As a professional athlete, it’s not uncommon to have injuries that cause extreme pain and discomfort. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, athletes are among five occupations that have more than 1,000 injuries per 10,000 workers. Additionally, the amount of injuries continues to increase in the top three U.S. sports: National Hockey League, National Football League, and Major League Baseball. When pro athletes suffer a major injury, it’s typical for them to miss a few games or even a season. However, this isn’t necessarily the case when a championship is at stake.
Some professional athletes will risk permanent injuries just to continue playing and hopefully win. There have been athletes that continued playing in a game after suffering broken bones, or a torn ACL. In some cases, the athlete’s courage and strength to defeat the odds was the main reason why their team was able to win a championship. There have also been pro athletes with a bad injury that didn’t win a title, but still became legends.
The below list goes over pro athletes that played with an injury. It doesn’t include colds or flu in case you’re wondering why Michael Jordan‘s historical “Flu Game” performance in 1997 isn’t anywhere to be seen.
15. Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott was a cornerback, strong safety, and free safety in the NFL from 1981-1994. While playing a game against the Dallas Cowboys, Ronnie badly mangled his left pinkie after a collision with another player. Although his finger was badly injured, Ronnie continued to play in that game and the rest of the year.
When team doctors explained his pinkie wouldn’t heal properly unless he missed the playoffs, Ronnie decided to continue playing and ended up eventually having one third of his finger amputated.
14. Rajon Rondo
NBA star Rajon Rondo dislocated his elbow during a playoff game against the Miami Heat in 2010. He was fighting to get a steal from NBA star Dwyane Wayne, and the two got tangled up during the possession. Rajon fell to the ground, and ended up dislocating his elbow after trying to brace the fall with his hand. The former Celtics player was in pain for several minutes as he lay on the ground with a bone sticking out.
Rajon went to the locker room where a physician popped the bone back into place, and returned to the game for the fourth quarter. The Celtics ended up winning the important game.
13. Brett Favre
Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre suffered many injuries during his career. One of the worst injuries took place during a game against the St. Louis Rams. After throwing a football, Brett badly broke his thumb. However, he insisted on playing despite the pain. The legendary ex-quarterback said in an interview about the injury: “Every throw I made against St. Louis, it hurt after the fact. But when you’re into a game, before you know it, it’s over. You just kind of block it out for that two- or three-second span.” Brett never missed a game due to his broken thumb, which is impressive since it was the one on his throwing hand.
12. Richard Sherman
NFL cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, Richard Sherman, injured his elbow during an NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. After the injury occurred, it was clear Richard was in extreme pain by the look on his face. He was treated by team trainers and came back into the game after a brief absence. Richard played the remainder of the game with his arms folded into his chest, which the Seahawks managed to win. Despite being injured, the superstar cornerback made an impact simply with his presence on the field and high NFL IQ. Richard also played with his injured elbow in Superbowl XLIX against the New England Patriots.
11. Kirk Gibson
Back in 1988, Kirk Gibson hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history with injuries to both of his legs. During the first game of the 1988 World Series, Kirk wasn’t listed on the lineup. The Los Angeles Dodgers were trailing the Oakland A’s in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. Kirk suddenly appeared from the Dodgers’ dugout with injuries to his right hamstring, ankle, and left knee.
He limped over to the plate, and managed to hit a two-run walk-off home run that won the game. To this day, his performance is considered one of the best in MLB history.
10. Jack Youngblood
Former NFL player, Jack Youngblood played 201 straight games in his 14 year career even when he suffered a major injury. When Jack played for the St. Louis Rams in 1979, he broke his fibula during a Divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. This would end the season for most pro athletes, but not Jack. Doctors put a cast on his leg and he played in the next two games, including the Super Bowl. This is one of the many reasons why he is still thought of as football’s original Ironman.
9. Philip Rivers
NFL quarterback Philip Rivers tore his ACL in 2008 during a Divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. Philip decided to have arthroscopic surgery performed on his knee so he could at least walk on it. A week later, he went up against the undefeated New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Despite losing to Tom Brady and company, Philip threw 37 passes for 211 yards in the game. That’s a major accomplishment for someone with a torn ACL that could barely walk.
