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5 Professional Sports Stars Who Voluntarily Left the Game — Only to Return [VIDEOS]

Tim Thomas
Patrick McDermott, Getty Images

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas is considering taking a leave of absence from the ice, and even wrote in a Facebook message on Saturday that “hockey’s just not that important right now.”

If Thomas does decide to step away from the game, some wonder whether he can make such an easy transition back after his time away, however long it may be. Although typically a player might retire before going this route, some sports stars in recent years have left their franchises behind, and returned when their heads were clearer. Here’s a look at five who made their ways back to the big leagues:

JOSH HAMILTON

Prior to reaching the majors and taking the American League by storm, Hamilton was labeled a major league bust since the then Devil Rays drafted him in 1999. By 2001, drugs and alcohol had derailed Hamilton’s chances at success, and he played only 45 games that season in the minor leagues. He didn’t make it to a rookie season until 2007 with the Reds. In 2010 he was named AL MVP. Hamilton credits his commitment to his Christian faith for helping him through his tougher times.

RICKY WILLIAMS

One of the stranger personalities to ever grace the football field, Williams took home the Heisman Trophy as a college player before deciding in the early part of his NFL career that home was where his heart was. In 2004, facing a four-game drug suspension and a fine, Williams opted to leave the game entirely. During his time away from football, Williams studied holistic medicine, and the Dolphins struggled without him. Williams re-joined the Dolphins in 2007. In 2009, he achieved 1,000 yards rushing, setting an NFL record for longest span between 1,000-yard seasons — six years.

KEITH VAN HORN

Athletes are on the road a lot and it must be hard to keep track of their family while traveling. Van Horn decided in 2006 that he was missing too much at home and opted to sit out the season. While an admirable decision, it was heavily scrutinized and some believed that Van Horn was putting his playing career at risk by willfully walking away, even temporarily. The skeptics may have been right because Van Horn never took the court again and in 2008 he was included in the trade that sent Jason Kidd to the Mavericks. Later that year, he was waived, and Van Horn retired.

BILLY CUNDIFF

Some athletes have gone back to school after their playing careers are over or during the offseason when they’re still playing to attain degrees. Cundiff took a year off to pursue a master of business administration from Arizona State University in the prime of his career. He got his degree in 2009 after four years of no active placement or playing time with an NFL team. Since then, he’s been the Ravens regular kicker. Who knows — maybe he’s begun planning his post-retirement business.

ZACK GREINKE

Before he became one of baseball’s most feared pitchers, Greinke had to deal with some personal demons. He entered the league with the Royals in 2004 as a highly-touted prospect, and he delivered on his great promise by posting eight wins and an ERA under 4.00. But the following year everything seemed to unravel for him, as he lost 17 games. By 2006, he couldn’t hide his social anxiety disorder and depression anymore, and he took four months off. After some counseling and therapy, he returned in top form. He went on to become the AL Cy Young winner in 2009. A happy ending, indeed.

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