It was on this date four years ago when Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor was shot during a home invasion and died. That tragic event led us to scour the Internet in search of athletes who passed away during their prime.
Now, prime is to be considered the crescendo of their playing existence. While many athletes have tragically passed away when they’re still of playing age, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were lost during their “prime.”
Nick Adenhart, a pitcher with a rising star, died in a car accident a few years ago but at 22, he wasn’t in his prime. Dale Earnhardt died while racing, but he was 49 years old. Hardly his prime. Lou Gehrig died at 37; Roberto Clemente at 38. Tremendous players, both, Hall of Famers, but not in their prime.
See, losing an athlete while he is still capable of playing is a tragic event, both for the organization, teammates and fans, not to mention the player’s family and friends. Typically these guys are in prime – that word again – physical condition and are often thought of as “untouchable” as ridiculous as that is.
When Taylor was shot and killed, he was 24, was a college All-American, and was already a two-time Pro Bowler. His future was very bright. Len Bias and Hank Gathers could both be classified as passing away in their primes. As could Steve Prefontaine and Thurman Munson.
An athlete’s prime is typically a max of a decade, and oftentimes only a few years. These are the times when these entertainers are supposed to provide lengthy highlight reel moments for the rest of us to enjoy.
That’s one of the largest differences between sports as a profession and a normal job. Someone working a typical job can be productive and in his/her “prime” for several decades. Hell, look at Hugh Hefner.
Death is always a tragic occurrence. It just makes it more so when an athlete, one of the best at his craft in the world, is gone too soon. Gone before his career arc could be completed. Gone before he has achieved all he could. Gone before we could truly appreciate what they could have brought to the field, to a team, to a city.
It doesn’t make athletes any more or less human – so many have died in car accidents, prone to the same circumstances all of us “regular” humans are. It’s just harder to accept – as it is when a healthy 25-year-old is killed in everyday life – when we have to say goodbye to an athlete in the prime of their life.