HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — The recent wave of athlete deaths has sent shockwaves across the nation as some of the country’s brightest stars’ stories have come to an end.
After the shocking deaths of NBA player Caleb Swanigan and NFL player Jaylon Ferguson this week, let’s take a moment to reflect on all of the sports figures that we have lost in the past year.
NFL Deaths in 2022
April 10, 1936-Dec 28, 2021
Although John Madden died just a few days before the new year rolled around, it would be foolish to leave such a titan of the sport off of the list.
Madden impacted the game of football at an elite level in three different phases.
The first of which was as a head coach for the Oakland Raiders from 1969-1978. During his decade-long run in Oakland, Madden compiled a 103-32-7 record, winning Super Bowl XI in the process.
After cementing a Hall of Fame legacy as a coach, Madden arguably soared to even greater heights as a broadcaster. From 1979-2008, Madden called games for all four major American TV networks winning 16 Sports Emmy Awards in the process.
Lastly, Madden is the namesake behind EA Sports’ Madden NFL video game franchise, one of the most successful selling video game franchises of all-time. Madden lent his likeness and creative input to the franchise in 1988 and viewed the game as a teaching mechanism for fans of football.
Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Jan 19, 1944-Jan 1, 2022
Dan Reeves was a certified winner as an NFL head coach, making three Super Bowl appearances in 12 years as the head coach of the Denver Broncos from 1981-1992.
Despite coming up short in his first three attempts at winning the Super Bowl, Denver was just Reeves’ first act as a head coach.
Reeves took over as head coach of a historically moribund Atlanta Falcons franchise in 1997 coming off of a 3-13 season. After going 7-9 in 1997, Reeves led the Falcons to one of the more stunning turnarounds of all-time going 14-2 in 1998.
Reeves would make his fourth Super Bowl appearance as a coach that season leading the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII where they would ironically end up losing to the Denver Broncos team that Reeves helped build into a championship contender.
Reeves retired with a 190-165-2 career record and an impressive 11-9 record in the post-season with four of those losses being in the Super Bowl.
Reeves died from complications related to dementia in his Atlanta home on New Year’s Day.
May 3, 1990-April 9, 2022
One of the more shocking deaths of the year, Dwayne Haskins still left a lasting legacy on the game of football even at the young age of 24.
A native of Potomac, Maryland, Haskins was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft by his hometown Washington Commanders, then known as the Washington Redskins, after an illustrious college career at The Ohio State University.
Haskins had a record-setting junior season with Ohio State, winning many awards, according to Ohiostatebuckeyes.com including:
- The 2018 Sammy Baugh Trophy (for being the nation’s top passer)
- The 2018 Kellen Moore Award (for being the nation’s top quarterback)
- The 2018 Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year (for being the top quarterback in the Big Ten Conference)
- The 2018 Chicago Tribune Silver Football (for being the top player in the Big Ten Conference)
- The 2018 Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year (for being the top offensive player in the Big Ten)
- The 2018 Big Ten Football Championship Game Most Valuable Player
- 2018 Heisman Trophy Finalist (for best player in college football)
- 2018 First Team All-Big Ten
- 2018 Male Ohio State Athlete of the Year
- The 2019 Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player
In his lone season as a starter at Ohio State, Haskins had a 13-1 record throwing for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. Haskins also completed 70% of his passes and only threw eight interceptions for the season.
His career with Ohio State was somewhat prophetic. There is a video taken in May of 2008 of a young Haskins at an Ohio State football camp where he proclaims, “This is awesome, I’m going to college here.”
Haskins also notably beat out future Heisman-winning quarterback, national champion and number 1 overall pick Joe Burrow for the starting job at Ohio State that season. Burrow would transfer to LSU after losing the battle to Haskins where he won a title before leading the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in just his second year in the NFL.
Haskins started for two seasons in Washington after being selected with the 15th pick of the draft in 2019.
Haskins signed a one-year deal with the Steelers in January 2021, he did not play during the season spending a year backing up a future Pro Football Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger.
Haskins died after being struck by a dump truck on a South Florida highway while in the area working out with other Steelers teammates. Toxicology reports have revealed that Haskins was intoxicated and walking down the highway after his vehicle had run out of gas.
Dec 12, 1996-May 30, 2022
The NFL world was hit with another shockingly young death when Jeff Gladney passed in an early morning crash in Dallas.
Gladney was a cornerback that had a very successful career at Texas Christian University (TCU) being named to two All-Big 12 teams during his time in college.
NFL scouts praised Gladney’s physical style of play and he was selected with the 31st overall pick in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2020 NFL Draft.
During his rookie year with the Vikings, Gladney flashed immense potential starting in 15 of 16 games and recording 81 combined tackles.
Gladney was released by the Vikings on Aug 3, 2021, following an indictment against him for domestic violence charges. Gladney sat out the duration of the 2021 NFL Season while dealing with his legal matter and was found to be not guilty of the charges in March of this year.
On March 16, the Arizona Cardinals signed Glandney, giving the former first-rounder a chance to resume his promising career.
