8 Sports-Related April Fools' Day Hoaxes

Co-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, is notorious for aggressive and controversial habits.
Co-owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, is notorious for aggressive and controversial habits.
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Last February, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers devised a plan to fool teammate Kyle Kendrick into thinking that he had been traded to Japan for a player named Kobayashi. Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, Kendrick's agent, and even the team's beat reporters were in on the prank, which was executed flawlessly. Had Myers attempted the same stunt on April Fools' Day, it's less likely that Kendrick would have taken the bait. But as some of the following stories illustrate, one can never underestimate others' gullibility, no matter the date.

1. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

As sports-related April Fools' Day hoaxes go, George Plimpton's 1985 Sports Illustrated essay about New York Mets pitching prodigy Sidd Finch is the (fools') gold standard. As Plimpton told it, Finch, who wore a single hiking boot, had mastered the art of pitching in a Tibetan monastery and could throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. Many readers initially believed the story, while Mets fans willed it to be true. In addition to the fantastical details Plimpton included in the piece, the first letter in each of the first 19 words of the article's sub-headline provided another hint that Finch wasn't real: "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga "“ and his future in baseball." You can read the article in its entirety here.

2. Orchestra Steroid Scandal

NPR poked fun at baseball's steroid scandal with an April Fools' Day report on the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs among musicians in 2005. During the segment, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman deadpans, "I'm not a music reporter, but I've heard from others that this is a very serious issue and it brings up a whole host of issues related to performance-enhancing drugs." Carter Bray, the principal cellist for the New York Philharmonic, offers some explanation for why his peers might resort to steroids. "I think the public doesn't understand the kind of pressure that orchestra musicians are under to play faster and louder," Bray says. Ever dedicated to providing a variety of viewpoints, even for fictitious stories, NPR quotes a physician about the warning signs that a musician may be on the juice (overdeveloped triceps in the bow arm and descending neck veins, if you're curious). One solution to the problem, according to Goldman, will sound familiar: mandatory drug testing.

3. The 26-Day Marathon

Before there was Forrest Gump, there was Kimo Nakajimi. In 1981, the Daily Mail ran a story about the Japanese runner, who entered the London Marathon, but, on account of a translation error, thought he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. According to the fictional story, which included photos, Nakajimi ignored the locals who urged him to stop and was determined to finish the race he thought he had signed up to run.

4. Olympic Genes

The cycling magazine VeloNews has an April Fools' Day tradition of posting farcical stories on its Web site. Last year, an article about the launch of a sperm and egg bank company, PC Olympic Genes, by former U.S. Olympians Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter drew the ire of readers who didn't understand it was a joke. According to the hoax, prospective parents could purchase Phinney's sperm or Carpenter's eggs for $250,000; for one million dollars, the company would combine Phinney's sperm and Carpenter's eggs. "It's literally a no-brainer for couples who want champion children," fictitious company spokesman Felix Magowan says in the article. "This is absolutely disgusting," one reader later wrote. "I feel for these children who will likely be pressured to fulfill the athletic dreams of their parents. My admiration for these two exceptional athletes is now tarnished." Previous April Fools' Day articles published by VeloNews include a story that USA Cycling was outsourcing its membership services to a contractor in India, and a conspiracy theory that the sunflowers that line the route of the Tour de France are the result of a secret program of genetic manipulation.

5. Soviet Newspaper Plays Soviet-Style Prank

Picture 12.pngIn 1988, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia reported that Spartak, a Moscow soccer team, was in negotiations with Argentine star Diego Maradona, who was playing for the Italian Napoli club at the time. According to the article, Spartak would pay Maradona $6 million to come play for them within the year. An editor later admitted that the story was an April Fools' hoax, the first such hoax ever published by the paper.

6. Hockey Prank Causes Headache for Ombudsman

In 2003, an Ottawa sports radio station announced that CBC television was canceling its scheduled coverage of the Ottawa Senators' first round playoff series due to budget cuts, and would air rival Toronto's games instead. CBC ombudsman David Bazay received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from angry Senators fans who didn't realize that the announcement was a joke. Bazay didn't find it particularly funny, either. "Frankly, it's silly when there are a lot of other serious complaints that I could have been dealing with," he told reporters. "We have a war going on in Iraq, there's the SARS outbreak. It's just not very productive to spend my time dealing with this type of thing."

7. Mark Cuban's Fake Fight

MarkCuban.jpgIn 2003, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got into a shoving match with a phony NBA official during a timeout. Cuban, never one to shy away from controversy, was poking fun at himself for being fined repeatedly for his complaints about NBA officiating. A Mavericks equipment manager restrained Cuban during the fake fight, drawing cheers from the crowd and even a few laughs from the real officials at the game. The Mavericks' players weren't in on the April Fools' Day prank, so Dallas reserve center Evan Eschmeyer rushed to help restrain the man who signs his checks. "It was a good laugh," Eschmeyer said afterward. "I think it's a good thing I didn't go out and punch the guy or we'd probably all be looking at this in a different light."

