One might think that it would be easy to prove the age of an athlete who takes part in any meaningful competition. That athlete must, after all, provide documentation to some committee before he or she is able to compete. A simple enough background check should be able to determine whether or not an athlete is lying about his age, where he/she is from, or about any other information that could potentially make them ineligible for one reason or another. In this world where just about anybody can access the Internet and public records, an athlete trying to hide his age should, in theory, be downright silly.
That has not always, however, been the case. There have been numerous cases across a variety of sports of athletes trying to lie about their real ages. The reasons an athlete may have for lying about his age vary per the situation. One may lie about his age just so that he can, per the rules of a competition, be allowed to be on a team. Others may do so because of legal ramifications. Then, there are the cases of athletes who lied about their ages all because they were trying to hide far more than just when they were truly born.
Some of the stories featured in this list are, to put it bluntly, rather strange. The one that may immediately come to mind for an American sports fan could be the famous tale of the Little League Baseball pitcher who dominated opponents and who also seemed to be physically superior to everybody else on the field. Suspicions that people had about that young man were proven to be just, as his family had lied about his age so that he could compete in the tournament featured on national television. One has to wonder if we will ever see any other family try something similar at a future Little League World Series.
14 Marv Levy
Marv Levy was an accomplished athlete in college, but his days as an amateur athlete are not why Levy makes this list. Levy, per stories that he has told over the years, admitted that he fibbed about his age when he interviewed to be the head coach for the Buffalo Bills. According to Levy, he told the Bills that he was 57-years-old at the time that he interviewed for the gig. He was actually 61-years-old, though, but Levy dropped his age by four years because “it just sounded younger.” Levy showed during his years in Buffalo that age was just a number as it pertained to his abilities.
13 Nigerian Footballers
There is no point to focus on only one Nigerian footballer. That, per a story that ran on TheGuardian.com back in 2010, would be a useless exercise. According to information that was offered in that piece, Nigerian footballers had been falsifying their ages for years. Obafemi Martins, Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu were just three specific players who were named in the Guardian story and who have been accused of lying about their ages during their careers. FIFA has, in the past, punished Nigeria over these allegations, and we now just have to assume that the problem has since been rectified.
12 Alexandra Marinescu
Alexandra Marinescu had hoped to compete for multiple medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Marinescu struggled during the early days of the competition, however, and she failed to take home any individual medals. After the Olympics, it was alleged that Romania had lied about the ages of gymnasts, including Marinescu. Marinescu claimed that her coaches had told her to lie about her age and claim that she was a year older than she was at the time that she competed in World Championships and the Olympics. Lying about her age was the only way that she would have been eligible for those competitions.
11 Miguel Tejada
Miguel Tejada apparently had problems with telling the truth throughout his Major League Baseball career. Tejada allegedly lied about his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. In 2008, Tejada was confronted by a reporter about his actual age. While Tejada tried to stay true to his original stories about his age, he eventually came clean and admitted to the world that he was, in fact, two years older than he had first claimed. “If you're not cheating, you're not trying” goes the old joke, and nobody can deny that Tejada sure tried his best during his days in the Big Leagues.
10 Carlos Alberto
Carlos Alberto was part of the Brazil squad that won the 2003 World Cup for players who were 20-years-old and younger. That would be quite the achievement for any young athlete, but there was a catch here: Alberto was actually 26-years-old at the time that he helped Brazil win the tournament. Alberto had stripped five years off of his actual age so that he could play for the Brazil U-20s. FIFA was neither impressed nor humored by the incident, and the organization banned Alberto for 360 days. Things actually could have been worse for Alberto, as he could have been banned for nearly two years.
9 Rafael Furcal
The events that took place on September 11, 2001 changed the United States and the world in many ways. What The Chicago Tribune referred to in February 2002 as an “increased attention to immigration” resulted in the real ages of some Dominican baseball players being made public. Rafael Furcal was one such player, as the bright young shortstop who was believed to be 21-years-old at the time was actually 23. Those extra two years were not all that big of a deal, as Furcal still had plenty left in the tank at that part of his career.
8 Alf Ramsey
Here is a blast from the past; as in from nearly a century ago. Alf Ramsey was a footballer looking to launch his career in the game following World War I. The problem, according to a biography written by Dave Bowler, was that Ramsey was afraid that his being 22-years-old would scare teams off and keep him from landing a professional contract. Ramsey thus lied about his age and claimed that he was actually only 20-years-old. It turns out that athletes lying about their ages is hardly a new practice. Ramsey was, in some ways, a revolutionary for athletes who were to come.
