Being free of any illness is crucial for athletes, especially for professional ones that make a living out of it. In this list, I will talk about six professional athletes that had to retire early because of a disease that prevented them to participate in their respective field. Sadly, two of them passed away.
Bosh was selected in the fourth pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors. In Toronto, he was the star of the team up until the Summer of 2010, when he decided to join (as a free agent) the Miami Heat, joining forces with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. With the “Big Three”, he played in four NBA Finals, being a crucial part of their run and two titles (2012 and 2013).
Woefully, in 2015, in a medical exam, doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs (pulmonary embolism), forcing him to rest. In the next season, the player returned to the court. However, in February of 2016, the clots reappeared, this time on his left calf, abruptly ending his professional career at 33 years old. Chris wanted to make a return, but his condition was still present.
Marc – Vivien Foe
Marc – Vivien Foe was a Cameroonian midfielder, better known for his defensive qualities. Although he was also capable to score goals when needed, taking advantage of his strength and height. Foe played in three European clubs – West Ham, Olympique Lyon and Manchester City- and represented Cameroon in 64 matches, winning two Africa Cup of Nations (2000 and 2002).
In June 26, 2003 his life unexpectedly ended at the 73rd minute of the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals against Colombia. Marc – Vivien collapsed on the field, passing away minutes later. The autopsy determined that the player suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that thickens the heart muscle without any previous warning. An overexertion of physical activity might result in cardiac arrest.
Gathers was an expected first round pick of the 1990 NBA Draft. In 1989, he led the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) in points and rebounds, representing Loyola Marymount University. Unfortunately, in March of 1990, a tragedy occurred. Hank collapsed in a college game, passing away hours later in a hospital. He was 23 years old.
According to an autopsy, Hank Gathers died due to an idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects the heart muscle. This condition was already detected on the player months before, yet, since the pills prescribed (Inderal/Propranolol) caused exhaustion when doing physical exercise, Gathers did not take them regularly. Louise Gathers, Hank’s mother, blamed the university’s coaching staff for the poor care of her son, and accused coach Paul Westhead of persuading the cardiologist to reduce the dose, and allow Gathers to show his true potential on the basketball court.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Johnson was an NBA superstar in the 80s playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988), and three Most Valuable Player awards (1987, 1989 and 1990). «Magic» was an amazing offensive player, flashy and effective, a personality on and off the court.
His popularity, unfortunately, was the cause of the disease that haunts him until now, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Earvin admitted of being promiscuous, that women waited for him in hotels after a match to meet him.
HIV caused an unexpected retirement for Johnson in November 7, 1991. However, he returned to the court for the 1992 All-Star game, 1992 Summer Olympics, and played 32 games for the Lakers in the 1995-1996 season.
Muamba suffered from the same condition as Marc – Vivien Foe, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, collapsing on the field in a match between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur (FA Cup quarter-finals). The difference was that Fabrice survived thanks to the rapid response of the medical team and the new rule imposed by FIFA after Foe’s death. The rule consisted on implementing, in every stadium, automated external defibrillators. Muamba received several electric shocks to his heart, miraculously waking up in the hospital 78 minutes later. This event obligated him to retire from football. He was 24 years old.
Söderling was diagnosed with mononucleosis in 2011. This disease causes fatigue -in some cases chronic fatigue- preventing an athlete to train or compete normally. The Swedish eventually recovered, but he was never the same, having difficulties to regain energy after physical activity. Thus, he was forced to retire in 2015, age 31. His last professional game was the Swedish Open Final (2011) against David Ferrer, lifting the trophy at the end.
Söderling became the first player to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros (2009), reaching the final that year, losing to Roger Federer. The next year, he reached the final again, overcoming Federer in the process. He won a total of 10 ATP titles, and in 2010, he was ranked Nº4 in the world.
Austin, Simon (2013) “Marc-Vivien Foe death: His legacy 10 years after collapsing on pithc”, https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/23052120
(2015) “Robin Soderling: Swede retires from tennis after glandular fever”, https://www.bbc.com/sport/tennis/35170939
(2016) “Fabrice Muamba: carta del futbolista que murió y volvió a vivir el mismo día”, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2016/01/160106_deportes_futbol_fabrice_muamba_frank_pantridge_desfibrilador_jmp
Wells, Adam (2017) “Chris Bosh Found to Have Career – Ending Illnes by Medical Review”, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2713343-chris-bosh-found-to-have-career-ending-illness-by-medical-review
Quinzaños, Francisco (2015) “Marc-Vivien Foe, a 12 años de su muerte”, https://www.foxdeportes.com/futbol-europeo/story/marc-vivien-foe-a-12-anos-de-su-muerte/
“Legends profile: Magic Johnson”, https://www.nba.com/history/legends/profiles/magic-johnson
Higgins, John P.; Andino, Aldo (2013) “Soccer and Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Competitive Athletes: A Review”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590894/
New York Times
Altman, Lawrence K. (1990) “No Trace of Heart Medication In Gathers, Autopsy Indicates”, https://www.nytimes.com/1990/03/16/sports/no-trace-of-heart-medication-in-gathers-autopsy-indicates.html
Moughty, Sarah (2011) “20 Years After HIV Announcement, Magic Johnson Emphasizes: I Am Not Cured”, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/20-years-after-hiv-announcement-magic-johnson-emphasizes-i-am-not-cured/
Riddington, Tom (2012) “Footballers like Fabrice Muamba collapse due to high level of fitness”, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/mar/18/heart-disorder-hocum-fabrice-muamba
Spain, Kevin (2017) “Reports: Medical review says Chris Bosh’s illness is a career-ender”, https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/heat/2017/06/02/reports-medical-review-says-chris-boshs-illness-career-ender/102439176/
(1992) “Loyola Marymount to Pay $545,000 to Gathers Family as Settlement”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1992/03/31/loyola-marymount-to-pay-545000-to-gathers-family-as-settlement/786233f8-3a6a-45d9-a4fd-8f9b5eb804d1/