There’s no denying that injuries play a major role in sports. Even in non-contact athletic events, the extreme physical exertions that amateur and professional athletes alike subject their bodies to makes injury an unfortunate but inevitable aspect of the game we love to play and watch.
Throughout the past century, great careers and memorable moments have been shaped by injury. And with so many sports involving considerable use of the lower body, it comes as no surprise that some of the most memorable injuries have been to the knee. Here’s our list of five famous athletes whose careers have been heavily influenced by the knee injuries they have sustained.
5. Pelé – Pelé is considered by many to be the greatest soccer player of all time, and in his native country of Brazil, he is regarded as a national icon. And why not, he scored almost 1300 goals throughout his career. A large part of the legend surrounding Pelé came as a result of his astounding performances at the World Cup (he helped Brazil to 3 cup victories in 4 competitions) – the first of which almost never came to fruition.
In 1958, Pele was a rising star in the footballing world. But, shortly before the World Cup tournament was due to begin, he was hobbled by a knee injury, and many thought that he would be left out of the squad. Fortunately, his teammates closed ranks and insisted on his selection to the team. He missed the first two games of the tournament, but when he finally hit the field he made history. As the youngest player in World Cup history (he was only 17 years old), he scored six goals, including a hat-trick against France. He led Brazil to the trophy, was named the young player of the tournament, and the legend of Pele was born.
4. Greg Oden – Oden’s story is much less joyful than Pele’s. An imposing 7’ center during his college basketball days at Ohio State, Greg Oden was selected as the first pick by the Trailblazers in the 2007 NBA Draft. He was expected to be an inspiring player in the professional ranks, ready to take Portland back to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, knee problems emerged almost immediately. He missed his entire first season due to a microfracture in his knee. This was just the first of many debilitating injuries. He suffered another knee injury in February of the following season, missing three weeks. In his third season (2009-2010), he suffered yet another knee injury, fracturing his left patella. This would sideline him for the remainder of the season. And in November of 2010, he would undergo microfracture surgery yet again, missing yet another season.
Ultimately, his injuries left him out of the competition, and the Trailblazers released him in March of 2012. In his entire 5-year career, he only managed to play a single season’s worth of games.
3. Tom Brady – As one of the most decorated professional quarterbacks of all time, Brady is known as the backbone of the New England Patriots. In 2007, the Patriots nearly had an immaculate season, falling only to the Giants in the Super Bowl. And in 2008, Brady was expected to lead the Patriots to a similarly successful year.
In the first quarter of the first game of the season, though, he suffered a hard knock to left knee delivered by the Chiefs’ Bernard Pollard. He tore his ACL and MCL and would be sidelined for the rest of the season. This injury would end his streak of 111 consecutive starts (fourth all time among quarterbacks), and end the Patriots’ hopes of making the playoffs. Luckily, with the help of effective medical care and a DonJoy medical brace, Brady made a full recovery for the 2009 season and led the Patriots back to the playoffs again.
2. Tiger Woods – Everybody knows that Tiger Woods is one of the most decorated golfers in PGA history, but you might not know about the impact that knee injuries have had on his career. Coming into the 2008 US Open Championship, Tiger was suffering from an injured left knee. Always the fighter, he insisted on playing through the weekend. Hobbling around the course on a bum knee, he dramatically won in a 20-hole playoff with runner-up Rocco Mediate.
He had surgery to repair an ACL injury shortly after the victory. But, it seems he has never fully recovered, and he has not won a major championship in the years since.
1. Mickey Mantle – Mickey is regarded as one of the leading players of his era, leading the Yankees to 7 World Series championships and holding a slew of records for home runs, RBIs, and other statistics revolving around power hitting during the 1950s and 60s. But the real question is this: just how good would he have been if he could have stayed healthy?
He first suffered a knee injury as a 19-year-old, getting his foot stuck in a rubber drain in right field while chasing down a fly ball in the World Series. This was before many proper treatments for sports injuries even existed, and he was plagued by knee and other injuries likely stemming from a torn ACL for the rest of his career. If he could have stayed healthy, he may have been the greatest statistical ballplayer of all time.