Manti Te’o is a fantastic athlete. He is a standout linebacker and a dominant force on the gridiron. He also is a huge fraud. We have all read the story of how Manti made up a girlfriend that he claimed died of cancer right before a game with U of Michigan this past year and we all know his terrible attempt at trying to cover up the story.
So the question is, exactly where does Manti fall in the history books next to other sports frauds? Let's let you decide! Here are sports’ other top phonies throughout the history of competitive play:
1. Lance Armstrong
Armstrong will be making his Oprah premier tonight and is expected to drop bombs on OWN’s viewership. The “cycling superstar” (in quotes because let's be honest, “cycling superstar” is an oxymoron) has already had all of his medals removed by the IOC under charges of blood doping, and he's lost his seven Tour de France titles, although he has never officially admitted to actually taking steroids. Tonight he will go on Oprah to make his first public opinion since the accusation and medal strippin’. Lance is the most decorated cyclist in history; his fall from biking grace is a huge blow to fans of the sport ... all five of them.
2. Baseball Steroids
Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire lead the conversation when it comes to blood doping in professional sports. They amassed HUGE single-season and career stats and broke records with numbers that seemed to break the limits of reality. Well, as we found out years later, the reason these records seemed impossible to break is because they were actually impossible records to break ... without the help of illegal drug enhancements. Steroids altered a full era of baseball whose legitimacy seems to now hang on whom the BBWAA decides to vote into the Hall of Fame. Clemens, Bonds and McGwire all failed to get into the BBHOF this past go around, we’ll see what happens in Round 2 next year.
3. The Black Sox
The 1919 Chicago White Sox will go down in history as one of baseball’s darkest hours. Eight players from the team took bribes from bookies to lose games on purpose. The year of the “Black Sox” culminated in the Cincinnati Reds winning a fixed World Series. A year after the series was won, a grand jury was assembled to to investigate allegations that the series was won with help of “external factors.” Nine players total (eight from the Sox and one from another team) were banned from the MLB in conjunction with the case.
4. 2000 Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team
The 2000 Spanish Paralympic basketball team will go down as the D-baggiest bunch of D-bags in the history of sports, possibly humanity. The controversy happened in the Intellectually disabled category of Paralympic basketball. Spain was forced to return their gold medals after it was revealed that only two of their 12-man roster were actually intellectually disabled. Thats right, Spain sent 10 players to the Paralympics who were not actually disabled. You know how when you watched the movie The Ringer, you were like “Wow, this is terrible, good thing this doesn’t happen in real life”? Well, this happened in real life and it is terrible.
5. Danny Almonte
If you were a kid in 2001 you looked up to Danny Almonte. Danny was a pitcher for a Little League team in the Bronx that was known for his insane arm. “The Little Unit,” nicknamed after Randy Johnson’s nickname “The Big Unit,” was notorious for smoking batters with his surreal 75 mph fastball. Almote’s arm catapulted his team into the Little League World Series, where he threw the first perfect game in the LLWS since 1957. Almonte’s arm was soo magical that even though his team didn’t win the World Series, Danny still became the biggest story from the tournament. So how did Danny Almonte get soo good? Well, it was probably because he was a 45-year-old man playing Little League baseball. JK, he was only two years older than the league cutoff, BUT that is still around 15 years older in kid years. The league found out Almonte’s real age and forced the Bronx team to forfeit its wins. After his Little League fiasco, Danny played some minor ball but never went professional. However, he did end up marrying a 30-year-old lady when he was 16. I have never met a person with a stronger vendetta against age restrictions ... well, except for maybe Dakota Fanning. That girl is like 13 years old yet is hellbent on making us think she is 30.
6. David Stern and the Knicks
Let me put a disclaimer out there before I start so that Knicks fans won’t lynch me. This is purely a conspiracy theory with some very convincing video footage. So what did David Stern do? He fixed the 1985 NBA draft lottery so that the Knicks could draft better players. Why? Simple, better players on more popular teams means higher revenue for the league. Also, keep in mind that this isn’t the only time that Stern has been accused of fixing the league. He allegedly pulled similar strings in the 2012 draft.
