The 2010s provided sports fans with an abundance of celebratory moments that caused spectators and observers to leap to their feet in appreciation and outright joy. Sergio Agüero buried one of the greatest walk-off goals in the history of English football. Tom Brady cemented himself as the all-time Super Bowl G.O.A.T. after far too many believed he was past his prime. The New York Yankees failed to make a single World Series appearance during the decade, a fact that brought smiles to the faces of those who view The Bronx Bombers as the ultimate "Evil Empire" of Major League Baseball.
Unfortunately, tragedies and heartbreaking occurrences also rocked the sports world each year of the decade. As always occurs whenever such tragedies leave us shocked, saddened, and shaken, sports helped heal wounds created by horrific events. One could argue that easing the pain that comes with tragic moments is the most important role amateur and professional sports competitions play in our modern society.
2010: The Winter Olympics began with the passing of Nodar Kumaritashvili
Before the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili embarked on a test run at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Per the New York Daily News and Bleacher Report, Kumaritashvili was traveling nearly 90 MPH when he lost control of his sled and crashed into a steel pole. Medics immediately attended to Kumaritashvili, and he was airlifted to a local hospital soon after the accident. He died from his injuries at the medical facility.
As explained by both the Daily News and Bleacher Report, questions about the course’s safety arose even before Kumaritashvili suffered his fatal crash. Romanian luger Violeta Strămăturaru hit the wall multiple times during test runs and was knocked unconscious for some time. According to the official Vancouver 2010 website, the International Luge Federation responded by having the walls at the exit of curve 16 of the track raised and making a "change in the ice profile" to increase the course’s safety.
As pointed out by USA Today, the track designed for the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia featured decreased sled speeds at different points to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring four years after Kumaritashvili’s death.
2011: The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club was lost in a plane crash
On September 7, 2011, a jet carrying members of Russian professional ice hockey club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed in Yaroslavl. As mentioned in a piece published on the official National Hockey League website, 44 individuals, including team staffers, coaches, and the flight crew, died in the accident. Included among the deceased were recognizable former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, Igor Korolev, and Brad McCrimmon. McCrimmon had relocated to Russia in May of that year to serve as Lokomotiv’s head coach.
Soon after the accident, team ownership announced that the club would not participate in the 2011-12 Kontinental Hockey League campaign. As explained by Sports Illustrated, the KHL delayed the start of the season to honor those lost in the crash and to allow people around the league and the country to mourn. A handful of former NHL players eventually joined Lokomotiv to feature for the team the next year, and opposing fans cheered the club’s nickname as Lokomotiv took to the ice at an away game.
In November 2011, the Associated Press (h/t ESPN) reported the Interstate Aviation Committee found that pilot error led to the wreck and that the flight’s takeoff should’ve been aborted "the moment [the crew] realized it was going wrong."
2012: Dallas Cowboys players were involved in a fatal wreck
University of Illinois linebacker Jerry Brown went undrafted in 2011, and he signed with the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League later that year. During the 2012 NFL season, Brown caught on with the Indianapolis Colts, and he appeared in one game with that club before he made his way to the Dallas Cowboys as a practice-squad player.
In December 2012, Brown was a passenger in a car operated by teammate Josh Brent when Brent lost control of the vehicle. As explained by ESPN, Brent was driving his Mercedes sedan back from a nightclub when he wrecked the car. Witnesses reported they saw Brent attempt to pull Brown from the car following the accident. Brown died as a result of the crash.
In January 2014, Brent was convicted of intoxication manslaughter after it was determined his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit in the state of Texas. Brent was released from prison in June of that year. The former defensive lineman was working for the Cowboys as a scout in June 2019 when, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he was arrested and charged with public intoxication and resisting arrest.
2012: The murder of Hector "Macho" Camacho
During a storied boxing career that spanned across three decades, Hector "Macho" Camacho won professional championships in three weight classes. Camacho’s resume included historic wins over legends such as Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. In 1997, the flamboyant and talented pugilist lost to Oscar De La Hoya.
In a piece published by Sports on Earth in November 2012, Jorge Arangure Jr. didn’t dance around touching upon Camacho’s struggles: As well as being accused of abusing his son, "Camacho was a drug addict, a shoplifter, a car thief … He was arrested for domestic abuse, possession of a controlled substance and burglary. He led a life of bad choices, and his death was likely another one of those."
Earlier that month, Camacho was the victim of a shooting in Puerto Rico while he was sitting in his car alongside friend Adrian Mojica Moreno. The Associated Press reported cocaine was found in Moreno’s pocket, and he died at the scene. Roughly three days after the shooting, Camacho was removed from life support. As explained by Sports Illustrated, forensic evidence cleared two suspects accused of killing Camacho and Moreno in February 2013.
