We're used to lauding the efforts of players who seemingly put their bodies at risk, by choice, in the name of helping the team win.
But what happens when that goes wrong? What happens when that mentality—of feeling invincible, of feeling like you can conquer any physical challenge that comes your way—backfires?
That brings us to these 20 guys.
The sad truth is, even the elitist of athletes aren't superhuman. Even they can't overcome repetitive hits to the head, or a face to the outfield wall or a shredded knee. They're only human.
If only they knew that.
There are players who plant themselves in the face of danger because they will do anything for a victory. Then, there are players who plant themselves in the face of danger because they feel like doing something really dumb.
Tony Allen has never been a superstar, but if he plays for your team, you appreciate him anyway because he plays with heart and he always gives 110 percent.
Sometimes, though, that could get him in trouble.
Throughout the course of his career, Allen has averaged 8.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 20.8 minutes per game. Every once in a while, he would come up with the big play; similarly, every once in a while, he would do something that left you wondering whether his brain was still intact.
After the ref blows the whistle, it's best to avoid trying to do anything fancy. The play is dead. Nothing counts. Don't try to show off, especially if you're Tony Allen. That's how something like this happens.
During a regular-season game against Indiana in 2007, the whistles had just been blown when Allen decided to go forth anyway, driving to the basket for a dunk. This is a double-whammy: Not only did Allen miss the uncontested dunk, but he came down awkwardly on his knee, and after the game, the team revealed he had torn his ACL.
Best to just quit while you're ahead next time.
In the grand scheme of football players, kickers don't really have to do all that much. Their jobs are all about form and consistency, and on the off chance that they do take a vicious hit, it winds up netting a nice little penalty.
But kickers still have to be careful. They don't want to be the next Bill Gramatica.
Gramatica was the kicker who brought about his own demise in December 2001 when, upon sending a 43-yard attempt through the uprights, he celebrated so hard that he tore his ACL in his plant leg.
No celebration is ever worth that.
He may have spent this entire season thus far on the disabled list with an ankle injury, but when he was a younger man, Derek Jeter was tough. Very tough. He was the kind of player who would do anything, including sacrifice his own body, for one measly catch.
Nobody will forget the image of Jeter's face, bloody and disoriented, after he dove into the stands head-first in pursuit of a fly ball in extra innings against the Red Sox in July 2004. Meanwhile, his Red Sox counterpart, Nomar Garciaparra, sat contentedly on the bench, taking full advantage of a night off.
The stakes were high. In the extra innings, every out was an enormous feat. This particular out was produced to end the 12th inning, with runners on second and third. It also initiated a 13th-inning Yankees rally that would help them walk away with a 5-4 win in 13 innings.
Jeter wasn't there for that, though—he was on his way to the hospital, getting X-Rays on a bloody chin and a swollen cheek.
We love to laud the players who will stay on the field through anything—broken bones, torn muscles, rattled brains. The expectation is part of the reason why players have that desire to put themselves at risk, when it would be smarter to just head to the hospital and get checked out.
During his rookie campaign with the Redskins in 2012, Robert Griffin III was the heart and soul of the team. He led it to seven consecutive wins to finish a thrilling regular season that culminated in an NFC East crown and a playoff appearance.
But that playoff appearance wasn't easy. In the first round against a resurgent Seattle team, Griffin played with a sprained knee yet got the Redskins a 14-0 first quarter lead. Instead of coming out of the game, though, he stayed in, despite the excruciating pain.
It didn't go well. Seattle forged a comeback, and Griffin destroyed his knee trying to come up with a bad snap late in the game, tearing his ACL and LCL.
Pretty much anyone who doesn't root for the team Dan Carcillo plays for at the moment despises him. It's because he's good at what he does. He fights people.
The great thing about Carcillo is he'll take on anybody. He knows what his role is and he executes it to the fullest. He's taken on Todd Bertuzzi, Shawn Thornton and even Ryan Dempster.
In fact, Carcillo has made history with his willingness to take a punch and get his face bloodied: He, along with Thornton (we'll get to him later), was a part of the first-ever fight at an outdoor hockey game at the Winter Classic 2010.
In 2011-12, it was Carcillo's willingness to put himself (and everyone around him) at risk that prematurely ended his season. On January 2, he was assessed a five-minute major for boarding Edmonton's Tom Gilbert, but Gilbert wasn't the only one who suffered: Carcillo tore his ACL on the play and underwent season-ending surgery.
