During the late ’90’s/early 2000’s, Barber was one of the league’s best running backs. The 3-time Pro Bowler rushed for over 10,000 yards throughout his career. Barber even notched a First Team All-Pro denotation in 2005. Despite all of this, the rusher made the controversial decision to step away from the game in 2006.
At 31 years of age, Barber reportedly turned down a two-year/$50 million contract and chose to retire. Barber — a highly intelligent and gregarious personality — opted to pursue his luck in the field of broadcasting. The year after Barber left, the Giants won the Super Bowl versus the then-undefeated New England Patriots. Surely, the G-Men would’ve loved to have had Barber in the backfield for that triumphant run in the playoffs.
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Fans of both the NHL and the Boston Bruins are very familiar with Cam Neely. The right winger was an excellent player — particularly in the postseason. Neely at one time was the Bruins’ all-time leading goal scorer in postseason play. He even had two seasons with at least 50 goals. Unfortunately for Neely, his career was cut short before he intended.
Neely had to retire from the sport at the age of 31. This was brought on by a vicious Ulf Samuelsson hit during the 1991 playoffs. Since retiring, Neely has appeared in a number of films — including the cult classic Dumb and Dumber. Currently, Neely is the President of the Boston Bruins.
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Kiner was a fantastic ballplayer. Over the course of his 10-year career, Kiner made six All-Star teams. He also led the National League in home runs on seven separate occasions. Despite clubbing 369 home runs, Kiner was forced to retire at a young age (particularly for a baseball player)…
Kiner was beset by a back injury. As such, he had to quit playing professionally at the age of 33. Being a baseball player, it’s very conceivable to believe Kiner could’ve played until close to his 40th birthday (if not beyond). Had that occurred, he would’ve had a real shot at the 500 home run plateau.
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Russian tennis player Elena Dementieva had a rather strong pedigree upon becoming a professional. She won the singles Gold medal in the 2008 Olympics (which came after winning the Silver in 2000). From there, Dementieva nabbed 16 singles titles. Everything was on the up-and-up for Dementieva. However, she was ready to leave the sport at a rather young age.
After losing a 2010 match in the Tour Championships, Dementieva officially announced her retirement on the court. Despite being an elite player during this time, she left the game at the age of 29. Since then, Dementieva got married to professional hockey player Maxim Afinogenov, and gave birth to a daughter.
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Bo Jackson’s exploits as a professional athlete have been well documented. The Heisman Trophy-winning football player went on to be an elite player in both the NFL and in MLB. As it pertained to his football career, Jackson — a fantastic running back — saw his career completely compromised during the 1990 playoffs.
Jackson endured a damaging hip injury during a playoff game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. This injury ultimately forced Jackson to retire from the NFL at age 29. Though he did continue his baseball career for three more seasons, Jackson’s athletic career as a high-end competitor ended with that hip injury.
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In the case of Brandon Roy, injuries robbed what could’ve been an exceptionally great NBA career. The Seattle native was a rock-solid player. Roy orchestrated things with the precision of a finely tuned machine. He could score from anywhere on the floor, and often had his imprints on every game he competed in. The 3-time All-Star was even on track to be the face of the Trail Blazers’ franchise. Alas, Roy’s balky knees prohibited him from reaching even greater heights.
Both of Roy’s knees were compromised to the point that he reportedly lacked cartilage between the bones of each knee. As such, he was forced to retire from the game at the young age of 27. A short comeback attempt came two years later with the Minnesota Timberwolves — though it was quickly realized that Roy was a shell of his former self.
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Boselli was a quality lineman for both USC and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Selected No. 2 Overall in the 1995 Draft, Boselli became the first-ever pick for the Jaguars’ franchise. He proceeded to make 5 Pro Bowls (as well as compiling three First Team All-Pro denotations). Boselli looked like a lock for 10+ years of Pro Bowl appearances. However, this wasn’t meant to be.
Despite making five Pro Bowls in seven seasons, Bosellli called it quits at the age of 30. Boselli only allowed 15.5 sacks during his career. Unfortunately, shoulder issues prevented him from continuing on. To this day, Boselli remains as one of the best players to ever suit up for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
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The diminutive running back out of Oklahoma State was simply phenomenal. Few were as electric as Sanders when he had the ball in his hands. He’d dip, dodge, duck, and evade defenders with relative ease. Patches O’Houlihan would even be proud of his skills rushing the football. After notching 10 Pro Bowl Appearances, 6 First Team All-Pro spots, and one MVP award, Sanders quit the game in the middle of his prime.
Sanders was ahead of the game when it came to retiring early. At only 30 years of age, the Detroit Lions legend quit the sport of professional football. Since his retirement, we’ve yet to see a running back possess Sanders’ unique traits. He dominated the NFL despite generously being listed at 5-foot-8. This feat alone is absolutely astounding.
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Rocky Marciano (born Rocco Marchegiano) remains as one of boxing’s most prolific fighters. The Italian American packed a massive punch despite being only 5-foot-10. Marciano accumulated a perfect 49-0 record (which included 43 knockouts). A former Heavyweight Champion, Marciano defended his belt multiple times without issue. By the age of 32 though, Marciano decided to hang his gloves up for good.
