In general, the world of NFL and American Football is often riddled with tragic incidents. As such, let’s take a look back at the time an NFL player passed away on the field. The first and the only player in NFL history to pass away during a game.
In 1971, Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes was playing against the Chicago Bears. Following a big blow in a few plays prior, Hughes collapsed on the field. Not to be confused with the recent Chuck Clark news, Hughes reportedly passed away due to a heart attack. While medical staff and an ambulance rushed onto the scene, the 28-year-old was pronounced dead at 5:34 pm on October 24, 1971.
At the time, the players, unaware of Hughes’ passing, were urged to finish out the game by the NFL. Thankfully, the same did not happen when the Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during his Cincinnati Bengals earlier this year. As a result, the game was immediately stopped and postponed to a later date.
Whilst Hamlin recovered in the weeks that followed, the incident reminded us of how serious the sport can sometimes get. Recently, NFL legend Jim Brown also bid farewell to the world, passing away at the age of 87. Thus, despite the game being beloved by many across the globe, it at times exacts a heavy toll on fans, players, and their loved ones.
Chuck Hughes career and NFL record
Coming back to Hughes, the Detroit Lions wide receiver played college football at the Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso. One of the most accomplished alumni, Chuck’s accomplishments saw him earn a spot in the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006. Following that, Chuck was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 1967 NFL/AFL draft.
After spending three seasons with the Eagles, Chuck was traded to the Detroit Lions ahead of the 1970 season. Mostly a backup receiver for the Lions, Chuck recorded 15 caught passes in his 5-year career. Even on the day of his passing, Hughes stepped in for an injured Larry Walton. Recently, XFL player Chris Smith also passed away mere hours after his game.
According to doctor’s reports and post-mortem examinations, it was found that one of Chuck’s arteries was severely clogged. In an age where drinking and smoking was common practice for athletes, it was a reasonable conclusion to some. However, as it turns out, Chuck had a history of heart problems and had even collapsed in the locker room after a preseason game.
In this instance, a loose blood clot in Chuck’s artery reportedly stopped his heart from receiving blood. After his passing, Chuck’s wife filed for a $21.5 million malpractice lawsuit against Henry Ford Hospital in 1972. According to the widow, the hospital had failed to diagnose Chuck’s condition despite numerous examinations. Eventually, the dispute was rumored to have been settled for an undisclosed amount.