These days, it seems that Shane Victorino's willingness to constantly put himself at risk is catching up with him. The outfielder has missed a handful of games this season with a variety of ailments, including back and hamstring injuries, some directly related to his lack of regard for his own limitations.
But it is precisely his hard-nosed style that has made him so respected in the game. It seems that every time Victorino gets injured—however minor or major—it's because he was trying to go the extra mile to make a play. It has paid off: He's a two-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion.
But he has really had to earn it.
This year wasn't the first time Victorino has injured himself crashing into the outfield wall while trying to make a running catch. And fittingly, after the game, Red Sox manager John Farrell told the media, "We're treating the wall."
For his own part, though, Victorino was right back out there the next game.
There are athletes who will do anything to come up with a loose ball, who will play with a shredded knee and who will dive head-first into a set of metal chairs.
And then there are guys like Garrett McNamara, who delve into their tasks with the full knowledge that it could be a life or death experience.
The professional big wave surfer has ridden tidal waves from glaciers in Alaska. He rode a 78-foot wave in Portugal in 2011, breaking the world record for the largest wave ever conquered.
But because that wasn't enough, McNamara set out to break his own world record in January 2013, allegedly riding a 100-foot wave in Portugal. The feat is still pending certification, but even if it doesn't clear for some reason, it's not like he won't set out to find a 150-foot wave to master.
Hockey is a rough sport. It takes a different breed of athlete to make a career out of putting your body through that hell on a nightly basis.
For Jeff Beukeboom, that physical style of play ultimately ended his career.
Beukeboom played for 14 years with New York and Edmonton, and he reached the mountaintop, winning three Stanley Cups. But it came at a price: He suffered several concussions along the way, the worst of which led to the end of his career.
In November 1998, Beukeboom engaged in his final fight against Matt Johnson of the L.A. Kings. The hard-hitting defenseman took a sucker punch from Johnson (who received a 12-game suspension), and after trying to return too early, he suffered another concussion just a couple of months later and was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, which forced him into retirement.
Anquan Boldin takes pride in what he does. He takes pride in being one of the best receivers in the game who never fears going across the middle.
But sometimes, going across the middle means getting absolutely leveled. It is a risk you have to be willing to take to be one of the best. To take a hit like the one Boldin took in September 2008 and just get back out there with no fear, though, is nothing short of amazing.
While a member of the Cardinals, Boldin was the victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit, courtesy of the Jets' Eric Smith, while attempting to go over the middle for a Kurt Warner pass with 34 seconds left in the game. The vicious blow left Boldin with a displaced jaw and multiple facial fractures that required a whopping 40 titanium screws and seven plates, according to the Baltimore Sun—but he was right back out on the field two weeks later.
And five years later, he still isn't afraid of getting hit making a tough grab.
People in Boston love Shawn Thornton. It's certainly not because of his stat line, because we all know his seven regular-season points and four postseason points aren't what turned the Bruins into a Cup contender. Nor is this the reason for his popularity.
Thornton is beloved because he serves one purpose—to beat other players' faces—and he serves that purpose well. He embraces his role. He savors it.
Thornton is the kind of player who is going to have his teammates' backs at all costs. He will fight anyone, no matter how fierce or how feeble, if that player has wronged his teammate.
Check out the above footage from March 2010. Cooke, just a couple of weeks prior, had essentially ended Bruin Marc Savard's career with a vicious hit to the head, and from that moment on, Thornton had his next game against the Penguins circled on his calendar. And the moment Cooke stepped foot onto the ice that night, Thornton was ready for him, his own safety be damned.
Not that Cooke posed all that much of a threat. But others have.
Adrian Peterson is superman. That's the only way to explain the miraculous recovery he managed to make from ACL and MCL injuries in time to play in the 2012 season.
Toward the end of 2011, Peterson destroyed his knee against the Redskins after taking a hit from DeJon Gomes. The assumption was Peterson would miss part of, if not all of, the 2012 season. After all, look how long it's taking Derrick Rose to return from similar injuries.
But not AP. AP had his reconstructive knee surgery, and though he started 2012 on the PUP list, it didn't take long for rumblings to begin that he may, in fact, be ready for opening week. Not only was AP back for Minnesota's Sept. 9 season opener, but he embarked upon the best season of his career, rushing for 2,314 yards and 13 touchdowns in a nearly record-setting campaign.
It's hard to believe that, in the rush to return, the stress on AP's body was all that good for him—nobody should be able to rehab from such a devastating injury that fast, without the big bad S word—but it sure was fun to watch it happen.
