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Sports Then and Now

Famous Athletes Afraid of Flying

Posted on September 10, 2014 by Martin Banks

Professional athletes spend roughly half of their time on the road during the season, so flying between destinations is part of the job. Therefore, athletes who suffer from aviophobia, or a fear of flying, may find it very difficult to handle the constant air travel. Sports teams tend to travel in style, taking chartered planes to their road games, but this doesn’t make the trip any easier for these athletes who get just as nervous for the plane rides as they do for their athletic events.

Wayne Gretzky


You wouldn’t know it by the records he broke on the ice, but the Great One was actually terrified to fly early in his career. His roommate at the time, Ace Bailey, eventually learned how to calm him down before flights and made flying much easier for Gretzky. Tragically, Bailey was on one of the planes involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Gretzky also used a hypnotist to help him get over this fear.

Cortland Finnegan

Despite his fearless attitude on the football field, Cortland Finnegan does have one fear: flying. When he was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2008, Finnegan thought about taking a cruise ship to the game because the thought of flying over the Pacific Ocean terrified him.

James Harrison


Former NFL linebacker James Harrison won multiple championships during his football career. After the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009, they were invited to the White House by President Barack Obama. Rather than fly out to Washington, D.C., however, Harrison skipped the event. While there was some initial backlash for missing this meeting with the President, Harrison’s true reasons were soon revealed. It was also learned that Harrison hated taking team flights while playing in the NFL and would avoid air travel whenever possible.

Royce White

In some cases, an athlete’s fear of flying can actually hurt his career. Royce White is one such case, as he suffers from an anxiety disorder that triggers a fear of flying. After being drafted in the first round of the NBA draft in 2012, White was traded by the Houston Rockets without making an appearance for the team. In 2013, he was released by the Philadelphia 76ers, again without appearing in a single game. Reasons for teams giving up on the talented forward include him demanding a personal bus like this one to take him to road games and him missing games played overseas during the preseason because he could not fly with the team.

Dustin Pedroia

Dustin Pedroia

As athletes fly so much, they are bound to have some close calls in the air. Dustin Pedroia has experienced some rough flights during his career and they have not helped his fear of airplane travel one bit. Pedroia has not let his fear affect his career and feels as though he is managing it. In fact, he is able to travel via airplane with family and friends during the off-season, despite not enjoying air travel.

Jackie Jensen

Former baseball player Jackie Jensen is a unique case because his aviophobia directly cost him his career. After winning the AL MVP award in 1958, Jensen retired just three years later after Major League Baseball expanded farther into the western United States. This expansion would make flying much more common for teams, and rather than enduring these long plane trips, Jensen chose to leave the game completely.

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