Embarrassing Ways Athletes Injured Themselves Off The Field

Each time professional athletes compete, they know that the costs could be catastrophic. Some sports stars have been forced into early retirement due to injuries, and athletes have even died right in front of their cheering fans. But champions of the field, track, court, etc. can breathe a sigh of relief and bask in the glory of victory once they've earned that W, right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes, they'll make it through a competition unscathed only to get injured before they can take that first sweet sip of celebratory champagne. Take Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn, for example. In 2009, the pro skier won the downhill title at the world championships in France and grabbed a bottle of bubbly. Unbeknownst to her, the top had been broken off when it was opened. This resulted in a sliced thumb that required surgery.

Athletes can also injure themselves by lashing out in anger before leaving the locker room. Sources told USA Today this was the case after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals in 2018. LeBron James reportedly injured his right hand by slamming his fist into a whiteboard. "Emotions got the best of me, and I pretty much played the last three games with a broken hand," James later told reporters.

Then you have the athletes who find wild, embarrassing ways to injure themselves when they're just chilling at home or trying to have fun away from the field.

These athletes need to sharpen their knife skills

Maybe 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose should live up to his nickname, Winnie the Pooh, and stick to snacking on sweet, harmless honey. In 2008, the point guard fell victim to the pointy blade of a knife and had to skip a practice with the Chicago Bulls. "I was cutting up some food, and I laid on a knife getting lazy in bed. I went to get a bottle of water, came back, forgot the knife was there, then sat down and sliced my arm," Rose recalled, per the Chicago Tribune. The food was an apple, so at least he was snacking healthy. (He did, however, disprove that old adage about an apple a day keeping the doctor away.)

Professional athletes and blades are a bad combination. In 2001, San Diego Padres pitcher Adam Eaton was the only one with a knife when he picked a fight with some new DVDs, but their MLB pro-proof packaging won. Eaton accidentally stabbed himself in the abdomen trying to open the DVDs, and the wound required two stitches. "You learn when you're little to cut away from yourself," he later told AP of his error (via Los Angeles Times).

Then there's Jeremy Affeldt, who had to undergo surgery after using a knife to pry frozen meat patties apart. "I should have used hot water," said the regretful San Francisco Giants pitcher of his season-ending injury in a 2011 AP interview (via ESPN).

Dustin Johnson's awkward back injury explanation

In 2020, Dustin Johnson got to slip on his first green jacket. But three years prior, the pro golfer suffered a slip that ruined his chances of winning the 2017 Masters Tournament. His wife, Paulina Gretzky, later confirmed that Johnson had injured his back by falling down their rental apartment's stairs. "[He] tried to race outside to get our son from the car because it was storming out," she wrote on her Instagram Story, (via Essentially Sports). "But I've definitely enjoyed all the entertaining lies ... I mean 'rumors.'"

Fast forward to 2023, and Johnson found himself making some comments that fueled a new round of rumors about another back issue. In February 2023, he pulled out of the Saudi International tournament due to the injury. Three months later, reporters questioned him about it during a press conference at the PGA Championship. "I pulled a muscle, lower back," he said. When a reporter asked how the injury happened, Johnson laughed uncomfortably and responded, "Lifting up a kid ... a bigger kid." Cue awkward laughter from the press, who apparently assumed that he was not talking about a kid at all. Soon, he found his name appearing in headlines such as this one from The U.S. Sun: "Dustin Johnson hilariously hints he picked up injury after awkward bedroom gaffe with stunning Wag Paulina Gretzky." And we're guessing there were also more than a few "Fore!" play jokes made.

Paintballers' painful injuries

Paintball allows grown men to kick their childhood war games up a notch by adding actual weapons — and pain — to the equation. Apparently, some NFL teams have decided that players shooting at each other builds camaraderie, but while paintballs are designed not to cause any serious injuries, they aren't entirely safe.

In 2007, Washington rookie LaRon Landry was sidelined from participating in his team's minicamp because a teammate shot him in the groin with a paintball gun. However, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damien Wilson suffered a worse injury in 2016: a shot to the eye that caused him to miss over a week of training camp. He told The Dallas Morning News that he was paintballing with some college pals at the time. "It's one of those things that you look back on and [realize] it was just foolish," he admitted.

Another linebacker, Kyle Van Noy of the New England Patriots, also got shot in the face with a paintball gun, but in his case, the hit was more insult than injury. "This paintball hit me in the mask, and the mask hit my tooth and my s*** still hurts," he complained during a 2019 Twitch stream (via NBC Sports Boston). He'd been playing with the rest of his team, and Dont'a Hightower got him to reveal the identity of who shot him: coach Bill Belichick. After some apparent reluctance, Van Noy confessed, "Bill got my a**." 