Unfortunately, that never came to fruition as Gladney passed alongside his girlfriend on May 30 when their SUV clipped another car while speeding and spun off of the road.
Marion Barber III
June 10, 1983-June 1, 2022
Beloved by NFL fans around the world for his physical running style, Marion Barber III was truly one-of-a-kind at the running back position. Affectionately known as “Marion the Barbarian,” Barber dazzled fans with his unwillingness to ever go down.
He broke onto the scene in 2006 leading the NFC in rushing touchdowns with 14 and leading the Dallas Cowboys in scoring that season with 96 points despite not even being the team’s starter at running back.
Barber built upon that success in 2007, leading the NFL in broken tackles and earning a spot in that season’s Pro Bowl despite still not being the team’s starter at running back.
Unfortunately, injuries related to Barber’s physical style of play shortened his career and he was out of the NFL entirely by 2011.
Barber was found dead in his Frisco, Texas apartment on June 1.
Dec 14, 1995-June 21, 2022
However, in those short 26 years, Ferguson left a legacy and impact on the sport that will never be forgotten.
Affectionately known by fans, teammates and friends as “Sack Daddy,” Ferguson was a superstar at Lousiana Tech University.
Ferguson dominated for four seasons at Lousiana Tech, ending his collegiate career as the FBS all-time leader in sacks with 45.
During his senior campaign, he truly dominated finishing with 26 tackles for loss and setting a Lousiana Tech record with 17.5 sacks in a single season.
Ferguson would go on to be selected with the 85th overall pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
May 14, 1967-June 22, 2022
Affectionately known by fans and teammates as “Goose,” Siragusa was known for his larger-than-life personality and for playing a key role in the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV-winning defense, considered by many to be the greatest defense of all-time.
Siragusa played in the NFL for 12 years splitting his time between stints with the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens.
After retirement, Siragusa parlayed his affable personality into a sideline reporting gig for FOX which he held until 2015.
Siragusa also appeared as a bodyguard in several episodes of “The Sopranos.”
Dec 31, 1928-June 17, 2022
Arguably the greatest running back of his era, Hugh McElhenny was a trailblazer in how the position is played today.
A five-time All-Pro selection and a member of the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team. Nicknamed “The King,” McElhenny played the game with an elusiveness that dazzled his fans.
He spent the majority of his career with the San Francisco 49ers where his no. 39 jersey is retired and he’s a member of the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame.
McElhenny was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
It was announced on June 23 that McElhenny had died at his Nevada home on June 17.
NBA Deaths in 2022
Feb 10, 1955-Jan 18, 2022
Lusia Harris was a trailblazer and pioneer for women’s basketball across the globe.
During her collegiate career at Delta State University, Harris won three consecutive National Championships.
Harris was also a pioneer on the Olympic front of the sport, earning a silver medal with US National Team in the 1976 Olympic Games, the first-ever women’s basketball tournament in Olympics history.
Harris also made history by being the first woman ever officially selected by an NBA team in the 1977 NBA Draft as she was selected by the New Orleans Jazz with the 137th overall pick of the 7th round.
Harris declined a tryout with the team as she was pregnant at the time of Jazz training camp.
She would go on to play one season in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, the first-ever pro women’s basketball league in the United States.
Harris was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992, becoming the first African-American woman to ever be inducted. She was also inducted into the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
A documentary film about Harris, “The Queen of Basketball,” won the 2022 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
May 19, 1932-Feb 2, 2022
You cannot tell the story of the National Basketball Association without mentioning Bill Fitch several times in the process.
Fitch got his start in the NBA as the first-ever head coach of the expansion franchise Cleveland Cavaliers in 1970.
Fitch slowly built the Cavaliers into a playoff team, making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in the team’s first-ever playoff appearance in 1976.
After nine seasons in Cleveland, Fitch moved on to become the coach of the Boston Celtics on May 23, 1979.
Bolstered by the play of a rookie Larry Bird, Fitch lead the Celtics to what was then the greatest turnaround in NBA history going from 29 wins in the previous season to 61 in Fitch’s first with the team.
After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in year one, Fitch led the Celtics to the NBA Championship 1981, defeating the Houston Rockets in six games.
After two more years in Boston, Fitch moved on to the next challenge, becoming the coach of the Houston Rockets on June 1, 1983.
The Rockets had fallen on hard times since their NBA Finals loss to Fitch’s Celtics in 1981. NBA MVP and Hall of Famer Moses Malone departed from the Rockets on Sept 2, 1982, and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Without Malone, the Rockets slumped to a 14-68 record during the 1982-83 season and now Fitch was tasked with returning the team to its former glory.
After a 29-53 season in year one with Fitch at the helm, the Rockets were able to win 48 games and make the playoffs in Fitch’s second season.
Things came together in year three as Fitch and the Rockets rode their twin tower duo of big men Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon to the 1986 NBA Finals. In those finals, Fitch was matched up with his former employer in the Boston Celtics who would ultimately prevail over the Rockets in six games.
Fitch would spend two more seasons in Houston after this before retiring after stints as a coach for the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
Fitch left the NBA with 944 career wins and two NBA Coach of the Year Awards. He is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and was named one of the Top Ten Coaches in NBA History in 1996.
