The Price of Playing Pro: Craziest Stories and Photos from Athletes

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2016

Michael Strahan speaks during an interview at the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII media center, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Being a pro athlete is awesome and all, but as we've heard for years, the price of playing sports as a career for a long time can take a serious toll on one's body.

And while there has been a ton of conversation about the long-term effects of numerous hits to the head in football or the wear and tear on joints in other sports, some of the simplest body parts have been bent, pulled and broken on a number of athletes—and these are just some of their disturbing stories and/or photos.

Warning: Some of the images and/or videos are graphic and NSFW, so proceed with caution while viewing.

10. Bart Starr

Jan. 14, 1968; Miami, FL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Green Bay Packers quarterbacks Zeke Bratkowski (12) and Bart Starr (15) celebrate near the end of Super Bowl II against the Oakland Raiders at the Orange Bowl. The Packers defeated the Raiders 33-14. Mandatory Cr
Press-Gazette-USA TODAY Sports

Former NFL quarterback Bart Starr enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers, but I found the recent claims of his ongoing back problems interesting.

Starr, who suffered from debilitating back issues throughout his career, is believed to have first sustained the injuries during a hazing incident while in college at the University of Alabama, with the aches and pains staying with him throughout his football career.

Per AL.com's Joseph Goodman (via ESPN.com), Starr's wife said this:

He was hospitalized at one point in traction. That was in the days when they were initiated into the A-Club, and they had severe beatings and paddling. From all the members of the A-Club, they lined up with a big paddle with holes drilled in it, and it actually injured his back.

Whether true or not, the fact that Starr is still dealing with back injuries at the age of 82 from an apparent incident in college and through his playing days is pretty scary and something that current athletes should take notice of for the price of playing such a violent sport like football.

9. Francisco Liriano

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEM BER 13:  Francisco Liriano #47 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on September 13, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There have been a lot of baseball players who have had Tommy John surgery or have endured other serious injuries to their throwing arms, but in a 2015 New York Times interview, I found Francisco Liriano's story one that was pretty remarkable.

That's because he had to completely re-tool his arm following the surgery, telling the New York Times when asked if he had to change the way he pitched afterward:

Oh, yeah, I changed everything. I didn’t have my speed back. I had to really learn how to pitch and not just go out there and throw. I didn’t have the stuff I used to have. I wish I could throw hard again. But you know, it is what it is. I’ve just tried to learn to pitch with what I have and not try to create something I don’t have anymore. I wish I could have it back.

Other baseball players echoed similar sentiments as Liriano, who went from a hard-throwing pitcher with pinpoint accuracy to one who had to adapt to trusting more off-speed stuff, all so he could maintain a career in the majors.

8. Whitney Mercilus

Nick Dimengo @itsnickdimengo

Doing a piece on athletes who've paid the price of playing sports: @merci380 DEF makes the cut. Damn, homey. #NFL https://t.co/Acepp49Zqr

It takes a strong man to play the sport of a football for a living, so it's understandable that a defensive lineman like Whitney Mercilus would spend so much time in the weight room hoping to beef up and maintain his strength.

Unfortunately, while in college at the University of Illinois, Mercilus was involved in a weight room accident that left him without the tip of his left index finger. He was attempting to help a teammate who lost control of a 405-pound squat and got his finger jammed between weights.

It wasn't until seconds later that the current Houston Texan linebacker realized his finger was sliced off, telling StlToday.com: "I didn't realize my finger came off until maybe four seconds later. I looked at my hand and started freaking out."

While the injury may have kept some from living out his or her dream of becoming a pro athlete, Mercilus persevered and became a sack master for the Illini during his senior campaign, ultimately getting drafted in the first round in 2012 by the Texans.

Still, he had to adjust to life on and off the field without the tip of his finger, which came because of his love for football.

7. Clint Malarchuk

25 Oct 1991:  Goaltender Clint Malarchuk of the Buffalo Sabres looks on during a game against the San Jose Sharks at Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

To this day, former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk's injury is still one of the most gruesome that I have ever seen in my entire life.

While playing for the Buffalo Sabres, Malarchuk got an opposing player's skate beneath his mask and right onto his jugular, slicing it and causing blood to come pouring onto the ice in a scene that looked like a horror movie.