Marciano was a big-time celebrity by the time he left the ring. Aside from being a television personality, Marciano became a referee in the boxing world. He also dabbled in a number of business ventures. Sadly, Marciano died in a plane crash when he was only 45 years old.
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Belgian tennis player Justine Henin is the classic case of someone going out on top. For years, she dominated the women’s tennis circuit. Henin won seven Grand Slam singles titles, and accrued more than $20 million in prize money. She also spent 117 weeks as the world’s best tennis player (over the course of multiple years). In 2008, Henin was ranked as the No. 1 player in the world. Still, this didn’t prevent her from making a shocking decision.
At only 26 years of age, Henin walked away from the game. She made a brief comeback a year later — though fully called it quits in 2011. Henin had dedicated over 20 years of her life to the sport, and was simply burned out by the time she approached her mid-20’s.
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The Ohio State product was a very solid NFL player. His entire eight-year career was spent with the Minnesota Vikings. Though later passed by Adrian Peterson, Smith was at one point the Minnesota Vikings’ all-time leader in career rushing yards. A 2-time Pro Bowler, Smith ultimately retired at only 28 years of age.
Smith reportedly wanted to discontinue playing as a means to keep his health intact. Since retiring, Smith has been an advocate for alcoholism. He battled with the disease during his playing days, and has since become sober. Smith also covers professional/college football as a television analyst.
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Having an elite netminder in goal makes life much easier for any hockey franchise. When it came to Ken Dryden, he broke the mold as an all-world goaltender. In only seven years, Dryden notched five Stanley Cup titles with the Montreal Canadiens. Confident, daring, and quick, Dryden was simply phenomenal. The question then persisted: Why would Dryden retire at only 32 years of age?
Reportedly, Dryden didn’t like the contract offered to him by the Canadiens. The Ontario native had many interests off the ice. He even took a year off from the NHL in order to earn a law degree at McGill University. Ultimately, Dryden worked in a number of sectors. He was a writer, a teacher, a lawyer, a television commentator, and later a politician.
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Sandy Koufax pulled an Andrew Luck before Andrew Luck did. As we all know, Koufax might be the greatest left-handed pitcher in MLB history. Blessed with a knee-buckling curve and an electric fastball, Koufax was a master at manipulating the baseball wherever he wanted. By 30, he had already notched an eye-popping 165 wins. Alas, he was never able to improve upon those numbers.
Plagued by arthritis in his elbow, Koufax decided to retire from the game at the young age of 30. This was shocking to the entire world of baseball — particularly since he ended his career with a season including 27 wins, 317 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.73.
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Sims parlayed a strong collegiate career at Oklahoma into a promising one in the NFL. A member of the Detroit Lions, Sims won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. He also made three Pro Bowl appearances in a row. With everything looking immensely positive, Sims suffered a terrible fate.
In only his fifth NFL season, Sims suffered a tremendously horrific knee injury. It not only ended his year, but also effectively ended Sims’ career. It’s quite sad to think his career stopped in such an abrupt manner. Sims was on course to become an eventual Hall of Famer.
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The 2-time Pro Bowler enjoyed a very successful career with the Seattle Seahawks. Baldwin was an expert route-runner, and was unquestionably Seattle’s top target during its Super Bowl runs. During the 2018 season, an elbow injury hindered Baldwin’s ability to play. As such, he made the tough decision to walk away from the game.
The Stanford graduate retired at the age of 30. This was made possible once he failed a physical prior to the start of the 2019 season. A very thoughtful individual, Baldwin has made it clear he has no plans to return to football. After a solid 8-year career, we wish he would’ve been healthy enough to continue.
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We miss Megatron. The jumbo receiver out of Georgia Tech looked to be engineered as the picture-perfect pass-catching marvel. He was taller than everyone, faster than everyone, and jumped higher than everyone. In terms of pure physical ability, he may have been the most talented receiver to ever play the game. Wanting to keep his health, Johnson made the decision to retire at a very young age.
In 2016, Johnson retired from the game of football. Despite having plenty of years remaining as a high-level athlete, Johnson gave up the sport at the age of 30. Since then, the Georgia native has enjoyed life away from the gridiron. This has included an appearance on the hit reality television show Dancing With The Stars.
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Many view Sorenstam as the G.O.A.T. of women’s golf. She’s accrued 72 LPGA tour victories, has won the Player of the Year Award eight separate times, and has 10 major victories. For all of this personal achievement, it’s a bit befuddling to hear that she retired at age 38.
Had Sorenstam continued on, she would’ve continued to shatter records that might not ever be broken. Alas, she decided to quit the sport in 2008. Since retiring from the game, Sorenstam has become a mother to two children.