UFC Fighter Bryce Mitchell's dreadful drill injury

UFC fans are used to seeing athletes looking bloody and mangled, but in 2018, Bryce Mitchell's embarrassing power tool gaffe did some grisly damage to his body that no fellow fighter could replicate. "The Ultimate Fighter: Undefeated" star took to Twitter to inform his fans that he was going to be absent from the Octagon for quite some time because he'd decided to do a DIY project that required lifting a board up over his head and drilling it into place. To free up his hands while adjusting the board, Mitchell stuck the power drill he was using into the waistband of his pants. And if you're already having a foreboding feeling about what happened next, well, his description isn't for the squeamish.

According to Mitchell, the drill turned on while it was tucked in — and it tore his scrotum asunder. "Thug Nasty" vowed that he was not going to let the nasty injury keep him from training, and he later told MMA Fighting that it took 13 stitches to repair the damage.

Mitchell let his Twitter followers know that he was cool with them joking about his injury, as long as they avoided uninspired jokes such as "This is nutty or screwed up." And on a more serious note, Mitchell told MMA Fighting he was lucky that he didn't bleed to death. He also shared some sage advice: "You shouldn't put a f***in' drill in your pants, it's just not smart."

Places athletes shouldn't stick their hands

For most athletes, having intact hands is integral to their success. So it's just common sense to keep those moneymakers away from things that crush, burn, and cut, right?

In 2009, Canadian NHL player Joe Sakic made it impossible for himself to properly grip a hockey stick when he attempted to clean out a snowblower by reaching inside of it. This shifted a mechanism that crushed his fingers, breaking three of them. He was unable to play for his team, the Colorado Avalanche, for months. NBA legend Michael Jordan, meanwhile, learned the hard way to keep his fingers far away from cheap cigar cutters. In a 2000 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times (via CBS News), he revealed that he was vacationing in the Bahamas when the cutter he was using broke and sliced his finger, requiring a trip to the ER. To make matters worse, the doctor who examined the digit injured a tendon while doing so.

Two NFL players lost fingers while shooting off fireworks during their Independence Day celebrations in 2015: Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback C.J. Wilson and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. And in 1988, New York Mets pitcher Bobby Ojeda chopped off a fingertip while using electric hedge clippers to trim his hedges. "When I got home [from the hospital], I found that our gardener, Andy Smith, had removed all of the hedges — a whole dump truck full," Ojeda told People.

Tiger Woods' ill-timed car accident

Not long after the National Enquirer published its bombshell story about Tiger Woods' extramarital affair with Rachel Uchitel, the top pro golfer was involved in a single-vehicle car crash. Per TMZ, one source claimed that the minor cuts Woods suffered to his face that fateful night in November 2009 were related to his infidelity. The source alleged that they spoke to Woods, and he said that his wife at the time, Elin Nordegren, had scratched him during an argument about Uchitel. In that version of events, Nordegren angrily smashed out the windows of Woods' SUV with a golf club as he tried to flee. Woods then ran into a fire hydrant before crashing into a tree near his Florida home. But according to People, Nordegren told police officers on the scene that she busted a window out so she could extricate Woods from the vehicle after the accident occurred. "He was in and out of consciousness," Windermere, Florida, Police Chief Daniel Saylor said of Woods' state after he was freed.

On his website, Woods later wrote, "This situation is my fault, and it's obviously embarrassing to my family and me." He also expressed his gratitude to Nordegren for coming to his aid. During a press conference three months later, he vehemently denied that his wife had ever physically attacked him. But words were not enough to save his marriage; Woods and Nordegren's divorce was finalized in August 2010.

Two athletes' bizarre nose injuries

Falls, balls, and brawls can cause nose injuries during competitions, but that delicate cartilage appendage can also get busted up in a variety of other unexpected ways. Former MLB all-star Cal Ripken Jr., for instance, learned that, while his record for the most consecutive MLB games played seems unbreakable, his nose is not. A few hundred games before he ended his streak at 2,632, Ripken was posing for the 1996 American League All-Star team picture when Roberto Hernandez of the Chicago White Sox became unbalanced and accidentally smacked him in the face. A horrified Hernandez said that there was enough blood gushing from Ripken's nose that he offered to sacrifice his jersey to soak it up. "The last thing I want to be remembered for is the only guy in history to be injured during the team photo," quipped Ripken, per The Morning Call. So, the incident served as some great motivation to keep that streak alive.

When pro skier Dara Howell injured her nose during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, she had no one to blame but herself. "I woke up two mornings ago and put my hand over my head, and there's glass lampshades on the wall, and one fell right on my face," she told reporters, per Reuters. "It's just something stupid that I did and it happens." But the stitches in her nose arguably made her gold medal photo for the slopestyle competition even gnarlier.