7. Sammy Sosa: Drugs N’ Cork
Sammy Sosa is one of the more controversial players in the MLB’s recent history. Was he a good player? Yeah, probably. No one will ever know just how good he was for two reasons. One, he is one of the players named by the MLB who tested positive for blood doping. Two, he was using a cork bat, which gave him a faster (and more effective) swing. Sosa duped Cubs fans (as if they needed any more to be angry about) and the MLB in general. Shame on you, Sosa, shame on you.
8. Sidd Finch
Okay, this is a bit on the lighter side of the Hoax-y spectrum, but nonetheless, still pretty devious. Sidd Finch was an amazing rookie pitcher in the Mets farm system who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sidd Finch was not just amazing, he was supposed to revolutionize the game. His bizarre upbringing paired with the fact he was described as a behemoth of a man made him seem like less of a man and more of a titan wearing a Mets jersey. They said he was 6-foot-4, wore a size 14 shoe and that he could sling a fastball that clocked in at 168. Finch was too good to be true. Literally, he did not exist. It was an April Fool’s Day prank that got out of hand. Mark Mulvoy, former managing editor of Sports Illustrated, ordered a writer named George Plimpton to make an April Fool’s Day article. Mets fans did not know the story was a joke and they ended up thinking that Sidd was the real deal. Following the article, a frenzy surrounded Sidd Finch. Reporters and scouts went on a mad scramble to see if they could see Finch in person. Reporters on assignment even began to lie to their editors and began claiming that they saw him pitch. Fourteen days after the article ran, Sports Illustrated announced it was a hoax and went back to not covering hockey.
9. Rosie Ruiz
Rosie Ruiz was a professional marathon runner who had her titles stripped when she cheated in the Boston Marathon. Ruiz boasted a time of 2:31:56, a female record for the Boston marathon and the third fastest marathon time for a lady in the history of lady marathonin’. This was odd for a few reasons. First, she didn’t remember any of her intervals or splits from the race (facts that runners internalize by heart). Also, when she finished she wasn’t panting that hard and wasn't covered in sweat. Oh, one last thing, Ruiz was SUPER outta shape. Other racers noted that Ruiz had flabby thighs and that her resting heart rate was 26 points above the resting heart rate of most runners.
So how did Ruiz cheat the system? Easy, she just cut across several chunks of the race. People recalled seeing her run out of a crowd of spectators half a mile from the end of the race. But it didn’t stop there, a journalist in NYC recounted a time when he took a subway with Ruiz DURING the NYC marathon. The two walked to the end of the marathon together but Ruiz quickly disappeared. She was later seen in the medical booth, posing as an injured runner so that she could get her official time stamped at a time that would make her eligible for the Boston marathon.
In summation, Rosie Ruiz would have been great at basketball because she would have found a way to sneak a ladder onto the court.
10. Tonya Harding
Tonya Harding is like the Lindsay Lohan of professional figure skating. She had issues with in the courtroom, landed herself on a reality TV show and has had issues with substance abuse. None of that comes close to her relationship with Nancy Kerrigan. The two were like the Akeelah Anderson and Dylan Chu of ice dancing. (Where are my Akeelah and the Bee fans at?!) The two were in the golden children of USA’s ice skating program and both were set to make waves in the Olympics. That was until Harding went crazy and called a jihad on the lower half of Nancy Kerrigan. In 1994, Harding was accused of hiring a hammer-wielding mercenary to go all Yoda on Kerrigan’s legs (Episode 3 Yoda, not Episode 5). Kerrigan recovered and won silver in the Lillehammer Winter Olympics a few weeks later.
Tonya went on to be a female boxer and even landed a coveted role on the TV game-changer, Fox’s Celebrity Boxing. So in the end, I think it is safe to say that Harding totally won the rivalry ... JK, Harding is as much a champion in the rivalry as the Mets are when compared with the Yankees.
Eitan Levine is a New York City based comic. Follow him on Twitter at @Eitanthegoalie .