Most Injury-Prone Pro Athletes


With football season at full speed, the NFL’s injury report reads like a Pro Bowl team. Troy Polamalu? Check. Michael Turner? Brian Urlacher? Check. While we should feel bad for these guys, they’re still collecting million-dollar paychecks. Here, a look at players who get paid to do a whole lot of nothing.

Grant Hill

We pity the health insurance company that carries Grant Hill. The Duke star’s notorious string of ankle injuries began when he played through pain in the 2000 playoffs. Bad idea. That same bum ankle made his time in Orlando a complete failure (he played in only 47 games in four years), and in March 2003 doctors had to re-fracture it to realign it with his leg bone. (Five days after the surgery, he came down with a 104.5-degree fever and a potentially fatal infection.) But since he signed on with the Suns (and their legendary training staff) it’s been smooth sailing. Well, for what Hill’s used to, anyway. So far he’s only had one hernia surgery and an emergency appendectomy.


Carl Pavano

Nicknamed “American Idle,” Pavano earned a spot on this list just three months into his four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees. That’s when a right shoulder injury landed him on the DL, to be followed the next few years by humiliating ailments like bruised buttocks and two broken ribs from a car accident. (For those keeping score at home, the Yankees paid $4.43 million for each of his nine wins.) Fittingly, Pavano’s last appearance in pinstripes in September 2008 saw him walk off the field to a chorus of boos. (It was later reported he had a left hip injury.)


Tracy McGrady

T-Mac’s got back—back problems that is. Back spasms first started costing him games in 2005-06 and the chronic problem has consistently kept McGrady off the court ever since. But never one to be predictable, T-Mac—the third youngest player in NBA history to reach 14,000 and 4,000 rebounds—recently added a new move to his injury arsenal, opting for microfracture surgery on his left knee just as the Rockets were about to trade his contract. And about that contract? T-Mac has banked $137 million but has still never seen the second round of the playoffs.


Brian Westbrook

Every savvy fantasy football player knows that when you draft Brian Westbrook to be your running back he’s going to miss a handful of games. In fact, the Eagles star, who missed an entire season at Villanova to a knee injury, has still never played a full 16-game season. That streak has stayed alive in 2009, a season in which Westbrook has notched more concussions (two) than rushing touchdowns (one).


Chad Pennington

Pennington was always more of a game manager than a flamethrower, so you can imagine what happened to his noodle arm after he started tearing his right rotator cuff. The first rip came in 2004 (just after signing a team record $64.2 million contract with the Jets). In 2005 he tore the thing again, going under the knife a second time. He took home Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2006 and led the Dolphins to a feel-good playoff berth last season, but we knew that wouldn’t last. On September 27, 2009—the third game of the season—he injured his right shoulder again and is out for the season, effectively ending his career as an NFL starter.


Ken Griffey Jr.

Prepare to feel old: “The Kid” just turned 40. But junior Griffey, who has spent a whopping 508 days on the disabled list, was hobbled even before he hit his fourth decade. The nagging injuries started when Griffey joined the Reds in 2000, but he officially became a DL all-star when he tore his hamstring off the bone in 2004. Over the next few seasons came a strained tendon in his left foot, arthroscopic knee surgery, a groin strain and a broken wrist (which he suffered on vacation in the Bahamas). And through it all the best centerfielder of our generation has hit 630 home runs and counting.


Michael Redd

Ever wonder why the Bucks never make the playoffs? Look no further than Redd’s max contract (which pays him $18.3 million next year). This prolific scorer stayed healthy for the first half of his career, but things soon took a geriatric turn. In 2006-2007 Redd missed nearly 30 games thanks to various aches and pains, and two years later he played in only 33 games after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee. As for the current campaign, Redd re-injured that same knee in the team’s home opener and has been out since. He’s due to return any day now. (Translation: he’ll be back on the shelf by the All-Star game.)


Carnell “Cadillac” Williams

When he took home the 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year, it looked like Cadillac had officially shaken his injury-plagued past (a broken collarbone and fibula) at Auburn. Not so fast—Williams shredded his right knee in the fourth game of the 2007 season. Ever the warrior, Cadillac rehabbed, made it back on the active roster by November 2008 and, of course, tore up his right knee in the final week of the season. Amazingly, Cadillac has stayed upright so far this year, but there’s a reason the Bucs have two other running backs on the depth chart.


Kerry Wood

When this fireballer hurled a 20-strikeout one-hitter in just his fifth career start, comparisons to another Texas righty, Nolan Ryan, quickly followed. If only. Wood started experiencing elbow soreness in that 1998 rookie season, and by 1999 he was having ligament replacement surgery. Three shockingly healthy seasons followed, followed by strained triceps in 2004, season-ending surgery in ’05, a ’06 marred by knee surgery and a highly publicized fall from a hot tub and some blisters in ’08. But there is a bright side. Wood has found success pitching one inning at a time as a closer for the lowly Cleveland Indians. And hey, at least he’s not Mark Prior.


Mark Prior

Speak of the devil! Kerry Wood’s former Cubs teammate probably blames other people for his pain, and we can’t say we blame him. The first ominous sign came in 2003 when he missed three starts after colliding with Braves second baseman Marcus Giles. Then came Dusty Baker, the toothpick-loving, pitch count-hating manager, who let Prior pitch ’till his arm was sore (literally). You can guess what came next: elbow pain, an Achilles injury, compression fractures, strained obliques, tendonitis and even line drives off the elbow. The Cubs finally gave up on Prior in 2007, and his two-year comeback attempt with the Padres ended when he was released on August 1. He hasn’t thrown a pitch since August 19, 2006. Related articles:

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