Plaxico Burress had a real blast at a club

In 2008, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress suffered a hamstring injury and learned that it would keep him benched during a Sunday night game. But instead of resting and recuperating at home the Friday night before he watched his teammates from the sidelines, he decided to join a group of friends at a nightclub in NYC. The outing would result in another leg injury that would have far worse ramifications than the first. Burress shot himself in the thigh and was lucky that the bullet didn't strike an artery.

In a 2017 piece for The Players' Tribune, Burress explained how he ended up with his career-derailing bullet wound. He revealed that he was ascending a stairway to reach the club's upper level when he stumbled. "My gun came unhooked from my belt and went sliding down my right pant leg," he recalled. "My instant reaction was to catch it before it hit the floor." His fast hands didn't fail him, but he accidentally pressed the trigger when making the catch. 

Burress was later charged with illegal possession of a firearm and served almost two years in prison before working to stage a career comeback with the New York Jets. "I had worked my whole life to get to where I was, and I threw it all away with one stupid decision," he wrote in his plea for other players to not make the same mistakes he did.

Pro athletes: They're hot and they're cold

For pro athletes, sometimes encounters with extreme heat and bitter cold don't just happen outdoors. In 2001, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brian Anderson confessed to accidentally scalding his face inside his hotel room. "I was getting ready to iron a shirt," he explained to MLB.com (via SFGate). His brilliant method for checking the iron's temperature to see if it had heated up all the way was to place it near his face. However, he was distractedly watching an MLB game on TV while doing this. "I just put my cheek right on it," he recalled. "It didn't take much, and it fried the side of my face. What are you going to do?"

Then there's Scottish soccer player Kevin Kyle, whose infant son kicked a pitcher of scalding water into Kyle's lap while he was warming up a milk bottle in 2006. The resulting burns on his scrotum and thigh were bad enough that he had to miss a game. "He is walking a bit like John Wayne at the moment," a source told the Mirror. "He is very embarrassed about this coming out."

But for "Man of Steal" Rickey Henderson, ice kept him out of the game when he was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. The Hartford Courant reported that he got frostbite after icing an injury for too long, and on "Mike & Mike," Henderson confirmed that this happened because he fell asleep with an ice pack on his ankle.

Ryan Lochte is swimming in strange injury stories

For years, six-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte was one of the world's top elite athletes when he was surrounded by a safe cocoon of chlorine. But on land, the swimmer's movements often weren't quite as graceful. In 2009, he missed months of training after tearing his MCL while break-dancing. "You know how it is. People go around in a circle and you start break-dancing. Someone comes in, someone comes out. So it's my turn, I start dancing, my knee went one way, my foot went the other and I heard a pop," he recalled to the Columbia Daily Tribune. Seven years later, he injured his ankle in another dancing-related incident – it happened when protestors interrupted his judges' critique on "Dancing with the Stars."

In a 2010 interview with SI, Lochte confessed, "Every year before a big competition, I get hurt doing stuff I should not be doing." This included falling out of a tree while playing hide-and-go-seek in high school. "I fractured my shoulder, I had amnesia for a day and I was a complete wreck," Lochte said. "Another year, I fractured my foot skateboarding." The swimmer re-injured his MCL in 2011 while trying to retrieve his phone from his car's backseat. And the poor ligament in his knee needed some TLC yet again in 2013 when he caught a fan who ran into his arms, causing both of them to fall over.

Doing housework is dangerous, but so is being a couch potato

Athletes at the top of their game are coordinated, agile, and focused. But for some of them, their training apparently goes out the window when they're doing housework. In 2008, Sacramento Kings center Brad Miller cut himself while washing a knife and had to get stitches in one of his fingers. "It's the last time I help do dishes," he told Sacbee.com. Late L.A. Lakers legend Kobe Bryant suffered a similar injury while rearranging boxes in his garage in 2004. He was using a window to brace himself when it broke, leaving him with a long finger laceration that required 10 stitches and caused him to miss multiple games. Bryant also once blamed a back injury on a vacuum cleaner. Apparently, the machine's handle wasn't long enough for his 6-foot-6-inch frame.

Athletes can also get injured at home when they're lazing about. British soccer star Rio Ferdinand was playing for Leeds United in 2001 when he had to miss a game because he went way into overtime with his screen time. "He was watching television and had his foot up on the coffee table," Ferdinand's manager explained on Leeds United's website (via CBC). "He had it there in a certain position for a number of hours ... and strained a tendon behind his knee." And in 1995, another British soccer player, David Seaman, injured himself simply trying to grab his TV remote.

