Injuries are the worst. Injuries gave us Bo Jackson and his unfinished legacy, Kerry Wood's epically frustrating MLB career and Mario Lemieux's continuously interrupted greatness.
A rolled ankle, a knee to the head—whether designed or a fluke, any variety of injury can end a great player's season moments after it began, or worse still, leave the world wondering what could of been after a career cut short.
While not all injury-plagued athletes are necessarily destined for the Hall of Fame, the label offers plenty of room for speculation and scrutiny. Maybe they're "snake bitten", or perhaps just prone to tears, breaks and concussions.
Regardless of the 'why', certain athletes just seem to be on a continuous trajectory toward pain. While some guys manage to have solid careers despite the enormous time dedicated to rehabbing and healing, more often their plight ends up defining their legacy far more than their stats.
Here are some of the most beat up athletes in sports today.
Titans quarterback Jake Locker was drafted in 2011 and sat behind veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the vast majority of his rookie season, having completed just 66 passes in five games. He won the starting job in 2012, which is when his injury issues began.
Locker missed five games after suffering a tear in his non-throwing shoulder, which kept him on the injury report and continued to be a concern throughout the season. In 2013 he suffered a hip injury, which ultimately kept him out three weeks.
Locker returned to the field in late October and played just two games before a Linsfranc injury to his right foot, sustained early in his third game back, landed him on IR. If Locker can’t stay healthy in 2014, it’s hard to imagine the Titans will pick up his option in 2015.
After two excellent seasons with the Cowboys in 2009 and 2010, wide receiver Miles Austin has fallen back to Earth in a big way. Fallen back to Earth and obviously landed awkwardly, permanently ruining both his hamstrings.
Dating back to 2011, Austin and his bum hammies (and sometimes bum hip) have been a constant fixture on the injury report in Dallas. Though he played in (or at least dressed for) 11 games last season, Austin finished with just 244 yards receiving and zero touchdowns.
Because of the ongoing injury issues and sharp drop off in production over the last three years, the Cowboys are expected to release Austin this offseason, rather than trying to renegotiate his contract.
Pacers big man Andrew Bynum was chosen by the Lakers No. 10 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft—the last year players could be selected straight out of high school. He started 46 games his rookie year and a full 82 in his second year, before injuries began to take their toll during the ’07-’08 season.
In February 2013 Hoop76.com’s Eric Goldwein compiled a comprehensive history of Bynum’s bum knees. The issues began in January 2008 with a dislocated left kneecap and have been a constant problem, which has only gotten worse, ever since.
In addition to his knees, Bynum has suffered injuries to his right elbow, left hip and a strained Achilles. He didn’t play a single game for the 76ers during the ’12-’13 season, a situation which team president Rob Thorn described as “bizarre.”
Bynum signed with the Cavaliers during the most recent offseason, but played just 24 games in Cleveland before suspended indefinitely for being a nuisance in late 2013. He was later traded to the Bulls and immediately released. Bynum has since signed with the Pacers but has yet to play.
At just 5’9 and 185 lbs, Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker is pound-for-pound one of the most productive wideouts in the NFL, and has been for seven years. He also takes an awful lot of big hits and has shown an amazing ability to bounce back.
Since 2006 Welker has missed just six games, that despite being a fixture on injury reports with knee and ankle ailments. Most recently in Denver Welker suffered two concussions, which kept him out for the longest stretch of his career.
Since entering the league in 2003, Heat star Dwyane Wade has never played a full 82-game season and it’s been several years since he’s even gotten close. Though he’s dealt with issues ranging from migraines to nerve irritation in his foot, D-Wade’s knees continue to be his biggest problem.
Wade has missed substantial playing time the last two seasons, largely due to his chronically enfeebled lower extremities. In January 2013 ESPN reported that Wade was dealing with a sprained right ankle, a strained calf and a bruised left foot—all at the same time.
Two months later in March, Wade sustained a knee injury that he was still seriously struggling with in the postseason in May. MRIs revealed three different bone bruises in the knee, which impacted him throughout the playoffs, much like it had in the year prior.
Wade recently turned 32, making it hard to believe he's got more than a couple of years left in him.
After starting all 16 games in the first two years of his career with the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski has struggled to stay healthy. He played in just 18 games over the last two seasons and missed the postseason in both.
Since Week 4 for the 2012 season, Gronk has been a fixture on the injury report. It started with a hip, then the forearm, then the back, then the hamstring, then the knee and concussion. The forearm put him on IR in ’12, the knee in ’13.
The serious nature of the injuries and Gronkowski's slow and steady approach to returning to the field have got to be disconcerting to the Patriots moving forward.
The Browns drafted tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. No. 6 overall back in 2004. He landed on IR just two games into his rookie season, after suffering a lower (right) leg break. The following may he tore his right ACL after being thrown from his motorcycle.
Winslow missed the entire ’05 season recovering from the ACL injury and fighting off a staph infection he contracted as a result of it. Though he returned to play a full 16-game season the next year, Winslow and his knee have remained injury report fixtures ever since.
He missed several games in Cleveland in 2008 for what was eventually revealed to be another staph infection. Winslow played four years in Cleveland and three mediocre seasons in Tampa Bay before sitting out all but one game of the ’12 season due to lack of interest.
All four games Winslow missed with the Jets in 2013 were due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, but chronic knee pain continued to be an issue.
The Trail Blazers selected Greg Oden No. 1 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft—the SuperSonics, just for reference, nabbed Kevin Durant at the No. 2 spot. The big man missed his entire rookie season after having surgery on his problematic right knee, disappointing pretty much everyone.
