9 famous athletes who lied about their ages
1. Shabazz Muhammad
Sports statisticians love to say that numbers don't lie. Except sometimes they do — like when they denote an athlete's purported age.
On the eve of UCLA's opening-round game in the NCAA tournament, a Los Angeles Times feature on the team's star player, Shabazz Muhammad, revealed that he is in fact 20 years old, not 19 as he'd previously claimed.
But Muhammad is hardly alone. Athletes around the world have lied about their ages for various reasons: To meet minimum age requirements, to dominate younger competition or, as may be the case with Muhammad, to create an illusion that they have more potential. Here are some of the more memorable instances of age-fudging in recent history:
2. Danny Almonte
The poster boy for this phenomenon, Almonte became a national sensation when he threw a perfect game in the 2001 Little League World Series. Almonte struck out 18 of the 21 batters he faced, and his unprecedented domination made it seem like he belonged in a more advanced league. As it turned out, he did. Almonte's parents knocked two years off his age upon emigrating to the U.S., meaning he was 14 at the time of his triumph, too old for Little League.
3. Roberto Hernandez Heredia (a.k.a Fausto Carmona)
Heredia not only lied about his age when he was signed as a supposed teenage prospect out of the Dominican Republic by the Cleveland Indians — he lied about his name as well. In fact, he adopted a real person's identity, leading to his arrest on identity theft charges last year.
4. Rafael Furcal
In 2000, a supposedly 19-year-old Furcal blew away the competition to win National League Rookie of the Year honors. His 40 stolen bases set a new record for teenage players — or at least they would have, had he not really been 22. He ultimately admitted to the fib, saying his Dominican coach suggested he lie to boost his odds of landing a major league contract.
5. Miguel Tejada
Yet another Dominican-born baseball player who fudged his age — the practice has become common for top prospects looking for any edge to attract MLB scouts. The Oakland Athletics signed Tejada in 1993, thinking his skills were incredibly polished for a 17-year-old and a sign of enormous potential. Tejada did develop into an All Star, but he declined sooner than expected, a development made less surprising when ESPN dug up his birth certificate. "I was a poor kid," Tejada said of his decision to lie. "I wanted to sign a professional contract, and that was the only way to do it."
6. Tom Shaw
Unlike those who lied for monetary reasons, golfer Tom Shaw had no financial incentive to hide his age. By his own admission, he didn't really have a reason at all, other than that his buddies were doing it. "I had a good year at 26, and I thought I'd just stay there for a while," he told a profiler. "I didn't see anything wrong with it. When I first started out on the tour everyone lied about their ages."
7. Kim Gwang Suk
In 1991, North Korea's Kim competed in the gymnastic world championships while missing two front teeth. Her coach said she'd knocked them out in a fall, but skeptics, noting her barely four-foot-tall frame, believed she was underage and ineligible to compete. Not so, said the North Korean Gymnastics Federation, which listed Kim as 15 years old — for three straight years.
8. The Nigerian soccer team
Accusations of age falsification have dogged the Nigerian national team for at least 30 years, warranting the team's collective inclusion on this list. In 1989, FIFA banned the national team from all international play for two years after discovering multiple players on the 1998 Olympic squad had lied about their ages. Similar accusations have cropped up again and again in the years since, with some players allegedly dropping almost a full decade off their real ages.
9. Dong Fangxiao
Chinese athletes have been accused of falsifying their ages for years. Most notably, the nation's Olympic gymnastics teams have featured several dubious members who, investigations later found, were underage. One study using x-ray bone analysis determined that 20 percent of Chinese athletes had misrepresented their ages. But Dong warrants special mention. She helped China capture a bronze medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Ten years later, her true age revealed, that bronze medal was retroactively given to the U.S. by default.