2012: Piermario Morosini collapsed on the pitch during a game
Italian midfielder Piermario Morosini debuted for his country’s U-17 side in September 2001 at the age of 15, but he never truly rose through the ranks at the international or domestic levels. In April 2012, the then-25-year-old was featuring for Livorno in a Serie B contest when he collapsed to the ground in the 31st minute of action because of a cardiac incident. According to The Independent, the match between Livorno and Pescara was abandoned before halftime. Some of the players involved left the pitch in tears.
Per the BBC, medics rushed Morosini to Pescara’s Santo Spirito hospital, but doctors there were unable to save his life. In response to the tragedy, all Italian matches across every league were postponed. Later that month, Livorno declared the club would retire Morosini’s No. 25 shirt.
Somewhat hauntingly, Morosini’s death occurred nearly one month after then-Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba suffered cardiac arrest during an FA Cup game versus Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane that was broadcast on television around the world. As mentioned by the Evening Standard, a fan attending the match sprung to action and helped save Muamba’s life. Muamba never played professional football again following the incident, but he became a UEFA A license coach. He received a hero’s welcome upon his return to the Lane in November 2012.
2013: The Boston Marathon was rocked by a bombing
As noted by the New York Daily News, a pair of homemade bombs housed inside of pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon race. Three bystanders were killed in the bombing, and over 260 people were injured, per the Boston Globe. The Daily News also added that over a dozen people lost limbs.
Following an extensive manhunt that bizarrely included Internet sleuths wrongly accusing a Boston University student of being involved, brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were linked with the bombing. Tamerlan was killed by authorities four days after the bombing, as explained by the New York Post, and Dzhokhar, the younger of the two, was eventually captured. In May 2015, a jury sentenced Dzhokhar to death.
In the days following the bombing, different parts of the sports world came together to honor the victims and also the heroes from that fateful day. Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz delivered a passionate and not-safe-for-work speech at Fenway Park. Fans of the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution sung and chanted as one before a match held in Harrison, New Jersey, and the Red Bulls’ South Ward paid tribute to the Boston area on multiple occasions that spring.
2014: Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. became linked forever
Kevin Ward Jr. was only 20-years-old when he found himself involved in a sprint car race along with popular NASCAR personality Tony Stewart at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York on August 9, 2014. During the race, the cars belonging to Ward and Stewart made contact, and Ward lost control of his vehicle and spun out into a wall. Believing he was wronged by Stewart in the seconds leading up to the wreck, Ward exited his vehicle and approached Stewart’s car during a caution lap.
This is where things went tragically wrong. According to Sporting News, multiple eyewitnesses claimed Stewart appeared to gun his engine and swerve, which resulted in Stewart’s car hitting Ward. Ward was flung several dozen feet in the air, and he died of massive blunt trauma.
Per USA Today, Stewart immediately cooperated with authorities and claimed the incident was a regrettable accident. Meanwhile, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero told reporters he believed no criminal intent led to Ward’s passing. In September, a grand jury declined to indict Stewart on charges. Stewart maintained his innocence through the end of the decade, and he returned to NASCAR competition in the summer of 2014. Nevertheless, he and Ward’s family reached a lawsuit settlement in April 2018.
2014: Four members of the North Central Texas College softball team lost their lives
According to ESPN, the North Central Texas College softball team was returning from a scrimmage on September 26, 2014, when a tractor-trailer crossed a median and struck the team’s bus. Three women died at the scene, while a fourth lost her life at a nearby medical facility. Two of the victims were 20-years-old, one was 19, and one was 18. Twelve others suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
As reported by The Dallas Morning News, the operator of the truck told investigators he was distracted by something inside of the main cabin at the time he veered toward the team’s bus. However, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded the man’s drug use affected his driving and his behavior at the time of the fatal accident. The NTSB also determined passengers on the team bus weren’t wearing seat belts that evening.
Russell Staley, the driver of the truck, was charged with four counts of first-degree manslaughter. He died by apparent suicide in January 2017. That February, KFOR out of Oklahoma reported families of the victims were suing both the college and the bus company.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
2016: The Chapecoense plane crash shocked the footballing world
The world football community was shaken in November 2016 when a plane carrying members of Brazilian club Chapecoense, guests, and journalists crashed as the team journeyed to face Atlético Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana Final. Per Bleacher Report, 71 of the 77 people on the plane lost their lives. Brazilian journalist Rafael Henzel survived the wreck, but he died of a heart attack in March 2019.
