Throughout 2020, we have mourned the losses of some of our most iconic sports stars. From NFL trailblazers to football legends and rugby heroes, the world of athletics has lost a collective of inspiring and talented individuals.
At the very prime of their careers, athletes were taken from us by tragic circumstances, whilst others passed peacefully, following a lengthy and successful career spanning decades in sport.
Today, as we transition into the new year, we pause for reflection and take a moment to honour these truly wonderful people, not only for their unique talents and outstanding contributions to sport, but also for the many ways in which they inspired and moved us with their continuous demonstrations of courage, grit and determination. Forever celebrated, always remembered and never forgotten; here are just a few of the incredible athletes we said goodbye to, in 2020.
In a tragic and unpredictable event that shook the world, the unfortunate death of NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, is one that dominated headlines across the globe. Bryant, a truly extraordinary American professional Basketball player, commonly referred to as ‘Black Mamba’ by his adorning crowd of fans, lost his life alongside his beloved daughter, Gianna Bryant, in January 2020.
All-time leading scorer in LA Lakers History, Bryant won 5 NBA championships and 2 Olympic gold medals throughout his successful sporting career. In 1996, he was the youngest player in NBA history at the time, and two decades later, during the final game of his 20-year-long career, Bryant triumphed against the Utah Jazz, dropping 60 points on 22-of-50 from the field. To date, nobody has won more MVPs, (with the exception of Bob Pettit, 50 years earlier) - a truly well-deserved accolade for his many memorable and outstanding sporting performances.
In May 2020, National Football League (NFL) player, Ryan Wetnight, regrettably lost his battle with gastric cancer. Diagnosed in 2018, Wetnight was treated and then given the all-clear in January 2019, but later that year was found to have an inoperable tumour in his stomach. His terminal diagnosis saw American football fans say their final farewell to the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers favourite, who passed away peacefully aged 49.
Wetnight finished his career with 175 receptions for 1,542 yards and nine touchdowns in 101 games. Following his impressive stint with the NFL, Wetnight retired and embarked on a career transition, becoming a successful real estate broker in California. He also spent much of his free time as a football mentor, coaching and inspiring young players at youth and high school levels.
Bobby Mitchell Another notable death for the NFL arena last year included the passing of legendary halfback and flanker for Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins, Bobby Mitchell. The first African-American player to sign with the Washington Redskins in 1962, Bobby Mitchell was considered a trailblazer at the prime of his career, and dominated games with his incredible talent and contribution to the sport. A four-time pro-bowl selection, Mitchell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just over twenty years later, in 1983. Advocate and fundraiser for the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Society, Mitchell also supported several other charitable causes throughout his lifetime, before peacefully passing away aged 84 in April 2020.
Diego Maradona Widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of football, Diego Maradona, Argentine professional football player and manager, was one of two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award. Renowned for his exceptional leadership on the field, Maradona had a profound effect on his team’s performance as he continually triumphed his opposition, leading his team to several memorable victories.
Maradona’s life outside of sport was certainly colourful and controversial, and in both 1991 and 1994, he was banned from the game for his misuse of illegal drugs. In 1986, Maradona captained the Argentine national team to the ultimate victory in Mexico as they won the final in the World Cup. Maradona unexpectedly passed away aged 60, but throughout the time of his outstanding career, played an incredible 490 official club games and scored a total of 259 remarkable goals, making him one of the most iconic football legends of all time.
Nobby Stiles MBE
A firm favourite with Manchester United fans, Nobby Stiles spent the majority of his club career playing at Old Trafford, where he became renowned for his tough tackling and ball-winning qualities. Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’ with the Red Devils, Stiles won two league titles and one European Cup throughout his time on the pitch.
Perhaps even more notably, Stiles was a fundamental part of the England football team that was victorious in the 1966 FIFA World Cup campaign, where he played every minute and was never once subbed or excluded from the starting eleven. Decorated and recognised for his achievements in 2000, Stiles was awarded an MBE for his performance, dedication and service to sport. Stiles passed away aged 78, after losing a lengthy battle with both prostate cancer and advanced dementia.
Angela Madsen American Paralympian in both rowing and track and field, Angela Madsen passed away in June 2020, whilst attempting a solo-row from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii. Disabled by spinal injury, Madsen unfortunately ruptured two discs in her spine as another player stepped on her back during her first ever Marine Corps basketball training session. This catastrophic and unpredictable event saw Madsen overcome several personal battles as she faced the breakdown of her marriage and the brutality of homelessness.
However, this spirited woman fought against adversity and turned her life around in spectacular fashion. Throughout her Paralympic career, Madsen won both gold and silver in the World Rowing Championships, and became the first American to row the Atlantic solo. Truly inspiring, Madsen was also the first disabled woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean, and in 2014, she published her memoirs in her very own autobiography. Angela Madsen’s death was untimely, but true to her dedication to sport, she departed here doing the one thing she loved the most.
Madsen was not the only notable Paralympian the world lost in 2020; Margaret Maughan also died earlier last year. Britain’s first ever Paralympic medallist, Maughan, won four golds and two silvers across five games and quickly became one of the most recognisable names in Paralympics at the prime of her career. A multi-faceted sportswoman, Maughan enjoyed a variety of sports and demonstrated true athletic ability in bowls, dartchery and swimming. Aged 91, she passed away peacefully but will be forever remembered and celebrated as one of the most remarkable women in the world of sport.
Matthew J Watkins
Welsh International Rugby Union player, Matthew J Watkins, sadly passed away following a seven-year battle with a rare form of pelvic cancer - his diagnosis was publicly announced in May 2013. Rugby legend, Watkins, enjoyed a successful career on the pitch and played a cumulative total of 245 games between both Newport and the Llanelli Scarlets.
Watkins was a hugely popular figure amongst Welsh rugby fans and supporters, and off-pitch, enjoyed family life with his devoted partner and two children. Throughout his gruelling fight against cancer, Watkins raised thousands of pounds for the Velindre Welsh Cancer Centre. The impact of his passing has been truly profound, and Watkins will forever remain a national treasure in the hearts of the Welsh and the many fans he influenced and inspired.