Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football

Being in the sports arena, athletes undergo intense training to hone their talents, skills, and strategies while in a game. Because of this, athletes definitely know to expect equally intense competition from their opponents. 

Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to serious accidents, especially in sports as vigorous as American football. The following are some of the worst mishaps in this sport involving career-changing accidents. 

  • Ronnie Lott’s Broken Pinky Finger
  • Rashad Johnson’s Detached Finger
  • Napoleon McCallum’s Dislocated Kneecap
  • Michael Irvin’s Cervical Spinal Cord Injury
  • Mack Strong’s Herniated Disk
  • Reggie Brown’s Spinal Cord Contusion
  • Darryl Stingley’s Compressed Spinal Cord
  • Eric LeGrand’s Spinal Cord Injury
  • Leonard Weaver’s Bent Leg
  • Dennis Byrd’s Temporary Paralysis
  • Johnny Knox’s Fractured Vertebra
  • Joe Theismann’s Exposed Bones
Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: We Are The Mighty

Ronnie Lott’s Broken Pinky Finger

Some of the most memorable moments on the football field involve fingers. In the 1986 season of the National Football League, the 49ers’ Ronnie Lott broke his pinky finger. As the sport involves the use of hands, this incident would force Lott to take a break from the game.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: USA Today

His solution? Instead of waiting for the broken finger to heal, the player opted to have it amputated. This made his recovery go faster, allowing him to play in the field sooner compared to the other option. This cemented his reputation as a warrior on the field.

However, Lott would go on to regret this decision. What many people see as a heroic act is retroactively seen by the athlete as a rash decision that lacks foresight. Despite this, Lott saw this incident as an opportunity to learn and get new perspectives. 

Rashad Johnson’s Detached Finger

Speaking of amputated fingers, the Arizona Cardinals’ Rashad Johnson had the same experience, but this time, the detachment was involuntary. The player was performing great during a 2013 game and in fact, helped Darren Sproles on a punt return.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: CBS Sports

However, Johnson was seen going to the sidelines after feeling his hand go numb. Upon taking off his gloves he saw that the top part of his middle finger was severed. It was not dangling off the rest of the appendage but was completely broken off. 

There was no reason given as to why and how the part of his finger was cut off. To address the injury, Johnson had to undergo surgery that saw the top part of the finger shaved down. Luckily, he was able to come back after missing only two games. 

Napoleon McCallum’s Dislocated Kneecap

When the Los Angeles Raiders’ Napoleon McCallum started that fateful game in 1994, he was doing great for the team. He was able to score a touchdown, giving his team an advantage over the San Francisco 49ers.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Sports Casting

However, McCallum’s role came to an abrupt stop when a group of defenders tackled him. It would have been a regular action save for the fact that his leg was caught between two players as he fell backward. 

This resulted in a dislocated kneecap, and the game was his last time on the field.

Michael Irvin’s Cervical Spinal Cord Injury 

Upon joining the NFL, Michael Irvin was regarded as a strong addition to the Dallas Cowboys. He came from his collegiate team, in which he was also a valued player to his team. He was able to play in the field for 11 years until his career-ending injury in 1999. 

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: State of Theu

In a game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Irvin was tackled by Tim Hauck, causing him to land onto the field. He fell face-first, which compromised his neck and shoulders. To the people around him, the fall seemed like a regular tackle.

When he failed to move, he was carted off in a stretcher. During those hours, Irvin was paralyzed. The athlete wanted to come back to the field after recovery, but his test results show that he has a narrow spinal cord, which compromises his safety. 

Mack Strong’s Herniated Disk

The Seattle Seahawks’ fullback Mack Strong was active in the NFL for 14 years. During those years, he played 14 seasons until the 2007 to 2008 season, win which he sustained a herniated disk. In the 2008 game against the Steelers, Strong collided against a player during the first half.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Seahawks Wire

This collision resulted in a midfoot sprain and a herniated disk. He felt symptoms like tingling, burning, and numbness in his arms, hands, and legs. He attempted to come back but the symptoms reappeared, causing him to leave the game. 

