Unless you happen to work as a professional stuntman, or a particularly inept lion tamer, the chances are that you’re unlikely to risk serious injury as part of your day-to-day activities; the worst you can probably expect is a nasty paper cut or a tongue-lashing from your boss for reading this instead of working. The same rules don’t apply to professional sportspersons – their job entails suffering all kinds of pain and brutality in the name of entertainment. Here we ‘celebrate’ ten of the most sickening injuries sustained by your sporting heroes.
Unsurprisingly, many of these injuries are caused by hard, fast impact. Two well-built athletes crashing into each other is always going to cause a degree of damage, as we shall explore in detail throughout the article. There are also a number of cases of athletes intentionally inflicting damage upon each other, as well as a long-distance runner with the unfortunate knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It goes without saying that some of these injuries are not for the squeamish and some of the accompanying images are graphic in nature – make sure you’re not having your lunch as you read this.
We probably don’t give professional sportsmen and women enough credit for putting their bodies on the line for our entertainment, finely tuned machines at the peak of their physical condition risking (in some cases) life and limb for us, the soft-boned slobs watching them at home, the TV remote in one hand, our soft, saggy guts cradled in the other. Read about these ten tales of horror and woe and thank your higher power of choice that you’re merely the spectator.
10. David Busst
In April 1996, Manchester United were challenging for their third English Premier League title in four years when they welcomed Coventry City to Old Trafford. Though the match ended in a straightforward victory for the Red Devils, the game is forever shrouded in infamy as the last match of Coventry defender David Busst’s professional career. In the third minute, Coventry won a corner which Busst came forward to contest. As the ball was cleared to him, he was tackled on either side by United’s Denis Irwin and Brian McClair. His lower right leg doubled over on itself as he sustained compound fractures to the tibia. As United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel vomited in shock and his blood was washed from the pitch, Busst was carried off for the first of 26 operations to repair the damage to his lower leg. Sadly, Busst contracted MRSA during one operation, the infection forcing him to retire from the sport. Busst remains sanguine about the death of his career – as a surgeon pointed out to him, had the injury happened during there 70s or early ’80s, his leg would have been amputated.
9. Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin is commonly regarded as one of the toughest footballers in the NFL -and with good reason. In September 2008, the wide receiver was attempting a touchdown catch when he crashed headfirst into an opponent, the helmet-on-helmet impact knocking him clean out. His face was completely shattered. Countless facial fractures had to be repaired with a total of 40 titanium screws and 7 plates, while his dislocated jaw injury was so severe that it had to be realigned and wired up. This was all small potatoes to Boldin, who only missed two games before returning to the field. “To me, that wasn’t the most devastating thing I had to go through,” he scoffed, probably while snacking on house bricks and glass, “I just saw it as another obstacle.”
8. Bryce Florie
If you’ve ever pondered exactly how much it would hurt to be hit flush in the mush by a baseball travelling at 100 mph, then you both have too much spare time on your hands and need to ask former Red Sox player Bryce Florie, for he knows exactly how much through painful experience. On September 8th, 2000, the Red Sox were playing the Yankees when Ryan Thompson launched a line drive in the direction of Florie. The hapless fielder couldn’t get his glove behind the ball quickly enough and it rocketed directly into his cheekbone, making a noise that onlookers described as sounding like shattering glass. Florie suffered a fractured cheekbone, orbital socket and a damaged retina. The skin around his cheek sagged at a peculiar angle as the bone underneath compacted. Though multiple surgeries to rebuild the bone and relieve the pressure saved his sight, Florie’s season was well and truly over.
7. Renzo Gracie
It goes without saying that the rough, tough world of MMA sees more than its fair share of nasty injuries, but few are as graphically awful as that suffered by Brazilian fighter Renzo Gracie, in a bout with Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 8. The Japanese legend had already spun Gracie into a Kimura Armlock once, with the referee forcing a release fearing an arm-break, when he managed to capture Gracie in the same position again. Gracie had a proud family legacy within the world of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu of never tapping out to surrender a fight – and he was determined to uphold the family honor. As Sakuraba tightened his hold, Gracie’s arm bent into the highly unnatural position pictured above, before snapping. Though he didn’t seem phased by the bad break in the ring, Gracie later revealed that it was the worst pain he had ever experienced. He never did tap out.
