6 Athletes (and a Coach) Who Lied About Their Age

Former Buffalo Bills Coach, Marv Levy is famed for having lied about his age.
Former Buffalo Bills Coach, Marv Levy is famed for having lied about his age.
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Age fabrication is prevalent in sports, whether the motive is to make an athlete old enough to sign a contract, young enough to be considered an elite prospect, or to meet a minimum or maximum age requirement for competing in an event. Compiling a full list of fabricators would take longer than Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's delivery to home plate, but here are seven instances of people who shaved years off their actual age:

1. Danny Almonte

The question on most people's minds after Danny Almonte threw the first Little League World Series perfect game in 44 years in 2001 was, "Who is this kid?" It turned out that the question people should have been asking was, "How old is he?" Less than two weeks after the lanky lefthander from the Bronx struck out 18 of 21 batters with a blistering fastball and devastating slider, a Sports Illustrated writer presented an affidavit to Little League officials indicating Almonte was born in 1987, not 1989 as the Little League records showed. Almonte was 14, while Little League rules require players to turn 13 no earlier than August 1 during the season in which they are competing. Sports Illustrated reported that Almonte's father, Felipe, had registered his son's false date of birth just weeks before he moved from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx a year earlier. Almonte's team "“ the Rolando Paulino All-Stars "“ was forced to forfeit all of its games at the Little League World Series. One year after the scandal, Danny Almonte admitted that he knew he was 14, but said he found out after the tournament had begun. Almonte played baseball in high school, but wasn't drafted. He appeared in six games for the Southern Illinois Miners in an independent league last season before being released.

2. Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo

On July 2, 2006, the Washington Nationals awarded 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez a $1.4 million signing bonus, the largest in team history. Nationals fans envisioned the slick-fielding switch hitter nicknamed "Smiley" manning the left side of the infield with top draft pick Ryan Zimmerman for years to come, while Washington general manager Jim Bowden hoped the signing would establish a pipeline of Dominican talent to the organization. "We want every young boy wanting to be a Washington National," Bowden said at the time. But Esmailyn Gonzalez wasn't actually a young boy. In fact, he wasn't actually Esmailyn Gonzalez. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Segura revealed that the Nationals' once-prized prospect isn't 19, but 23, and his name is Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. The news, coupled with an ongoing federal investigation into the role Bowden may have played in the skimming of money from signing bonuses given to Latin players, has put the general manager's future with the Nationals in doubt.

3. Rafael Furcal

When Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal was pulled over on an early Saturday morning in June 2000, he was charged with DUI and underage alcohol consumption. A report that surfaced later that week indicated that Furcal wasn't guilty of the second charge, though he was apparently guilty of lying about his age. According to the report, Furcal was 22, not 19 and the game's youngest player as team officials, fans, and the media had been led to believe. Furcal denied the report and didn't admit to lying about his age until spring training in 2002. "I'm now 23," Furcal told reporters. "Nothing changed in my life because I have to play like I play everyday." Furcal said a coach in his Dominican youth league suggested he change his age in order to increase his chances of being signed to a major league contract.

4. Miguel Tejada

During an April 2008 episode of E:60, an ESPN reporter presented Tejada a copy of his birth certificate and asked him to explain the discrepancy between his documented date of birth "“ May 24, 1974 "“ and May 24, 1976, the one Tejada provided when he signed his first major league contract in 1993. Tejada removed his microphone and walked off the set, ending the interview, but admitted to lying about his age soon after. "I had no intention of doing anything wrong," said Tejada, who was actually 19 when he was signed. ""¦I'm a poor kid that wanted to be a professional big leaguer." Like Furcal, a local coach encouraged Tejada to shave a couple years off of his age to improve his chances of being signed. Recently, Tejada admitted telling a more serious lie; he pleaded guilty to making a false representation to Congress during an investigation into whether his former teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, lied about using steroids.

5. Tom Shaw

Baseball players aren't the only athletes who lie about their age. Tom Shaw joined the PGA Tour in 1963 at the age of 25 but shaved four years off his date of birth. Why, you ask? "Everybody was lying about his age, so I thought why not do it earlier and lie in my 20s and nobody would catch on," Shaw admitted years later. "I figured it was the fun thing to do." Shaw didn't bother correcting the lie until he began itching to join the Senior Tour, which has a minimum age of 50. In 1989, at the actual age of 50, Shaw called the Senior Tour's administrator and explained his situation. The administrator, unlike the one who changed Shaw's date of birth in 1963, was skeptical and asked for proof. Shaw sent his passport, a copy of his driver's license, and his birth certificate before he was finally welcomed onto the tour. Shaw won The Tradition tournament in 1993.

6. Kim Gwang Suk

The controversy that surrounded the Chinese women's gymnastics team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was hardly a new development in a sport where smaller athletes with less developed bodies are at an advantage. In 1989, North Korea's Kim Gwang Suk raised eyebrows when she won the world championships. Kim, who was 4-foot-3 and 62 pounds, was also missing her two front teeth, which her coach said was the result of an accident on the uneven bars. North Korean officials reported her birth date as October 5, 1974, making her just old enough for competition. Two years later, Kim entered the world championships with a completely different date of birth "“ February 15, 1975. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, her reported date of birth changed yet again, this time by one year, to February 15, 1976. U.S. coach Bela Karolyi made it clear he thought Kim was underage. "Her milk teeth are still falling," Karolyi told reporters. "When she's 14 or 15, she's going to be a nice little gymnast." While Kim's actual age was never actually determined, the North Korean team was banned from the world championships in 1993.

7. Marv Levy

When Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson brought back former head coach Marv Levy as the team's general manager and vice president of football operations in January 2006, Wilson could be excused for wondering if Levy was really 80 years old, or a spry-looking 83. Levy, who has a master's degree in English from Harvard, addressed his age during his introductory press conference. "I came out of the closet on it, I guess," Levy told reporters. "Way back when I was hired in 1986, I was 61 years of age, and it sounded too old, so I lied and said I was 58. Finally I cleared that up. Maybe as I matured I came to realize it wasn't a factor. It's what you can do that counts." Levy's published date of birth officially switched from 1928 to 1925 in 1996, by which time he had led the Bills to four Super Bowls. Levy, who has since stepped down as Bills GM, became only the second 72-year-old head coach in NFL history (George Halas was the other) before retiring from coaching after the 1997 season. Incidentally, Levy's father lied about his age to join the Marines in World War I.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.