Oden returned for the 2008-09 season, but struggled when he was actually on the court. He missed action with a foot ailment early on and later suffered a knee cap injury in February, which kept him out nearly a month. He failed to "record a single double-double” the rest of the way, that according to Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal.
The next season Oden came ready to play, averaging nearly 25 minutes through 21 games and putting up an average of 13 points and 8 rebounds. Unfortunately, all that came to a screeching halt when Oden suffered a fractured left patella during a game against the Rockets in early December. He’d never play in Portland again.
Oden spent the next three years attempting to get healthy before signing with the Heat prior to this season. Thus far he hasn’t contributed much in Miami, though it’s good to see him playing again. But considering Oden has been dealing with serious basketball-related injuries since the sixth grade, who knows how much more he can overcome.
Durability has been an issue for Lions running back Reggie Bush throughout his entire NFL career. Since 2006 he’s played in all 16 games in a season just twice, missing an average of four games in the other six years.
Bush’s injury history is extensive and varied, but the one thing that has been a constant since 2007 is knee problems. In 2013 alone he missed two games and was listed as questionable or probable with different ailments eight times.
Though Bush struggled mightily during his time with the Saints, who drafted him No. 2 overall in 2006, he has found his legs in the last three seasons—two with the Dolphins, one with the Lions.
Despite battling injuries in 2013, he actually had the best season of his career to date in Detroit. That being said, with Bush turning 29 this March, his durability issues aren't likely to go away at this point. They're more likely to get worse.
After being injured in the playoffs in the spring of 2012, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 season before making his highly anticipated comeback in the fall of 2013. A comeback that lasted all of 10 games before he went down with an injured medial meniscus in his right knee, 19 months after tearing the ACL in his left.
Though he only missed three games total in his first three seasons in Chicago, Rose’s health has become a ticking time bomb, and the knee injuries are just part of the picture. Back spasms, a groin strain and a years old case of turf toe that began in late 2011—and was apparently still bothering Rose as of November 2013—have also plagued him.
Many are questioning whether or not Rose will ever be the same player he was prior to his skid into injury hell. It’s a question that will go unanswered until next season—at the earliest.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has played a full 16-game season just once since entering the league in 2002; that was his last year with the Falcons back in 2006. Following that season he missed three years (in prison) before returning in 2009 at the age of 29.
At just 6’0 and 215 lbs, Vick hasn’t been able to physically withstand the hits that are frequently associated with the type of game that he plays (or played). Since ’09 Vick as sustained injuries to his ribs, quadriceps, hand, finger and hamstring—in some cases multiple injures.
In 2012 concussions became a huge problem, keeping Vick sidelined for six straight games. Last season Vick struggled to return from an early season hamstring injury and eventually lost his starting job, which looks to be a permanent change, to Nick Foles.
Golf great Tiger Woods is swiftly closing in on 40, meaning nagging injuries come with the territory. But for Woods, who had his first major surgery as a freshman at Stanford in 1994, nagging injuries are certainly nothing new.
In late 2002 Woods required surgery to remove fluid around his ACL, causing him to miss the first five events the next year. In 2007 he ruptured his ACL while jogging, starting would would become a semi-annual surgical event.
In August 2013 Golf Digest published “Chronicles of Pain,” which catalogued every major injury Woods suffered in his career to date. The end result was almost painful to read.
Free agent running back Darren McFadden was drafted No. 4 overall by the Raiders in 2008. In the six seasons that followed, not once did McFadden play a full 16-game season. He missed three games in his first three years in Oakland and a total of 19 in the last three.
Each season McFadden has a new set of ailments. In 2008 it was his toe. 2009 was the knee. In 2010 he had a hamstring and a toe thing. In 2011 it was a shoulder, then a groin, then a foot. 2012 brought a shoulder and ankle. And in 2013 he missed time with a hamstring, a knee and an ankle.
Can’t imagine there will be any bidding wars for McFadden’s services come free agency. When he’s healthy, he’s a very solid back. The problem is…he’s never healthy.
Even when wide receiver Percy Harvin was actually playing back in the day—he missed just three games in his first three seasons with the Vikings—his presence on the injury report in Minnesota was nearly a constant.
Migraine headaches were an ongoing problem from 2009-11, as were his ribs, shoulder, hamstring, ankle and finger(s). Then stuff got real—really real. Harvin missed seven games with an ankle injury and finished 2012 on IR.
In 2013 the Vikings traded him to Seattle, where he played in exactly one regular season game, finishing the year with a whopping one catch for 17 yards. He spent most of the season on the PUP list, recovering from offseason hip surgery.
When Harvin finally did return for the Seahawks, he immediately went down with a concussion. Harvin was able to play in the Super Bowl though and returned a kick for a touchdown at the start of the second half.
The Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire was relatively healthy playing for the Suns during his first eight years in the league. With the exception of the 2005-06 season, which he missed all but five games recovering knee surgery, he played 72 games on average in Phoenix.
Stoudemire opted out of his contract with the Suns and signed with the Knicks in June 2010. In New York it didn’t take him long to prove his best days were behind him. Stoudemire gave the Knicks one quality year before beginning a sharp decline.
His injuries over the years have obviously caught up to the 31-year-old Stoudemire. His injuries through the years are as follows:
- •October 2005: Knee cartilage damage
- •October 2008: Partially torn iris
- •February 2009: Detached retina
- •February 2011: Sprained big toe
- •April 2011: Pulled back muscle, sprained left ankle
- •December 2011: Sprained left ankle
- •March 2012: Bulging back disc, right knee debridement
- •April 2012: Lacerated hand
- •October 2012: Left knee debridement
- •January 2014: Sprained left ankle, bone bruise, flu
And that's just the stuff Stoudemire will admit to. In December 2013 he directly denied reports that he'd miss significant time due to this knees.