8. Tiger Woods
A few months before the U.S. Open in 2008, golf superstar Tiger Woods underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Also, he fractured his leg in two places during rehab. Tiger still decided to compete in the U.S. Open and dominated the entire time despite feeling major pain in his leg. After four days of golf, he was tied with Rocco Mediate and the pair had to play an 18-hole playoff.
Tiger had to lean on his golf club after each drive due to the immense pain, even dropping to his knees. He went on to win the tournament, and later found out he had to repair a torn ACL.
7. Shun Fujimoto
Shun Fujimoto broke his kneecap during a floor exercise in the Montreal 1976 Summer Olympics. When this occurred, he chose not to tell his teammates so they wouldn’t feel discouraged. The injured gymnast scored a 9.7 out of 10 on a rings routine after executing a great triple-somersault dismount. He later admitted that “the pain went through me like a knife” as he raised his arms in the air with tears in his eyes after the performance.
Shun participated in two other events and helped his team to win the team all-around gold medal.
6. Bert Trautmann
In 1956, Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann broke his neck in the 75th minute of the FA Cup Final. He dove into the feet of a player on the opposing team, and suffered a hard impact. Bert had to continue playing in the game since substitutions weren’t allowed at the time. He was able to play the final 16 minutes of the game, leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
Bert had no idea that his neck was broken until after the match when doctors told him during an examination.
5. Niki Lauda
Driver Niki Lauda was in critical condition after his vehicle crashed and burst into flames at the German Grand Prix in Germany, in 1976. His Ferrari swerved off track and eventually caught fire. Niki was trapped and unable to get out until another driver managed to pull him out. He was rushed to the hospital where he was in critical condition after suffering from serious burns.
The toxic flames badly damaged his hair, face, and lungs. A few races later, Niki participated in the Italian Grand Prix despite having bloody facial wounds from his burns and being deemed as mentally unfit to drive by doctors. Amazingly, the Australian-born driver ended up coming in fourth place.
4. Steve Yzerman
Former NHL player, Steve Yzerman played in the entire 2002 Stanley Cup Finals on one leg. He was barely able to walk let alone skate and compete for a championship. Steve injured his leg in a prior round and knew he would need several knee surgeries to fix it. However, he chose to play in all five games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Steve was playing with a knee that was bone on bone, which is very painful.
The Red Wings won and Steve ended up having multiple surgeries. The injuries were so bad that doctors said he would have to miss half of the following season.
3. Bob Baun
Former hockey player Bob Baun injured his leg during game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1964. The injury was so bad that he had to be wheeled off the ice on a stretcher. With the game tied 3-3, Bob had his leg taped up and went back on the ice. Surprisingly, Bob was able to overcome the pain to make the game-winning goal. Later, he found out that he actually broke his lower right leg.
Bob was unable to walk without crutches, but he even played in game 7. His team, the Maple Leafs, ended up winning the Stanley Cup.
2. Curt Schilling
Former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Curt Schilling won the American League Championship Series game in 2004 with a bloody ankle. In the previous round, Curt tore a tendon in his right ankle. Many people thought the Red Sox had no chance to win since Curt was a pitcher and could not effectively use his ankle due to the injury. However, doctors performed a successful procedure on Curt before game 6 of the ALCS.
He suffered major pain through seven innings and even experienced blood dripping down his now legendary sock. The Red Sox ended up coming back to win the series.
1. Kerri Strug
Kerri Strug’s performance at the 1996 Summer Olympics is one that millions of people will always remember. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team needed a vault (with a difficult dismount) of 9.5 or better to win the all-around gold metal. People from all over the world watched as Kerri soared into the air on her first vault attempt and fell to the ground in pain. Unfortunately, she suffered a sprained ankle and it looked like a gold medal was far from reach.
However, Kerri remained strong, shook off the pain and tried another vault attempt ( you can see above) that resulted in a 9.712 score. She did this on one leg, which allowed the women’s gymnastics team to win its first ever gold medal.