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The Top 10 Athletes and Sports Personalities Afraid of Flying

Quick HitContributor IMay 19, 2009

Whether you refer to it as aerophobia, aviatophobia, aviophobia, or pteromechanophobia...it is better known as the fear of flying—and it affects nearly one in five people worldwide.

Judging from football fans' reactions to Tony Kornheiser's announcement, we could say that Kornheiserblowhardophobia, PTIgobacktophobia, and shutupaboutAmericanIdolalreadyphobia affect nearly four in five people—as evidenced by the comments left by MNF fans on numerous blog posts who are evidently glad to see Kornheiser go—but that is beside the point.

In any event, Kornhieser's admission of his fear of flying—and his subsequent bail-out of his MNF post—made us ponder other significant athletes and sportscasters who shared the same fear.

So we at Quick Hit compiled the following top 10 athletes and sports personalities afraid of flying.

10. Muhammad Ali

The man who claimed he could float "like a butterfly" evidently was afraid to fly.

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Later on in his career, Muhammad reportedly said that he no longer had a fear of flying because "Allah would not allow him to die in a plane crash." Ali also had a legendary exchange with a stewardess as detailed and debunked here by Snopes.

9. Evel Knievel

Ironic, eh? Sure, he could jump off the mountains of Snake River Canyon and the fountains of Caesar's Place—but the tough guy couldn't hop on a short flight from Idaho to Vegas.

Evidently Evel used to drive across the USA, claiming he "didn't want to give anyone an opportunity to kill him before he killed himself."

8. Cortland Finnegan

Upon making the Pro Bowl this year, the Titans cornerback quickly backpedaled and announced he's afraid of flying:

"Finnegan says he's thinking of taking a tranquilizer or something to help him through the flight. He says he's really scared and actually has thought of traveling to Hawaii on a cruise ship."

Whether Finnegan was just fishing for a free cruise ride for himself and the "30 friends" he planned on having accompany him to Hawaii is unknown. But things should be a lot easier for Finnegan should he make the Pro Bowl in 2010, as the game has been moved to Miami.

Now that would be an interesting boat ride from Tennessee down to Florida...way down upon the Suwanee River. Maybe Cortland could "boat pool" with the Vikings, as they are known for throwing a pretty wild boat soiree. Stay tuned.

7. Dennis Bergkamp

Known to football fans across across the pond, Bergkamp's camper was his preferred means of travel. According to The Guardian, the Arsenal striker was afraid of flying:

"Some Arsenal fans believe this cost their team a UEFA Cup first-round tie in 1997. Bergkamp refused to fly to play in the away leg in Salonika, Greece. Arsenal lost the game 1-0, and could only draw the return match at Highbury 1-1. "

6. B.A. Baracus aka Mr. T.

The infamous Rocky opponent (James "Clubber" Lang in Rocky III) turned TV tough guy character could turn his AMC truck into tank in a matter of minutes between commercial breaks—but when it came to flying he turned into jello within seconds.

That meant the rough and tumble team of Hannibal, Face, and Murdock would have to scramble to get Mohawk hair onto an awaiting plane or chopper.

Man, we really loved it when a plan came together. When are they going make a movie out of that classic show already? Comment below.

5. Bobby Fischer

The king of chess played mind games with himself. According to chessgames.com:

"Fischer became mentally ill with severe paranoia, and probably other mental illness. Bobby Fischer was afraid to fly on airplanes when he was at the top of his game for fear the KGB would blow up his flight. Also Bobby had his fillings removed because he was worried the Russians could control his mind."

The boy prodigy literally exiled himself later in life with his strange behavior and anti-American sentiments.

4. Irina Shayk

In a Q&A last year, the Sports Illustrated model admitted she's "afraid to fly" and also admitted she "wants to be cosmonaut."

Go figure. Hey we'd join the mile-high club with Irina any day...check out her pictures here. Perhaps we can hook up on SI's special swimsuit jet adorned with cover girl Bar Refaeli (pictured at right).

3. Tony Kornheiser

While some believe he was pushed out of the MNF vehicle without a parachute, Kornheiser toed the company line and offered the following statement:

"My fear of planes is legendary and sadly true. When I looked at the upcoming schedule, it was the perfect storm that would've frequently moved me from the bus to the air. I kept looking at the schedule the past month and wanted to find a way to quietly extricate myself.

"If I could handpick a replacement of a football guy, I would cast a net and drag in Jon Gruden. He is the two things you most want—smart and funny—and has the two things I don't—good hair and a tan.

"I love PTI and am looking forward to continuing to yammer and yodel with Wilbon until the end of time."

2. Wayne Gretzky

The great one had a great fear early on in his career in Edmonton. Wayne was deathly afraid to fly and would rely on his roommate Ace Bailey to comfort him and calm him down as the plane was taking off.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Ace would later perish on one of the planes involved in 9/11. He was fondly remembered by Wayne in this touching tribute published in Sports Illustrated a week after the tragedy.

1. John Madden

Known for racking up miles on his bus as well as busting through racks of ribs, it is interesting to note that some sources report Madden's fear flying has been misrepresented.

"Most people know John's preferred mode of transportation is his bus, but according to [Madden's son] Joe, his well-publicized fear of flying is a misnomer—John is actually claustrophobic," according to this biz journal article.

However, we don't buy that theory since there is a fundamental flaw in the logic behind it. Given Madden's penchant to gorge himself with leftover turkey legs and whatnot, wouldn't it appear to the ever-expanding announcer that his bus cabin was constantly shrinking?

So did we miss any other athletes who are afraid to fly? Leave the names and stories of other airplane-challenged athletes below. (Be tasteful, though: Please refrain from any Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente, Knute Rockne, Marshall, Oklahoma State, Man U, AC Torino, etc. reference, please.)

Photo Credit: Airplane (1979)—That's Kareem in the cockpit as Roger Murdock.

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