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The lumbering tight end out of Arizona was a dominant player throughout his NFL career. Gronkowski was essentially Tom Brady’s security blanket whenever he needed to make a big play. Gronk’s massive hands engulfed the football, and he had the momentum of a gigantic refrigerator as he careened downfield. However, the enigmatic personality decided to hang it up at a relatively young age.
After a 9-year career, Gronkowski retired at the age of 29. His body had been beat up considerably over the course of his career. Duly, Gronkowski spoke openly about the mental toll the game takes. Most recently, the Pennsylvania native is working with a San Francisco-based company to launch a line of CBD products.
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The world’s best point guard, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a magician with the basketball in his hands. The 6-foot-9 athlete was cerebral, clever, and immensely gifted. He was a huge reason for the Lakers’ emergence during the ’80s. Sadly, a medical issue forced him to retire at 31 years of age.
Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, and thus was forced to immediately retire. A brief stint later in his career occurred — though Johnson was far from his past standard. He’s since become a huge activist within the community. Johnson still holds the goal of combating HIV completely.
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At the height of his career, the Swedish athlete was a heavyweight. To this day, Borg remains as one of the world’s best-ever tennis players. He was the first individual to win 11 Grand Slam singles titles. Duly, Borg broke the mold in terms of monetary wealth. Just as his career was starting to take off, Borg did something no one saw coming.
The child prodigy ended up retiring from professional tennis at the age of 26. The stress and pressure starting from when he was 16 simply took its toll. Borg had a chance to etch his name alongside the likes of Laver, Federer, and Nadal. However, his body of work doesn’t compare to the aforementioned trio.
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The San Diego native was one of the most ballyhooed running backs to enter the NFL. This was largely in part to the insane package of draft capital Mike Ditka gave up in order for the Saints to nab him. In 2002, Williams led the league in rushing yards, was a Pro Bowl selection, was the MVP of the Pro Bowl, and also was named as a First Team All-Pro. Though things were looking up, Williams’ career was completely obliterated two short years later.
Though he was an elite running back, Williams initially retired from the NFL at 26 years of age. This decision was galvanized by a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Williams did return a year later — though he was never really the same player (save for a fantastic 2009 season in which he accrued 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns).
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Upon entering the league, Luck was billed as the next great quarterback prospect. The fact that he was following a living legend (Peyton Manning) — as well as coming from the same university as another legendary signal caller (John Elway) – only added to the hype. He led the Colts to a number of double-digit win seasons. However, Luck’s career suddenly came to an abrupt halt.
The quarterback out of Stanford shockingly called it quits only weeks before the start of the 2019-20 season. Luck, 29, is giving up $58 million by walking away from the sport. A man of many interests, Luck is planning on traveling the world with his wife. He also cites his overall health — and the arduous process of rehabilitating — as reasons for why he retired.
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Orr’s brilliance as a player was truly striking. The Ontario native was wickedly quick on the ice. His puck skills were transcendent, and his nose for goal was something few replicated. By the time Orr retired, he shattered all offensive records for a defenseman. Sadly, a number of issues contributed to his retirement at age 30.
Orr underwent more than 10 surgeries on both knees. This limited his mobility severely. Though he attempted to try and play in the NHL again, his body wasn’t able to hold up. Orr interestingly enough became the youngest member of the Hockey Hall of Fame (at age 31). The normal post-career period of three years was eradicated in honor of Orr’s excellent play.
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Jim Brown was a physical force of nature. At the time of his playing career in the ’50s and ’60s, humans weren’t meant to have his combination of size and speed. Throughout his 9-year professional career, Brown was the unquestioned best player in football. However, he suddenly retired at age 29. Why was this the case?
Brown was a natural talent as an actor. Even during his playing days, Brown featured in a movie entitled Rio Conchos. With the possibility of him becoming a gigantic movie star, Brown turned in his cleats in favor of countless scripts. To date, Brown’s acting career – which stretches nearly 60 years – has included 53 credits.
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Sayers still remains as one of the most underappreciated running backs in league history. The Kansas native was a phenomenal athlete. Elusive and quick, Sayers was immensely difficult to stop in the open field. Despite being a 5-time First Team All-Pro selection, Sayers remains a mere flicker in the memory of many. Why is that?
Sayers was well on his way to establishing himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer. However, a number of knee injuries hindered his career. Sayers tore his ACL at 26 years of age (though fully recovered). During the preseason of the 1972 season, Sayers called it quits. He was only 29 years old. Had Sayers continued on for a few more years, he likely would’ve garnered even more notoriety.
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Jordan’s statistical brilliance has been analyzed time and time again. With apologies to LeBron James, Jordan is the unquestioned best player of all-time. Though he accumulated a perfect record in the Finals, things weren’t always so easy for MJ. His premature retirement left a lot of people utterly perplexed.
In the wake of his father’s passing, Jordan retired on October 6, 1993. Jordan was only 30 years of age at the time. He led the Bulls to yet another title that year (in which he accrued an NBA record 41.0 PPG in the Finals versus the Suns). During the regular season, Jordan averaged 32.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, and 5.5 APG. After a brief stint in professional baseball, Jordan returned to the sport in 1995.
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