How Athletes Lie to Us
Like people, lies come in more sizes and guises than is almost fathomable.
Some start out as the whoppers we know them to be—the blatant lies people throw back when questioned about a sensitive subject. Those are the ugly ones, the baldfaced how-dare-you’s and I-never’s.
Other lies begin small and white—fibs, honestly. They trickle like a leak in the sink, eventually overflowing down the stairs into the basement, where they flood the joint and threaten to sweep the whole house off its foundations.
The following instances of athletes (and sports figures) lying is a bit of a taster’s platter of different lies, deceptions and half-fictions we see perpetrated in athletics.
It’s not an exhaustive list of lying athletes, but rather a sampling of the different manners in which deceit occurs when money, love and sometimes plain craziness get in the way of sports.
Now on to our first course.
1. Lance Armstrong Lies About PEDs
You know the story—Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor who dodged and weaved around performance-enhancing drug allegations for the majority of his cycling career, finally admitted to doping in January 2013.
Armstrong told countless lies, but this particular one he told ESPN reporter Rick Reilly was particularly poignant.
(From a phone conversation Lance Armstrong had with Rick Reilly)
Reilly: Just tell me. Straight up. Did you do any [performance enhancing drugs]?
Armstrong: No! I didn’t do s---!
Despite his confession, people still question whether or not he's telling the whole truth, or if his confession to Oprah was just a ploy to help him get back into cycling.
2. Tim Johnson Lies About Being in 'Nam
Just like everyone’s favorite uncle, Tim Johnson views his past through rose-colored glasses.
The former Toronto Blue Jays manager was hired by the club in 1998 but was dismissed after lies he told to players about his past as an active American soldier in Vietnam began to unravel.
After deciding to pitch Roger Clemens instead of Pat Hentgen during a pivotal game against the Red Sox, Johnson told Hentgen that he “knew nothing about tough spots.”
He also added, “Pressure is Vietnam.”
Johnson also made the claim he killed a girl while serving in Vietnam. His team biography with the Blue Jays contained a description of himself as a former All-American basketball player who had turned down a scholarship to UCLA.
“I want to make it clear that although I was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserves, I never served in Vietnam,” Johnson stated in a public apology. He also characterized his All-American basketball past as a “misleading statement.”
3. Shabazz Muhammad’s Father Lies About His Son’s Age
In what was believed an attempt to make his son look more dominant over younger players and more desirable in the eyes of the NBA, Shabazz Muhammad’s father Ron Holmes botched the details concerning his son’s birth.
Muhammad was listed in UCLA’s media guide as being born in Nevada in 1993.
Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Bensinger got a hold of Muhammad’s birth certificate, which was on file with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. It is dated exactly a year prior to his claimed birthdate.
4. Nick Diaz Fibs About His Taxes
After losing a bout to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 158 by unanimous decision, MMA welterweight fighter Nick Diaz made an offhanded statement about his personal finances that caused the eyebrows of UFC fans and sports journalists across the nation to rise in unison.
Diaz pays his taxes, according to his trainer/manager, Cesar Gracie.
“Nick is a little crazy, but he has paid his taxes,” said Gracie, who claimed the fighter has paid over $100,000 in income taxes to the government over the last two years.
Not the most rock solid of evidence. Diaz was obviously in a bad place after that loss. Until there’s an official notice from the federal government, it’s probably safe to assume the pitter patter of IRS ninjas on his roof is all in Diaz’s head.
5. Nick Saban’s Lies About Heading to Alabama
“I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” -- Nick Saban, December 2006 (via ESPN).
6. Miguel Tejada Doesn’t Know His Age
Former MLB player Miguel Tejada was caught in a lie about his name after ESPN uncovered his Dominican birth certificate in 2008, which stated he was two years older than he claimed to be.
Tejada eventually admitted he had lied about his age to increase his shot at playing in the MLB.