Feb 19, 1991-May 9, 2022
Adreian Payne is one of the greatest players in the history of the Michigan State University Basketball program.
During his four years playing for Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo, Payne made a pair of All-Big Ten second teams in his junior and senior seasons.
Payne endeared himself to Michigan State fans in large part thanks to his friendship with Lacey Holsworth, an 8-year-old cancer patient with neuroblastoma.
Holsworth, also known as “Princess Lacey” became very close with Payne, even accompanying him at center court during his Senior Night ceremony and helping Payne cut down the nets after Michigan State won the Big Ten Conference Tournament that year. She died on April 8, 2014.
Payne would go on to be selected with the 15th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks.
Payne played parts of four seasons in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. Payne also played professionally for several overseas teams.
Sept 10, 1948- May 10, 2022
Bob Lanier is one of a select group of players with the honor of having his jersey retired by two separate NBA franchises.
Lanier starred for the Detroit Pistons for the first 10 years of his career averaging an absurd 22.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per game during his time with the Pistons as arguably the franchise’s first superstar.
Lanier spent the last four seasons of his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, with much more modest averages but a large veteran presence on a team that was consistently among the best in the Eastern Conference.
He was inducted into the 1992 class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
He died on May 10 after a brief illness.
July 10, 1975-May 16, 2022
Ademola Okulaja starred for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for four seasons between 1995-1999.
Okulaja started in 112 of the 139 games he played for the Tar Heels and was a part of history bearing witness to Dean Smith’s finals two seasons at the helm in Chapel Hill.
Okulaja played a huge part in UNC making consecutive Final Four appearances in 1997 and 1998. He was also named to the 1998-99 All-ACC team and was a two-time All-ACC Tournament Team selection.
Okulaja was the first Tar Heel to ever lead the team in scoring, rebounding, three-pointers made and steals during his senior year.
Okulaja had a long and successful international basketball career playing for several clubs over the decade. He also won a bronze medal with the German National Team at the 2002 FIBA World Championship.
In 2008, Okulaja was diagnosed with a spinal tumor and underwent a one-year therapy treatment. He would play one fore season professionally after this.
Post-retirement, Okulaja went into the sports management business, representing current German-NBA player Dennis Schroeder.
He died in Berlin on May 16.
April 18, 1997-June 20, 2022
Caleb Swanigan’s life story is one of extreme perseverance. Swanigan came from a broken home as his father battled crack addiction and he moved in and out of homeless shelters.
Another thing that Swanigan inherited from his father was a propensity for obesity. His father was 6’8″ and weighed nearly 500 pounds when he died from diabetes complications in 2014.
Swanigan himself was on track for a similar fate as by the time he was entering eighth grade he stood at 6’2″ and weighed 360 pounds.
Concerned about the path his younger brother going down, Carl Swanigan Jr. called upon his former AAU basketball coach, Roosevelt Barnes, to take Caleb in and raise him as his son.
Barnes consulted a cardiologist and then got approval to put Swanigan on a workout plan, by the time he graduated high school he had trimmed down to 260 pounds and was named Indiana Mr. Basketball in 2015.
After initially committing to Michigan State, Swanigan had a change of heart and committed to Barnes’ alma mater, Purdue University.
Swanigan starred in his two years with the Boilermakers, starting 69 of 69 games and winning Big Ten Player of the Year honors in 2017.
Swanigan became a fan favorite for his story of perseverance and high-level production at Purdue. Fans took to affectionately calling him “Biggie.”
Swanigan entered the 2017 NBA Draft after his stunning sophomore campaign at Purdue and was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 26th overall pick in the First Round.
Swanigan would play three seasons in the NBA with the Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings.
He died on June 20 of what was described as natural causes.
NASCAR Deaths in 2022
March 3, 1927-June 22, 2022
Bruton Smith was a titan in the NASCAR world, having bought Charlotte Motor Speedway for $1.5 million in 1959. Smith was also the founder and executive chairman of Sonic Automotive and Speedway Children’s Charities.
Smith founded Speedway Motorsports Inc. in Dec. 1994 and today the company owns and operates the following racetracks:
- Atlanta Motor Speedway
- Bristol Motor Speedway
- Charlotte Motor Speedway
- Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- Sonoma Raceway
- Texas Motor Speedway
- Dover Motor Speedway
- Nashville Superspeedway
- North Wilkesboro Speedway
- Kentucky Speedway
Smith founded Sonic Automotive in Jan. 1997 and it’s now one of the nation’s largest automotive retailers with over 160 dealerships across 23 states.
“You have trophies, you have championships, you have wins, but friends are what really make the difference,” fellow NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip said about Smith in 2019. “Bruton Smith has been one of my heroes since I started racing in NASCAR in 1972.”
Sept 21, 1959-April 15, 2022
Randy Pemberton was a NASCAR broadcaster whose passion for the sport was obvious every time he was on the call.
Pemberton was perhaps best known for his work on “Inside Winston Cup Racing” in the 1990s.
Pemberton commentated for NASCAR events on CBS, TNN and TBS.