Athletes' biggest microwave mistakes

When it comes to snacking, some athletes just need to stick to pre-made protein bars. In 2009, Scottish soccer player Kirk Broadfoot tried to poach a pair of eggs in his microwave, not realizing that he was creating a ticking time bomb. Per the Independent, one egg burst right in his face. "He's got some facial burns but he should be okay," Broadfoot's manager said of his unsafe attempt at making a hot snack.

In 1990, a Major League Baseball player used his microwave to heat up what seemed to be a safer alternative, minus the sugar and carbs: a chocolate doughnut. But when San Francisco Giants all-star Kevin Mitchell tried to satisfy his sweet tooth, he ended up injuring a tooth and getting a root canal. "The chocolate got down in my tooth," Mitchell explained to UPI. "As soon as it happened I threw the doughnut in the trash. It hurt that bad." He had to miss a few days of spring training due to the injury.

Slow-cooking a delicious feast can also be dangerous. In 2019, Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly injured his back while preparing a large Cajun meal for his teammates. It was spending hours on his feet tending to a pot of crawfish that reportedly caused Kelly's back to stiffen up. But his dedication to his culinary craft paid off; he later boasted to the Los Angeles Times, "Everyone ate it. There were no leftovers."

Gaming can keep athletes out of the game

A competitive spirit seems to be ingrained in the DNA of some professional athletes, which is great for their teammates. But when they find the thrill of competition off-field, sometimes it can put their careers at risk. For example, Sacramento Kings rookie Lionel Simmons was spending so much time playing games on his blocky Nintendo Game Boy in 1991 that he gave himself tendinitis.

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joel Zumaya faced a similar problem in 2006 while using the game "Guitar Hero" to fulfill his rock star fantasy. "I fell in love with the game, dude. I'm a rock-and-roll fan," he said during a 2019 appearance on the 97.1 The Ticket podcast "The Time That" (via The Detroit News). He didn't realize the PlayStation 2 game was causing his issues gripping a baseball until he mentioned his obsession to trainer Kevin Rand. Rand was familiar with "Guitar Hero" and concluded that Zumaya's repetitive strumming motions while using the game's guitar-shaped controller were the source of his pitching woes.

By the time Zumaya learned that his gaming had gotten out of control, he'd already missed multiple games during the American League Championship Series. However, he did get a consolation prize. When "Guitar Hero II" was released on Xbox 360, it included a disclaimer that read, "No pitchers were harmed in the making of this game. Except for one. Joel Zumaya. He had it coming."

Keep those fingers out of your eyes, guys

The ability to keep one's eye on the ball is vital in many sports, so athletes really need to protect those peepers, whether it's by wearing stylish shades in the outfield or protective goggles on the court. But when NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley went to watch Eric Clapton live in concert in 1994, he probably wasn't too concerned about eye safety. 

Per AP (via The New York Times), Barkley's allergies were acting up, presumably making his eyes itchy. The lights on the stage were also bothering him, so he tried to get some relief by rubbing his eyes. Unfortunately, he had body lotion on his hands at the time, and it caused temporary damage to his corneas. "It was a chemical reaction," the Phoenix Suns' team doctor explained. The freak injury caused Sir Charles to miss the first game of the season, but thankfully, he recovered. "I was scared to death," Barkley recalled on "Inside the NBA." "I was rushed to the hospital ... I was blind for like three hours."

That same year, Florida Marlins second baseman Bret Barberie got a different substance in his eyes that caused him to experience temporary blindness. Per The South Florida Sun Sentinel, Barberie missed a game because he put his contact lenses in — with chile pepper juice on his fingertips. It was another error to add to the list of the many that he made that year.

Jimmie Johnson's wild golf cart ride

Jimmie Johnson is usually a force to be reckoned with when he has four wheels underneath him. The racecar driver has won five consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Championships — a first in his sport — and can boast two Daytona 500 victories. But when he suffered a broken wrist in 2006, it was due to being thrown from a vehicle that isn't exactly built for speed.

At the time of the accident, Johnson was participating in a celebrity golf tournament in Florida. According to an AP report (via the Golf Channel), he originally claimed that he was sitting in the passenger seat of a golf cart when its driver turned so sharply that he tumbled out of the vehicle. But a rep for the pro racer later admitted that this was a lie. As it turns out, he'd been goofing off and riding atop the vehicle. His little joyride caused him to miss the Race of Champions Nations Cup in Paris.

Johnson is an avid golfer who once told Golf.com that he's figured out how to adjust the speed-limiting governors on some golf carts. "I can get 'em moving pretty quick. Faster than you want to go in a golf cart," he said. But apparently, speeding up the in-between bits of his golf game hasn't made the slow-moving sport any less frustrating to him. "I sometimes wonder why I voluntarily do something that makes me so angry," he mused.