“I was a poor kid,” Tejada told reporters. “I wanted to sign a professional contract, and that was the only way to do it. I didn’t want or mean to do anything wrong. At the time, I was two years older than they thought.”
7. The Manti Te’o Hoax
A brief rundown of Lennay Kekua, and the duping of former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
Te'o received a call in December 2012 from the individual responsible for the hoax claiming his dead girlfriend is alive. The Notre Dame linebacker had been honestly duped, but he continued giving interviews with the narrative that his girlfriend was dead to postpone the firestorm of public opinion.
8. Bobby Valentine Promises He Wasn’t Disguised
After being tossed from a game in 1999, former manager Bobby Valentine admitted he wore a disguise so he could watch the final two innings of the contest.
He did not, however, enter that dang dugout, according to Valentine.
“I absolutely was never in the dugout.” -- Bobby Valentine, June 1999.
9. Michael Vick Says He Doesn’t Fight Dogs
In retrospect, Michael Vick should’ve embraced his “My whole life was a lie” stance a lot earlier after his whole dog-fighting scandal broke in 2007.
“I take these charges very seriously, and look forward to clearing my good name,” Vick said in a statement to the press.
10. Warren Sapp Still Has his Super Bowl Ring
After filing for bankruptcy in 2012, former NFL great Warren Sapp was forced to sell off his assets, which included a “Large Nude women painting.”
Missing from the liquidation sale was one very valuable item—Sapp’s Super Bowl XXXVII ring, which he claimed he had lost.
People spotted the same lost Super Bowl ring on Sapp’s finger at the Buccaneers’ 10th anniversary celebration in December 2012. Sapp claims he found the ring after losing it for awhile. Funny how that pans out.
11. Rosie Ruiz Fakes Her Way to Boston Marathon Victory
Rosie Ruiz said she ran—and won—the 1980 Boston Marathon.
She did not.
12. Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” Goal
Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona was perhaps the greatest player the beautiful sport has ever seen, but even a man of his legendary stature couldn’t worm around the fact that he hand-balled a goal into the net at the 1986 World Cup.
That’s not to say he didn’t try, however.
Tongue in cheek, Maradona said this goal against England was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and little with the hand of God."
13. Wilt Chamberlain Embellishes His Sexual Exploits
In the name of juicing up interest in his 1991 biography, A View From Above, NBA Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain cooked the books at bit on his sexual encounter log by claiming he’d slept with around 20,000 women in his lifetime.
The lie caused a whole shift in how fans viewed Chamberlain, and the myth is still believed by many today.
“Yes that’s correct, 20,000 different ladies,” Chamberlain wrote. “At my age, that equals out to having sex with 1.2 women a day, every day since I was fifteen years old.”
Years later, Chamberlain admitted he might’ve padded his accounts a tad.
“You do some things for effect, you understand?” Chamberlain told SportsIllustrated, in regards to his promiscuity.
14. Alex Rodriguez Admits to Using Steroids
When the news surfaced in 2009 that Alex Rodriguez had tested positive for two anabolic steroids with the Texas Rangers in 2003, the New York Yankees star flatly denied any prior use of performance enhancing drugs.
In a 60 Minutes interview in 2007 with Katie Couric, Rodriguez addressed the issue of PEDs in baseball and stated he never felt like he needed them.
Rodriguez later admitted on ESPN to taking “banned substances...back then.”
15. Kevin Hart’s Imaginary Scholarship
Kevin Hart was a high school football player at a small school in Nevada who just wanted to play for a Division I football program, but when that dream fell through, he began manufacturing a fiction as his reality.
Hart held a press conference inside his school gym in February 2008, where he announced his decision to accept a full-ride football scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley.
“They really won me over,” Hart said to reporters. “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind of gave me the real personal experience.”
Hart had never spoken with any recruiters from the University of California, much less received a scholarship from the institution.
“I wanted to play D-I ball more than anything,” Hart admitted after his hoax was uncovered. “When I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I made up what I wanted to be reality.”
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