Professional lead high-stress lives to stay in condition. They generate millions of dollars. Their families often watch them transition from poverty or middle-class lives. Unfortunately, these variables can add up to the kind of person who unsavory individuals can exploit. Here are five of the most mysterious deaths in pro sports.
A single mistake costs soccer star Andres Escobar his life
A ’90s soccer star, Andres Escobar’s global popularity rose rapidly during the 1994 World Cup. He was on the fast track to becoming one of the top athletes in his field and proudly played for the Colombian national team. Unfortunately, his era coincided with the height of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s terrifying reign of violence and opulence.
The worst mistake of Andres’ career, an uncharacteristic goal leading to a 2-1 loss, ultimately cost him his life. In this era, formerly low-level gangsters found themselves flush with tons of cash. Yet the constant violence surrounding them made human seem cheap.
When Andres returned to his hometown of Medellin — also home to the other Escobar — he was murdered by a known drug trafficker. The killer taunted Andres about his goal. The mystery hanging over the death: Was this pride gone too far over the Colombian national team? Or was Andres killed over massive gambling debts incurred by the surprising loss?
Hockey player Darren Partch killed in double murder
More often than not, motivations for harming athletes are clear. A top motive involves collecting life insurance payouts from a millionaire. But in some cases, there are no easy answers.
Take hockey player Darren Partch. The Toronto native was found dead at 38 years old, alongside friend Wendi Miller, 48. Partch’s roommate discovered their bodies inside a locked apartment with no signs of forced entry. Partch was a minor league hockey player for 16 years. In most sports, only the highest levels pay out millions. Whatever happened to Partch and Miller remains a mystery.
LPGA’s Erica Blasberg: suicide or murder?
Erica Blasberg was a golf phenom who tore her way through lower levels before hitting a wall at the LPGA level. In the mid-2000s, she struggled to climb beyond middling results. Blasberg suffered from depression and insomnia. This medical history, as well as a suicide note and forensic evidence, made her death seem like a suicide.
But Blasberg’s doctor was arrested for tampering with evidence at the scene. He removed a bottle of prescription medication with his name on it. Although the doctor was acquitted of charges, Blasberg’s family still casts doubt on the circumstances of her death.
NBA player Lorenzen Wright: mysterious murder or insurance fraud?
A journeyman NBA player, Lorenzen Wright bounced between teams for 13 years. This ended in 2010, however, when he disappeared for 10 days. Wright’s wife claimed he left their home in a panic. A 911 tape from that night had the NBA player on the line, running and out of breath. Gunshots were audible.
For unspecified reasons, these events were not shared with the police. Authorities found Wright’s body 10 days later. The investigation went cold for seven years. Ultimately, Wright’s wife pled guilty to the murder. The mystery finally formed an answer: a million-dollar insurance policy.
The triumphant life and unsettling death of Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman belonged to an exclusive club: pro athletes who served in the military. Even among that niche, he was special. In the NFL, Tillman turned down a massive contract with the St. Louis Rams and lost millions in potential earnings out of loyalty to the Arizona Cardinals and their fans.
Then, after September 11, 2001, he and his brother Kevin (who turned down the Cleveland Indians) enlisted in Ranger school, one of the most brutal special forces programs on earth. Tillman’s story immediately became a part of the lore of post-9/11 America. This modern-day hero walked away from $3.9 million in the NFL to do what he felt was right.
Then, on April 22, 2004, the U.S. Army announced Tillman’s death. At his televised funeral, a Navy SEAL described how Tillman bravely charged up a ridgeline to fire at the enemy and provide cover for fellow soldiers. But the story was a lie. Tillman did go up a ridge to engage the enemy. But his fellow soldiers killed him in a horrifying moment of confusion. He died of three shots to the head. This did not become public until 2007.
Conspiracies about Tillman’s death abound from across the political spectrum. In part, they are inspired by Tillman’s open anti-war stance during his time in the army. But there is no evidence that anyone intentionally harmed him. Tillman remains a rare figure beloved by both the American conservative right and the anti-war left.