6. Allen Ray
When you hear of an injury on the basketball court, it’s more than likely that you’ll imagine a twisted ankle or a fractured wrist, but the sport is infamous for the number of eye injuries that players suffer each year. By far the most gruesome of such injuries was incurred by Villanova forward Allen Ray, during a College basketball game in 2006. The unfortunate Allen was poked in the eyes by an opposing player, causing his right eyeball to literally pop out of its socket. The quick actions of a surely nauseated physician ensured that the eyeball was thumbed back into the socket and the injury put under ice, but Allen completely lost the sight in the organ. Remarkably, it wasn’t an injury that spelled the end of his basketball career; Allen regained the sight in his eye within a few days and, unbelievably for what appeared at first to be a severe injury, he was back on the court within a week.
5. Rudy Tomjanovich
One punch changed the world of professional basketball forever. The sport was a lot more physical in 1977, with contact being rough and the rules around foul play reasonably relaxed. During an on-court fight at The Forum in Inglewood, LA Lakers forward Kermit Washington saw a blurred figure rushing up behind him. That figure was Houston Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich, rushing to the aid of his teammates. Washington reacted instinctively; he delivered a punch to Tomjanovich that laid the latter out unconscious on the court floor in a pool of blood. Medics likened the impact at being hit by a car at 50 mph – Rudy suffered a dislocated skull, with spinal fluid leaking into his mouth.
Lucky to survive the blow, the infamy dogged him for the next four years until he retired and sank into alcoholism. Washington was suspended and fined, unable to find a coaching position in the NBA since. The NBA tightened their rules about physical contact, changing the game forever. Unbelievably, Washington and Tomjanovich have since forged a deep and lasting friendship outside the game.
4. Rick Ankiel
If pratfalls have taught us anything, it’s that running full pelt into a wall causes you to see little birds and stars, unless you’re Wile E. Coyote and you can cushion the blow with a small umbrella. When it happens in real life, specifically professional baseball, it’s totally painful and rarely conducive to good health. Though, still utterly hilarious, obviously. The 6-1 loss to Philadelphia Phillies suffered by St. Louis Cardinals in May, 2009, was overshadowed somewhat by the excruciating injury sustained by outfielder Rick Ankiel. After chasing down a line drive in the eighth inning, he caught the ball but saw his momentum send him crashing headfirst into the outfield fence. Fearing a broken neck, the Cardinals’ physician carted him from the field in a gurney and neck brace. Ankiel was conscious throughout, flashing a cheeky thumbs-up to concerned fans, who were relieved to discover that he’d suffered little more than whiplash, a swollen face and dented pride.
3. Sebastien Courcelles
The captain of minor-league hockey team Thetford Mines Isothermic, Sebastien Courcelles, suffered one of the most gruesome facial injuries ever seen in sport back in December 2013. During the game against Trois Vikings in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, Courcelles collided with opponent Jean-Michel Bolduc and fell to the ice. Unluckily, his face landed directly on Bolduc’s skates, resulting in a huge gash to his cheek. Courcelles’ brother, Simon was the first responder and he applied pressure to his sibling’s wound until the paramedics arrived to cart him off for a four-hour operation to stitch the cut. Though the injury resulted in permanent nerve damage, Courcelles was only prevented from going back to work at the beginning of the following week by his wife refusing to let him do so, though he insisted on declaring himself fit for the weekend’s Isothermics game.
2. Salim Sdiri
In July 2007, renowned Finnish javelinist Tero Pitkamaki performed the worst throw of his life at the Golden League meet in Rome. The javelin sailed 80 meters off target and landed in the back of French long-jumper Salim Sdiri. The unlucky Sdiri yelled out in pain and attempted to pull out the spear before collapsing. His injuries were even more extensive than first feared – the javelin had perforated a kidney and injured his liver. It would be six months before he resumed training, having lost 15 pounds of muscle mass as he recuperated. Though Pitkamaki was naturally apologetic about the incident, Sdiri later expressed his disgust that the Finn not only failed to cross the field to see how he was, but also threw three more times that same night. Sdiri has since fully recovered.
1. Clint Malarchuk
In March 1989, ice hockey goalkeeper Clint Malarchuk suffered one of the most gruesome injuries ever sustained in professional sport, in front of live TV cameras. The then 27-year old was playing for the Buffalo Sabres against rivals St. Louis Blues when a stray skate slashed his neck, severing an artery and pumping three pints of blood onto the ice. Aware that his mother, Jean always watched him play in the NHL, his first thought was to try to get to his feet; “Once I realized this could be death, my first thought was ‘get off the ice, go through the gate, get off camera so my mum didn’t have to watch me die.” Malarchuk survived due to the quick thinking of the Sabres trainer, who reached into the gaping wound to pinch shut the artery. The wound took over 300 hundred stitches to close. Malarchuk spiraled into a maelstrom of alcoholism, insomnia and depression after the shock of the injury forced him to quit hockey, twice attempting suicide.