John Elway is often lauded for being one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, and he proved it with two Super Bowl rings, nine Pro Bowl selections and an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
But Elway didn't just cruise his way to becoming one of the best ever. He had to earn it. He had to take hits like this en route to becoming a legend.
During Super Bowl XXXII against the Packers, Elway had to change up the game plan on a play the Broncos had been working on all week when the Packers weren't in the expected defensive formation. He embarked on a first-down run that culminated in him attempting to leap over three Packers, and Elway got the first down, but not before absorbing a crushing hit in midair.
But it was worth it because Denver won.
Brandon Prust has a job to do. He's a Canadien, and Canadiens are, at the very least, expected to be tough.
So that means that Prust is one of those guys that has to both give and take when it comes to fighting, and even though it can't feel all that good, he has to let his physicality do the talking on the ice.
Prust has certainly taken as many punches as he has doled out. He suffered a broken jaw, courtesy of Cam Janssen, in the 2008-09 season, and his tendency to drop the gloves set records in 2010-11, when he established himself as one of just seven players in the league to score at least 10 goals and engage in at least 10 fights.
The fans have even recognized him for his willingness to put winning first and his own safety second: In 2011, he received the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, given to the player who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Nothing bad is supposed to happen in the NFL preseason. Obviously, the games mean nothing. Most of the time, the starters aren't even playing.
So when something happens like what happened to Chris Spielman during the preseason of 1997, it is absolutely devastating. In the midst of an exhibition game against the Bears, the four-time Pro Bowler suffered a helmet-to-helmet collision against Chicago's Casey Wiegmann that would eventually require spinal surgery and end his season before it even started.
But Spielman wasn't ready to give up on football quite yet. Despite the devastating injury, he attempted a comeback two seasons later but would suffer yet another preseason neck injury before he finally gave his body what it was asking for: a rest.
Bryce Harper is an excellent candidate to be the face of Major League Baseball. He's young, he's a superstar at the plate and, defensively, he's a warrior.
Harper isn't prissy. He's not a finesse guy. He is a dirt dog who holds himself to very high standards, as evidenced by a stellar rookie season in which he finished with 22 homers, 59 RBIs, a .987 fielding percentage and a Rookie of the Year award.
Sometimes, maybe Harper goes a little bit too far in an effort to make the big play, but it's always appreciated. Earlier this year, Harper ran face-first into the outfield scoreboard at Dodger Stadium in pursuit of a fly ball, hitting the wall so hard that his cap flew off and he collapsed to the ground before exiting the game. In addition to 11 stitches in his chin and a jammed shoulder, Harper also suffered knee bursitis, which he aggravated further in the ensuing days, prompting a stay on the DL.
But at least when he returned to action, he got right back on track with a first-pitch homer.
Painful as it was, it was probably a blessing in disguise that the Bruins didn't take the Blackhawks to seven games in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals. If there had been a seventh game, who knows what Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron would have done to ensure he could play?
There was no doubt that the Bruins were going to need Bergeron if they had any hope of defeating the mighty Blackhawks, who seemed to be quickly establishing themselves as the quicker, craftier, deeper team. Bergeron—who racked up 32 points in the strike-shortened regular season—scored almost every meaningful goal for the Bruins in their quest for the Cup, so when he disappeared from the bench in the second period of Game 5, it seemed like all hope was lost.
Boston never revealed the extent of Bergeron's injury. There were rumors—a ruptured spleen was the most popular—but nobody knew what was wrong with him. All we knew was that he was going to play in a do-or-die Game 6.
After Boston lost, Bergeron revealed that he had played with a cracked rib that had punctured his lung during the course of Game 6, plus torn muscle and cartilage and a separated shoulder, also sustained during Game 6. Prior to the game, he had the area around the broken rib frozen so that he wouldn't feel it when it hurt.
It probably wasn't all that healthy, but it doesn't really get more B.A. than that.
You may not know him by name. You may know him simply as the crazy person who had the brilliant idea to walk across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.
There are some sportsmen who understand that there is risk involved in their jobs and they just do their best to avoid it. Not Wallenda. For him, the more risk, the better. That's the only way to fathom why the acrobat/high wire artist would possibly want to risk his life walking across the Grand Canyon on a high wire without a safety net.
As the world watched in morbid excitement on the Discovery Channel, Wallenda conquered the terrifying feat on June 23, taking 22 minutes and 54 seconds to become the first psycho to ever want to tempt death in front of millions of viewers by taking a tightrope walk across a canyon.