Warning: Video is graphic.

Miraculously, the goalie's life was able to be saved—and he actually only missed five games—but the scar from that injury is still very much visible on Malarchuk's neck, along with the emotional pain that followed the terrifying event.

6. Kobe Bryant

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers gets treatment before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at STAPLES Center on February 19, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant is one of the most intense and accomplished NBA players in the past 25-plus years, so anytime he gets a chance to show fans and opposing players what he'll do to maintain that level of success, it can, sometimes, cross the line.

Bryant did that in 2013 when he actually posted a photo of his sliced-open Achilles while having surgery (Warning: Photo is graphic):

It was gross because of the blood and, you know, the fact that Bryant was sliced open, but the scar is one that will forever remind him of his playing days, which includes five championships and, eventually, a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Was it worth it? I have a hunch that Bryant would say yes without any hesitation.

5. Zach Redmond

Mitch Peacock @MitchPeacock1

#NHLJets Zach Redmond shows scar from skate cut. #cbcmb http://t.co/xVli5rh6yw

After seeing former Winnipeg Jets player Zach Redmond's leg injury that required a bunch of stitches after a teammate accidentally stomped on him in practice, it's easy to assume that hockey players have the worst injuries in sports.

How else will Redmond explain to everyone who ever sees his leg again what happened other than, "Well, I'm a hockey player?"

There are other hockey scars that might be more disgusting and brutal, but Zach Redmond's is definitely up there, and he'll have the privilege of looking at that thing forever.

4. Joba Chamberlain

Freep Sports @freepsports

What we noticed when we saw this picture of Joba Chamberlain pitching today. #Tigers14 http://t.co/ixHNwQdCp4

Much like the aforementioned scar that Liriano had, current Cleveland Indians hopeful bullpen member Joba Chamberlain got his following Tommy John surgery.

While Liriano struggled to redefine himself as a pitcher and probably wanted to forget about the injury altogether, Chamberlain had some fun with his, actually turning it into a smiley-face tattoo, which is a unique way to appreciate a scar.

The scar, and the tattoo, will be there forever, but at least Chamberlain had some fun with the fact that surgery affected his pitching career.

3. Michael Strahan

Michael Strahan @michaelstrahan

Pretty! LolRT @Lin_Manuel: We sat next to Strahan. He is THE BEST. Also, thanks to football, his fingers do THIS. https://t.co/7nTVcoNXe3

There are plenty of former athletes who have shared photos of their mangled fingers following their playing careers, and Hall of Fame defensive lineman Michael Strahan's are some of the grossest ever.

After playing for 15 years with the New York Giants, Strahan's fingers look like they're made of putty or something, as he's able to bend them in ways that no human should be capable of doing, easily making me come close to barf up my breakfast.

Strahan ended up in the Canton and has a Super bowl ring, so I'm sure it was worth it, but, damn, that looks like it hurts.

2. Torry Holt

Warning: Video is graphic.

As disgusting as Strahan's fingers are, I'm not sure anyone beats former wide receiver Torry Holt's hands, as he proved in this video just what kind of damage catching a football hundreds of times a day can do to a person.

Holt's finger looks like it's fake, with the former All-Pro able to bend it in every which direction with ease and, even worse, having his hand look that messed up forever because of it being knocked out of place during his NFL career.

Being an NFL player is great, but no thanks; this looks too painful for me.

1. Ronnie Lott

There are tough pro athletes and then there's Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, whose story about amputating his pinkie finger in order to continue playing football without a long layoff is well-documented.

In that story, Lott tells SI.com:

I was trying to laugh it off, but I felt sick. I tried to stand up, but I broke into a cold sweat. It was just a total shock. I thought, "Oh, man, I should have had the pin put in." … We are losing the compassionate side of sports. We're becoming gladiators. If I ever become a coach, I hope I never lose sight of the fact that players are people. They feel. They have emotions. I could have all of Eddie DeBartolo's corporations and it isn't going to buy me a new finger. It has given me a new perspective on life.

So, while Lott may have been commended on being slightly crazy and doing what was best for the team when he got his finger amputated in 1986, it sure sounds as if he regrets that move now and would have rather taken time off to recover properly.


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