While these may seem like recoverable conditions, especially as many American football players have come back from surgeries addressing these conditions, Strong was set for retirement. Strong’s herniated disk was pinching his spinal cord.

Reggie Brown’s Spinal Cord Contusion

The physical nature of American football makes it a dangerous sport warranting safety gear as seen worn by players during matches. However, these may not be enough to prevent injuries such as the one experienced by the Detroit Lions’ Reggie Brown.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Detroit News

In a game against the New York Jets, Brown tried to tackle Adrian Murrell, which is seen as a standard move. However, he landed wrongly and fell on his back. He was left paralyzed, unable to breathe, and almost dead for minutes until he was taken care of by medics.

He underwent cardiopulmonary resuscitation and was taken off the field. Brown was only able to play 32 games in the NFL before this devastating injury. 

Darryl Stingley’s Compressed Spinal Cord

Spinal injuries are some of the most devastating ones when it comes to football. Aside from the others who suffered from such accidents, the Patriots’ Darryl Stingley also went down the same road after colliding with the Raiders’ defensive back Jack Tatum.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Daily Sport X

The incident led to a compressed spinal cord and two broken vertebrae, leaving him with limited arm movements. In addition, he was forever bound to a wheelchair and was never able to play again.

Stingley was only able to play in five seasons. In 2007, he died of heart disease and pneumonia which was aggravated by quadriplegia. 

Eric LeGrand’s Spinal Cord Injury

While others on this list were able to play in the NFL, Rutgers’ defensive tackle Eric LeGrand never had the chance as he was seriously injured in a game against the Navy in 2010. 

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

He sustained injuries at his C3 and C4 vertebrae during the fourth quarter.

LeGrand was only able to move his head. He was on the field for a few minutes until he was wheeled away. It turned out later that he was paralyzed from the neck down, effectively stopping his career. 

Leonard Weaver’s Bent Leg

At the young age of 28, Leonard Weaver has been making a name for himself since he started playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He was playing the first game of the 2010 season as a strong player.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

However, his very first game in that season was the last of his career. During the game, he was tackled by a Green Bay Packers defender. This move left him on the field with his leg bent sideways and shredded his ACL. 

Weaver went on to rehabilitate his injury. Unfortunately, his recovery was not compatible with his goal of going back to the NFL, so he was forced to retire. His injury was one of the most devastating accidents to be aired live. 

Dennis Byrd’s Temporary Paralysis 

New York Jets’ defensive player Dennis Byrd was only starting his career when he had a serious accident in 1992. The 26-year-old player and his team were playing against the Washington Redskins when he was injured.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: The New York Times

The injury was caused by an attempt to bring down the opponents’ quarterback. However, he collided head-on with another player. This resulted in a temporary paralysis caused by the impact. 

This incident changed his life forever as it ended his career. Through rehab, he was able to walk again years after but was not able to return to the NFL. 

Johnny Knox’s Fractured Vertebra 

The Chicago Bears were playing the final game of the 2011 regular season when Johnny Knox met the unfortunate end of his career. In the match against the Seattle Seahawks, Caleb Hanie passed the ball to Knox who failed to catch it.

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: Washington Post

In an attempt to get the ball, he was tackled by an opponent defender. Knox sustained fractures on his vertebra, which left him unable to walk, effectively ending his NFL career.

He was able to walk again with rehab. However, the nerve damage was severe and prevented him from returning to the game. 

Joe Theismann’s Exposed Bones

Taking the number one spot is Joe Theismann’s injury, which is perhaps the most gruesome injury shown on live television. 

Learn About the Worst Accidents in American Football
Image Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

In a game of Washington Redskins against the New York Giants, Theismann tackled the Giants’ Lawrence Taylor, back then celebrated as the team’s star linebacker. The move went wrong and Theismann ended up with a broken leg.

The incident is made much worse as his tibia and fibula were exposed on national television. This game is Theismann’s last after a wonderful 11-year career.


American football is one of the most intense and highly physical sports out there. With the physical nature of this sport, it is no wonder that accidents happen, especially serious injuries like those listed here. 

However, the danger of certain sports is often what makes them so exhilarating to play and watch. 


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