenzie Sports are supposed to bring enjoyment to the masses, but these events were marred by tragedy. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Tragic Sports Deaths. For this list, we're focusing on fatalities that occurred in game, or at least on the playing field, to athletes and spectators. Special thanks to our user Margaret Rd for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Julian McKenzie

Top 10 Tragic Sports Deaths

Sports are supposed to bring enjoyment to the masses, but these events were marred by tragedy. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 tragic sports deaths.

For this list, we’re focusing on fatalities that occurred in game, or at least on the playing field, to athletes and spectators. That means we’ve excluded deaths that happened outside of the sporting arena, like the plane crashes that killed the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team or the 1958 Munich Air Disaster that killed members of the Manchester United football club. Terrorist attacks, like 2013’s Boston Marathon Bombing or the Munich Massacre at 1972’s Olympics, will also be left off. As a warning, some of these scenes are graphic in nature, so this list is not for the faint of heart.

#10: Benny ‘the Kid’ Paret

This Cuban fighter was defending his welterweight title against Emile Griffith on March 24th, 1962. The two boxers had previously each won one fight against each other; so naturally, this one would be seen as the tiebreaker. Unfortunately for Paret, it would also be his last. In the twelfth round, Griffith knocked out Paret along the ropes and kept hitting him before referee Ruby Goldstein finally intervened. Paret soon fell into a coma and died ten days later from brain hemorrhaging. Not only was this the fight that took the sport of boxing off television regularly until the 1970s; it also led some pundits to question whether it should be a sport at all.

#9: Sarah Burke
Freestyle Skiing

She won four gold medals at the Winter X Games and played a huge role in the inclusion of the superpipe skiing event during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. But this Canadian freestyler’s expertise unfortunately couldn’t save her from a training exercise gone wrong. During a session in Utah on January 10th, 2012, Burke fell on her head after landing a trick. Although it seemed like a minor incident, she soon went into cardiac arrest before being admitted into hospital care, where she died of her injuries nine days later. Sadly, her death came almost two years before the superpipe’s debut at the Olympics, an event in which Burke was favored to medal.

#8: Bill Masterton

Another incident that incited debate over the safety of a sport, Bill Masterton’s remains the only death caused by an on-ice injury in NHL history, as well as the most recent death because of an injury sustained during a game in North American professional sports. On January 13th, 1968, Masterton – playing for the Minnesota North Stars – took a brutal but clean hit when two players collided with him. With no helmet, he sustained serious head injuries from the hit itself and when his head hit the ice, and ultimately he passed away two days later. In his honor, each year the NHL awards the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy to a player who exemplifies perseverance and dedication to the game.

#7: Phillip Hughes

Having already represented his native Australia in international competition, Phil Hughes was on his way to a successful cricket career. Unfortunately, that ended on November 25th, 2014 when Hughes was struck in the neck after having missed a hook shot to a bouncer. This led to a brain hemorrhage, caused by a vertebral artery dissection. After being placed in a coma, Hughes never woke up and he died three days before his 26th birthday. However, Hughes may not have died in vain: this incident caused redesigns in batting helmets that could prevent similar deaths in the future.

#6: Owen Hart

Seen as one of the greatest wrestlers in what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation, Owen Hart came from a wrestling dynasty, won many championships and was a staple on pay-per-view. Sadly, Hart’s career in the ring was cut short in May of 1999, when an equipment malfunction while he was being lowered into the ring during an event caused him to fall 78 feet. Despite the best efforts of in-house medical personnel and doctors at the Kansas City hospital where he was transported, Hart died due to internal bleeding.

#5: Dale Earnhardt
Auto Racing

Dale Earnhardt’s legacy will live on throughout the NASCAR circuit, as he is regarded as a legend. That’s why his death will forever be remembered as one of the darkest days in the sport’s history. On the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001, a three-car accident involving Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin and Ken Schrader saw Dale Sr. run into a wall. Suffering blunt force trauma to his head, Earnhardt died at the age of 49 and his passing led NASCAR to implement numerous safety measures in the aftermath.

#4: Nodar Kumaritashvili

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia were supposed to be seen as a happy and momentous occasion. However, hours before the opening ceremonies on February 12th, tragedy struck. Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died during a practice run at the Whistler Sliding Centre, when he lost control of his luge at over 89mph and flew into an unprotected steel pole. His death cast a shadow over the games, and saw the luge starting positions moved to ensure reduced speeds on the track. Kumaritashvili, who was 21-years old at the time, would have been making his Olympic debut.

#3: Ayrton Senna
Auto Racing

Another athlete who excelled at his chosen sport, Senna is seen as one of the greatest drivers in Formula One history. A three-time world champion, the experienced Brazilian driver lost his life after driving off the racetrack and crashing into a concrete wall at 145mph during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Senna’s death capped off a horrible weekend for the sport: aside from various other minors incidents, fellow driver Roland Ratzenberger had passed away a day earlier during qualification. Fortunately, these high-profile incidents prompted the establishment of new safety procedures, hopefully averting similar misfortunes.

#2: Bena Tshadi Football Team
The only team entry on our list; these deaths are among the most horrific and mysterious in sports history. We’ll preface this story by saying that the place on Earth that receives the most lightning strikes per year is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That ominous fact takes us to October 1998 when, during a match between Bena Tshadi and Basanga, lightning struck, killing all 11 players from Bena Tshadi, but leaving the home team completely unscathed. Roughly 30 others received burns, and due to local superstitions some believe the lighting strike was the result of dark magic and witchcraft.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Alexei Cherepanov

- Hank Gathers

- Caleb Moore
Snowmobile Racing

- Marco Simoncelli
Motorcycle Racing

#1: 1955 Le Mans disaster
Auto Racing

Tragically, this is the only entry on our list to not only highlight the deaths of athletes, but also of fans. Regarded as the worst incident in the history of motorsports, the disaster occurred in June 1955 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans event; in an era before many of the safety precautions we know today were put in place. During Lap 35, a collision caused driver Pierre Levegh and his vehicle to fly through the air. Ultimately, the Mercedes-Benz landed on a concrete wall, exploded and burst into flame, killing Levegh and sending debris from the wreckage flying into the crowd, where it killed an estimated 83 spectators and injured 120 more.

Do you agree with our list? Which tragic sport death do you remember the most? For more of our top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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