When an athlete passes away on the field, they transcend into an inimitable status of legends. While millions of fans mourn their loss, the efforts and accomplishments of these late athletes can also galvanize a team, a community, a league or even the world depending on who is watching for years to come.
Between the loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr. to Reggie Lewis, the sporting tragedies of our times have served as a sober reminder of the risk in our beloved sports, on top of the dedication and fierce desire to win that fuels enthusiasts at the top of their game.
Here's a look at some of the most memorable pro athlete deaths that happened on the field.
In 2008, Scott Kalitta died after his car went up in a violent explosion at the Lucas Oil NHRA Super Nationals. At 46 years old, he had over two decades of experience in racing at the time.
Kalitta was revered as the Top Fuel champion twice, in 1994 and 1995. Before the crash that took his life, he was reportedly driving at 300 miles per hour. His engine exploded, which damaged the parachutes that typically slow a car down at the end of its race. Kalitta slammed into the wall.
The Top Fuel icon was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. In the aftermath, Top Fuel shortened the length of their tracks, and also employed new sensors to detect engine backfires and shut the vehicle down immediately.
Antonio Puerta, Sevilla FC midfielder, passed away on Aug. 28, 2007, in the midst of his first home match of the season. Just a few months before, Puerta had become a fan favorite when he scorred the game-winning goal in the 2006 UEFA Cup semifinal. He then won the cup over Espanyol in 2007 with a high-stakes penalty kick.
At the age of 22, Puerta suffered a series of cardiac arrests on the pitch, collapsing before a confused crowd.
In 2003, Marc Vivien Foe fell to the ground during the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinal between Cameroon and Columbia. Foe passed away in the medical center within the stadium. An autopsy would later reveal that he suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the hereditary heart disease that also claimed the lives of Hank gathers and Reggie Lewis.
Foe, who played for Cameroon, was 28 at the time. He played 72 minutes of football before collapsing.
Dale Earnhardt, also known as the Intimidator, was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500. After 25 years of racing and seven Winston Cup championship wins, the NASCAR icon crashed into a wall on the race's final turn.
Analysts believe that Earnhardt was trying to guard the lead of Michael Waltrip, as well as his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He was taken to the hospital where he died just hours later.
Earnhardt's death hit the NASCAR community hard. After that, they implemented head and neck supports (HANS) for drivers.
Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer succumbed to heat stroke in an NFL training camp in 2001. The 27-year-old was about to enter his sixth year in the league, and his refusal to quit when things got hard led him to push past his limit.
Stringer's passing led to the NFL's new heat stroke prevention guidelines. The University of Connecticut also opened the Korey Stringer Institute in his honor.
In 1994, Ayrton Senna, one of the world's most beloved racers, died in a car crash at the San Marino Grand Prix. Senna was leading the race on the sixth lap, travelling at about 135 miles per hour. He hit a wall on a turn in a grizzly crash.
Senna had lost a lot of blood before he was removed from the wreckage of his car. He was airlifted to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. In 2010, a BAFTA-Award winning documentary about his life was released.
Reggie Lewis passed in a practice session in 1993, another victim of the hereditary heart disease hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The 27-year-old was an NBA All-Star playing for the Boston Celtics.
Immediately after his death, rumors circulated that Lewis had been using cocaine. An autopsy was performed and his friends and family were forced to dispell those stories.
Three years before, Hank Gathers too died suddenly from the hereditary disease. Gathers was playing as a forward for Layola Marymount, and was just coming off a season where he was named WCC Player of the Year.
In the WCC tournament quarterfinal against Portland, Gathers collapsed just after a slam dunk assisted by Terrell Lowery. He tried to get up, but his trainers held him down. "I don't want to lay down!" Gathers yelled from the floor of the court. He then lost consciousness.
Pistol Pete Maravich retired from the NBA at the age of 33, yet, like all great athletes, he continued playing out of love for the sport. It was in 1988, at the age of 40, that Maravich passed away on a court.
He was playing a pick-up game, not in front a cheering crowd. He reportedly suffered from a congenital defect that caused his heart to fail. Just a few months before, Maravich had been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.