7 Wandy Rodriguez
Back in the late 1990s, the Houston Astros believed that they had discovered a gem of a young pitcher named Eny Cabreja. Rodriguez, playing the role of Cabreja, stated that he was 17-years-old when he was spotted by a Houston scout and Rodriguez continued to lie about his age for four years. Rodriguez, we later learned, was 19-years-old when he was first approached by the scout and he decided to lie in part because he wanted a better life. Rodriguez is still in professional baseball as of May 2016 and he is a 37-year-old who is in the twilight of his career.
6 Dong Fangxiao
Dong Fangxiao was part of the Chinese women's gymnastics team that won medals in the 1999 World Championships and later at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Those trophies were stripped in 2010, however, when it was learned that Dong's documents had been forged for years and that she was only 14-years-old, two years too young to compete, during the 2000 Summer Olympics. This was hardly shocking news among those in the gymnastics community, as China had been accused of falsifying documents and lying about the ages of athletes for years. Dong was not the first to be “caught,” and some may believe that it is only a matter of time before a similar controversy is made pubic.
6. Bartolo Colon
As was mentioned earlier in this piece, the events that followed September 11th, 2001 affected multiple Major League Baseball players. Another player who makes the list is pitcher Bartolo Colon. At the start of 2002, it was believed that Colon was 26-years-old. By the end of February of that same year, Colon magically became two years older. Colon is, as of May 2016, 42-years-old and a beloved member of the New York Mets. Fans and even the club refer to Colon as “Big Sexy” because of his large frame and because of his lovable personality. Age is just a number for Colon.
5 Kim Gwang-suk
It is not so much that North Korea lied about the age of undersized gymnast Kim Gwang-suk that upset people. Just about everybody watching Kim perform knew that she was not old enough to take part in events such as the Olympics. North Korea did not do themselves any favors when they listed Kim as being 15-years-old for three straight years. The truth of the matter is that those of us with no direct access to her actual records will probably never know how old Kim was when she was a famous athlete. All indications, though, seem to prove that she was the youngest “15-year-old” some will ever see.
4 Shabazz Muhammad
Shabazz Muhammad was a promising basketball player attending UCLA when the LA Times uncovered an interesting factoid about him. Muhammad, as it would turn out, was born in 1992 and not 1993, meaning that he was a year older than UCLA and the public believed him to be as of early March 2013. It was alleged after the fact that this was not a mistake and that Muhammad and his family had purposely lied about his age for years. Muhammad's NBA Draft stock fell following the controversy, but he was nevertheless a first-round pick. Everybody has since moved on from the story.
3 Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez
Here is another example that goes beyond an athlete merely lying about the day that he was born. The right-handed flame-throwing pitcher who was known among fans of the Cleveland Indians as Fausto Carmona had actually taken an entire identity of a different person. Carmona's real name, it would be learned after he was arrested in 2012, is actually Roberto Heredia Hernandez. Hernandez avoided serious legal trouble and he was only suspended by MLB for a few weeks before he was able to make a return to the mound. Yes, MLB apparently finds using performance-enhancing drugs to be a more-serious offense than identity theft. Alrighty.
2 Tom Shaw
“I had a good year at 26, and I thought I'd just stay there for a while,” golfer Tom Shaw once said after it was learned that he had lied about his age. That is about as good and honest an explanation as you will find for such an offense. Shaw had claimed to be four years younger than he actually was for a good amount of time, but his lies came to light when none other than Jack Nicklaus outed Shaw. While Shaw's age was a joke among players for years, it became a serious matter when Shaw had to come clean after he applied to play for the Senior PGA Tour. It was then when Shaw had to show that he was 50-years-old and not 46.
1 Danny Almonte
Odds are that you are at least somewhat familiar with this story. Danny Almonte was a dominating pitcher throughout the 2001 Little League World Series, and he pitched a perfect game during a round-robin match-up. It was learned after the LLWS that documents for Almonte had been altered and that he was actually two years too old to participate in the competition. Almonte and his team were, thus, rightfully disqualified and stripped of their LLWS victories. One could feel sorry for Almonte here. Almonte was, after all, just part of a scam that included his birth parents lying about his age.