The world of Italian soccer came to a screeching halt over the weekend when Livorno’s Piermario Morosini, 25, collapsed and died on the pitch during a Seria B match in Pescara, Italy. Although nothing will be official until after an autopsy has been performed, it’s pretty clear that the poor guy’s heart just gave out. Out of respect for the late Morosini and his teammates, fans, friends, and family, all remaining matches in Italy were postponed.
Sadly, and also rather strangely, this is the second high-profile instance of a soccer player experiencing cardiac arrest on the field in as many months. Last month in England, Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during a game against Tottenham—though Muamba managed to survive, and has made an almost miraculous recovery over the past four weeks.
But heart failure is hardly a problem limited to soccer players. There are numerous examples of elite athletes dying suddenly as the result of heart problems. So today, as the sports world mourns Piermario Morosini, let’s take the time to remember some of these other athletes whose hearts gave out too soon.
Joe Kennedy was a journeyman southpaw who pitched for the Rays, Rockies, A's, Diamondbacks and Jays—with those last three stops all coming during the 2007 season. Sadly, shortly after that season, the 28-year-old died suddenly in the middle of the night at the home of his in-laws in Tampa, leaving behind a wife and two young kids. The coroner concluded that the cause of death was heart failure and valve degeneration brought on by severely high blood pressure.
11. Joe Kennedy
The Atlanta Hawks 7 foot, 250 pound center was 28 years old when he died suddenly in October of 2005. An autopsy concluded that Collier died from a "sudden heart rhythm disturbance" caused by an enlarged heart. So while we always talk about how athletes gotta have a big heart to be successful, when taken literally this is not a good thing.
10. Jason Collier
On July 22, 1979, St. Louis Cardinals tight end J.V. Cain collapsed and died at a pre-season training camp. It was his 28th birthday. It was later revealed that the cause of death was congenital heart failure. As a tribute to their fallen friend, the Cardinals retired Cain's #88.
9. J.V. Cain
Broncos running back Damien Nash died on February 24, 2007, at the age of just 24. He collapsed at a home in suburban St. Louis after participating in a charity basketball game benefitting the Darius Nash Find A Heart Foundation—a charity Damien started in honor of his big brother, a recent heart transplant recipient. For some reason, the exact cause of Nash's death remains uncertain. The only thing doctors know for sure is that his heart stopped working, and there were no drugs or other substances in his system at the time.
8. Damien Nash
Just one season removed from his first and only appearance in an NBA All-Star Game, Celtics forward Reggie Lewis experienced a sudden cardiac death during an offseason practice on July 27, 1993. He was just 27 at the time, and though it was later alleged that Lewis had abused cocaine in the past, the coroner said that the drug did not contribute to Lewis' death. Instead, the cause of death was determined to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a structural defect responsible for the majority of sudden deaths among athletes.
7. Reggie Lewis
Sergei Grinkov and his partner Ekaterina Gordeeva won Olympic Gold in pairs figure skating for the USSR and Russia at the Winter Olympics in 1988 and 1992, respectively. They were still in top form and training for a "Stars on Ice" tour in 1995 when Grinkov suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. Afterward it was discovered that the poor guy had severely clogged arteries and suffered from a genetic risk factor for premature heart problems—a risk factor that was later named after him.
6. Sergei Grinkov
Spaniard Antonio Puerta made his La Liga debut with Sevilla FC in March of 2004 when he was just 19 years old. Sadly, his last game would come only three and a half years later, on August 25, 2007.
Only 35 minutes into that match, the first of the season for Sevilla, Puerta crouched down and then collapsed in his team's penalty area. The team's medical staff came on to assist him, and he then regained consciousness and was able to walk to the dressing room on his own. However, in the dressing room he collapsed again, and was taken to the hospital.
He died three days later, on August 28, after another series of cardiac arrests. It was later explained that the 22-year-old had an incurable hereditary condition known as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
5. Antonio Puerta
Darryl Kile revived his pitching career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2000 at the age of 31, winning 20 games for the first time. Unfortunately, the big right hander with the nasty curveball had his career and his life cut short only two years later. Kile died in his sleep at his team's hotel in Chicago on June 22, 2001.
That day's game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley was delayed when Kile failed to show up for pre-game warmups. After waiting in ignorance for an hour and a half, a tearful Joe Girardi (then the Cubs' catcher) stepped up to a microphone on the field at Wrigley as made the following statement:
"I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family, that the commissioner has canceled the game today. Please be respectful. You will find out eventually what has happened, and I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals' family."
4. Darryl Kile
Latvian hockey player Sergei Zholtok (aka Sergejs Žoltoks) spent 9 full seasons in the NHL, playing with Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Minnesota, and Nashville. During the NHL lockout year of 2004-2005, he returned to his native country to play for HK Riga 2000 of the Belarussian pro hockey league. It was during that season with HK Riga that the 31-year-old center was forced to leave a game and walk back to the dressing room before collapsing and dying in the arms of teammate Darby Hendrickson.
The cause of death was determined to be heart failure resulting from chronic cardiac aarhythmia.
3. Sergei Zholtok
Charles Frederick Hughes was a backup wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. He is the only player in the history of the NFL to die on-field during a game.
On October 24, 1971, during a home game against the rival Chicago Bears, Hughes ran a pass route into the Bears' endzone for a play that ended in an incomplete pass. Afterward, he was jogging back to the Lions' huddle when he just collapsed on the Bears' 15 yard line. The first person to realize something was seriously wrong was the Bears' Dick Butkus, who frantically waved for help.
Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done. Hughes had suffered a massive heart attack caused by arteries that were 75% blocked.
2. Chuck Hughes
Jockey Frank Hayes was 35 years old and riding a 20-1 horse named Sweet Kiss when he died right in the middle of a horse race at Belmont Park in New York. This probably wouldn't be such a big deal if not for the fact that Sweet Kiss went on to win the race with the dead jockey on his back.
As far as anyone knows, this is the only time a jockey won a race while dead. In fact, I'd wager that this is the only time any athlete ever won anything while dead.