As explained by SB Nation, over 45,000 Atlético Nacional supporters honored victims of the crash on the night of what was supposed to be the opening leg of the Final. According to The Telegraph, over 100,000 people gathered at Chapecoense’s home stadium in early December to mourn and pay their respects to those lost. Players participating in European competitions sported black armbands during matches televised around the globe, and moments of silence preceded games.
CONMEBOL responded to the tragedy by naming Chapecoense, underdogs throughout the competition, Copa Sudamericana champions after Atlético Nacional recommended the gesture. Atlético Nacional received the 2016 FIFA Fair Play award for stepping back and handing the title to the side that would’ve been their opponents.
2016: MLB and the world lost Jose Fernandez too soon
Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez burst onto the scene during the 2013 season when he won Sporting News and National League Rookie of the Year honors after he posted a 12-6 record with a 2.19 ERA. Fernandez finished that year third in Cy Young voting behind award-winner Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. He returned to the All-Star squad in the summer of 2016, and he ended that season atop the National League category for strikeouts per 9 IP. In his last career outing on September 20, he held the Washington Nationals scoreless and to only three hits across eight innings. Fernandez struck 12 batters out in a winning effort.
On September 25, the 24-year-old was one of three men killed in a boating accident that occurred off Miami Beach. As reported by ESPN, a toxicology report later showed Fernandez had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death. The families of the other two victims settled a wrongful death lawsuit against Fernandez’s estate in August 2018.
The Marlins honored Fernandez with a ceremony before a home game versus the New York Mets played on September 26. In the bottom of the first inning of that contest, Miami’s Dee Gordon launched an emotional leadoff home run.
2017: Roy Halladay died doing what he enjoyed
As John Sickels wrote for Minor League Ball in 2017, there were concerns early on in the career of Roy Halladay that the Toronto Blue Jays called him up to the Big Leagues before he was ready. Halladay put those worries to bed for good starting in 2002, when he won 19 of 34 starts and earned a spot on the All-Star squad. The following season, the man who was affectionately known as "Doc" Halladay won the first of two Cy Young awards. In 2010, Halladay pitched a regular-season perfect game and a postseason no-hitter as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. He retired with the Blue Jays in December 2013.
Per the CBC, Halladay obtained a pilot’s license following his playing days since his MLB contracts prevented him from doing so as an active pro. On November 7, 2017, Halladay died after his plane went down in the Gulf of Mexico. According to USA Today, authorities later determined a combination of drugs found in Halladay’s system "likely" caused him to be too impaired to safely fly an airplane at the time of the accident.
2018: 16 people died in the bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos
On April 6, 2018, members of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team the Humboldt Broncos were traveling on a bus when a man driving a truck failed to heed a stop sign. His vehicle was blocking an intersection when the bus slammed into the trailer on a clear and sunny day when nothing would have obstructed his view of the sign. In total, 16 people on the bus lost their lives due to injuries suffered in the collision.
Tributes from North America poured into the region in the weeks and months that followed the nightmarish accident. Players featuring for NHL teams the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks wore "Broncos" on the back of their jerseys for a game. Later that summer, Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson, who won the Stanley Cup with the Caps that June, took the famous trophy to Humboldt to meet with survivors and other members of the community.
In 2019, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the operator of the truck, was sentenced to eight years in prison. According to the CBC, he will likely be deported to India once he’s released. Scott Thomas, the father of one of the crash’s victims, told the BBC he felt "horribly for Mr. Sidhu" in March 2019.
2019: Bjorg Lambrecht’s death brought questions about the safety of cycling
At the start of August 2019, Bjorg Lambrecht was a promising 22-year-old Belgian cyclist who had only turned pro the prior year and who had finished fourth at the 2019 Fleche Wallonne race. On August 5, 2019, Lambrecht was competing in stage 3 of the 2019 Tour de Pologne when he crashed into a concrete culvert, per Cycling Weekly. While Lambrecht initially survived the wreck, he died in surgery.
Following an investigation into the tragedy, the Public Prosecutor in Poland (h/t Yahoo Sports) confirmed a reflector built into the side of the road caused Lambrecht to lose control of his bike. In a response to Lambrecht’s passing, the Tour de Pologne announced no rider would ever again wear the No. 143 that Lambrecht wore when he crashed.
Two days after Lambrecht died, cycling journalist William Fotheringham wondered if the sport, as it existed at the end of the 2010s, had become too dangerous. Fotheringham noted that eight international riders died over a three-year period that ended with Lambrecht’s passing. Five of those eight deaths were related to crashes.