There have been many football deaths, whereby a player in a league such as the NFL has died during an on-field incident, whether an injury, heart-attack or other cause. These are not as common as soccer deaths though (believe it or not) which we will also look at, but they do happen and there are many incidents that we have drawn upon.
The fact that football, as in North American football, is only a major sport in America and Canada and is rarely played elsewhere means that there aren’t that many games and therefore aren’t that many fatal incidents. However, the hard hits and explosive play means that even with all that gear and those helmets, deadly incidents do occur both on the practice field and during live games.
Football Deaths (NFL, College, Canadian Football)
Just like rugby deaths and boxing deaths, many of the football deaths that have occurred over the years have resulted from injuries and trauma, with some players dying on the spot and others slipping into comas and then dying at a later date.
In 1960, Howard Glenn of the New York Titans died from a neck injury suffered during a game with the Houston Oilers. He was just 26 at the time and only got to play 4 games as a professional. Three years later, Stone Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs also died of a neck injury. He was just 23 years old at the time.
Football deaths also include heart attacks, often related to undiagnosed heart conditions and triggered either by trauma or simply by exertion. Such was the case with Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions, who became the first (and remains the only) player to die on the field during an NFL game.
During college football games, Paul Becker (1939), Vernon Belyea (1913), Alan Buder (1964), Dave Bliss (1967) and Dylan Steigers (21) all died from injuries in a game, while Derek Sheely (2011) died after a practice accident and Zach Shaver (2010) died from sustained blows in practice.
Strange Football Deaths
In a moment we’ll discuss some of the more bizarre soccer deaths, focusing on those that have happened on the pitch. With American football deaths, there are fewer bizarre deaths and most have taken place off the field, with the deceased being an active player with a college or professional football contract.
For instance, Dale Lloyd Carleton Oats Jr and Chris Waddell died during workouts, while college players Richard Giardi and Edin Hill both died from accidental shootings about 90 years apart. Over three dozen college players and many more professional players have died in car crashes, at least a half dozen of each have drowned, one fell from a cliff and several fell from high buildings. In fact, Rodney Abercrombie died in 2003 when he jumped from a second floor window to escape a gunman.
Cancer is responsible for many football deaths, including Joe Roth, who passed in 1977 from melanoma, ending his college football career. The All-American quarterback had a lot of promise and his number has since become the only number to be retired by the California Golden Bears football program.
Two NFL players, Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith, and two former college football players, Nick Schuyler and Will Bleakley, were all involved in a 2009 boating accident and the two NFL players, as well as one of the college players, are still officially “Lost at Sea”.
These are basically football deaths for our UK and European readers. As it happens, half of our team is from the UK so before you complain about the differences and our usage of certain terms, we get it, honestly.
There have been many soccer deaths over the years, with players dying on the pitch in front of hundreds and sometimes tens of thousands of spectators. The reason there are so many is because it’s an active, energetic game, and it’s also one played in every country around the world, with hundreds of matches taking place at any given time.
One of the most bizarre soccer deaths occurred in 2014 when Peter Biaksangzuala was celebrating a goal he scored in the 61st minute. He landed awkwardly following an elaborate celebration and the spinal injuries that resulted from this led to his death.
Gregory Mertens, Michael Umanika, Bernardo Ribeiro, Cristian Gomez and Sekou Camara all died of a suspected heart attack on the pitch in the years from 2013 to 2017. This is the most common cause of soccer deaths over the years, but there are others:
Ben Hiscox died after going in for a tackle, stumbling and hitting his head against a brick wall at the edge of the pitch; Albert Ebosse Bodjongo died after what is said to have been a “severe beating”; Yair Clavijo died from issues resulting from an enlarged heart; and Mohammad Fahad died after an on-pitch collision.
Again, all of these occurred between the years of 2013 an 2017. There are many more cases before this, but it just shows how common soccer deaths are and how varied the reasons are.
Other Football Deaths
Not only have a number of football players died on the pitch, but many more have passed away at their peak of their career, with the cause of death not always related to their activities on the pitch.
In 1993, Jeff Alm, who played for the Houston Oilers, committed suicide. Jim Duncan (1972) went the same way, while Sean Taylor (2007) of the Redskins, Fred Lane (s000) of the Panthers, Blenda Gay (1976) of the Eagles and Shane Curry (1992) of the Colts were all murdered while they still had active football careers.
The most common cause of football deaths not occuring to the pitch are car accidents, and a number of NFL players have died this way over the years. Heart disease, cancer, drowning and drug overdoses are also causes.
As for soccer, it’s a similar story. Former Premier League player Cheick Tiote died of a heart attack during a training session in China, and remains one of the most well known players to die in such a way. There have also been cases of players being struck by lightening and dying on the pitch.