8. Soccer Star Yardis Alpolfo

In 2003, the Glasgow Rangers published a story on their Web site announcing that manager Alex McLeish had signed a Turkish striker for 10 million pounds. The player, who the report compared to legendary Turkish striker Hakan Sukur, was named Yardis Alpolfo. Perhaps you've already figured out that the name is an anagram for April Fools' Day, but if not, don't feel too bad. Reuters ran with the story before an official from the Rangers informed the news agency that it was a joke.

For more April Fools' Day hoaxes, be sure to visit The Museum of Hoaxes.

10 Things You Might Not Know About the Invictus Games

Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation
Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Though the media tends to dwell on the private life of Prince Harry and his recent marriage to actor Meghan Markle, the Duke of Sussex has more on his mind than tabloids might suggest. Beginning October 20 in Sydney, Australia, and running through October 27, he'll be presenting the Invictus Games, a multi-sport competition he created in 2014 for wounded veterans. Athletes will participate in a variety of sports, including wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball, in an attempt to earn medals and, in Harry's words, "demonstrate life beyond disability."

For more on the history (and future) of the Games, check out our round-up below.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY AN AMERICAN COMPETITION.

Prince Harry talks to a Warrior Games representative in the United States
Arthur Edwards-Pool, Getty Images

While on a promotional tour of the United States to raise awareness for his charities, Prince Harry was invited to appear in support of the British team in the Warrior Games, a competition for wounded service veterans that was held in Colorado in 2013. Impressed by the camaraderie and enthusiasm shown by participants, he took the concept and created the Invictus (Latin for "unvanquished" or "unconquered") Games. The inaugural event was held in London in September 2014. "It was such a good idea by the Americans that it had to be stolen," he joked.

2. IT'S FUNDED IN PART BY BANK FINES.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stand on the sidelines
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

While the Invictus Games attract corporate sponsors—including Jaguar—to subsidize the operating costs of the event, funds for the 2014 installment also came from fines levied against British banks that were charged with manipulating currency exchange rates. Approximately £1 million (roughly $1,300,000) were made available from the fines, matching the £1 million Prince Harry donated via his Royal Foundation.

3. THE GAMES FEATURE INDOOR ROWING.

An athlete in the Invictus Games competes in indoor rowing
Steve Bardens, Getty Images for Invictus Games

Invictus invites athletes to compete across a range of adaptive sporting events—sports that have been modified to be all-inclusive for people with an array of physical challenges. In sitting volleyball, athletes have to keep one butt cheek touching the floor while touching the ball. In indoor rowing, athletes use a rowing machine to simulate outdoor rowing.

4. WHEELCHAIR RUGBY GETS INTENSE.

Invictus Games athletes participate in wheelchair rugby
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

If you have an impression that modified sports are somehow easier than their able-bodied counterparts, you're mistaken. In wheelchair rugby, athletes attempt to get a volleyball across a court and between two cones on the opposing team's side. They experience frequent collisions that appear to have more in common with demolition derbies than football, and participants are sometimes blindsided by the hits, which can bend wheels and axles.

5. IT'S NOT JUST FOR HUMANS.

A service dog shakes off water after a swim at the Invictus Games
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for Invictus

Because many disabled veterans rely on service dogs to assist in tasks of daily living, Games officials were more than willing to open their doors to the animals during the 2016 event in Orlando. At the last minute, organizers permitted the dogs to jump in the pool for an unofficial race. (Though it was held at Disney World, Pluto was not invited to participate in the doggy-paddle event.)

6. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN MADE AN APPEARANCE.

Bruce Springsteen shakes the hand of a war veteran at the Invictus Games
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Prince Harry's involvement has contributed heavily to appearances by a number of well-known public figures at the Games. Former president Barack Obama and Joe Biden attended the 2017 competition; David Beckham was named the 2018 ambassador. In 2017, Bruce Springsteen closed out the event in Toronto with a solo set. He was later joined on stage by Bryan Adams.

7. THERE WAS A GAP YEAR.

Prince Harry talks to representatives at the Invictus Games
Gregory Shamus, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

After the 2014 Games in London, Orlando hosted the 2016 contest and Toronto held the 2017 installment. There was no 2015 edition—the Games used a gap year in order for Orlando to raise the funds to organize the event. The competition will also skip 2019, moving to the Hague in the Netherlands for the 2020 Games.

8. IT'S GETTING MORE VETERANS INVOLVED IN SPORTS.

A group of athletes huddle during the Invictus Games
Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Members of the armed services don't need to compete in the Games to feel their influence. Following the inaugural 2014 event, Help for Heroes, which assisted in recruiting British athletes for competition, reported that there was a 463 percent increase in veterans signing up for archery talent assessments and a 633 percent increase in powerlifting enrollees.

9. THE GAMES WILL BE STUDIED BY SCIENCE.

An Invictus Games athlete holds up a trophy
Paul Thomas, Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover

Participation in Invictus appears to be a significant boost for the overall morale of contestants. And thanks to a grant from the Forces in Mind Trust, we'll eventually have some objective evidence of it. For the next four years, researchers will follow 300 athletes to assess their overall well-being compared to non-participants. Such evidence of the benefits of adaptive sport will likely contribute to a greater number of participants—and funding—in the future.

10. A COMMEMORATIVE COIN WAS ISSUED IN BRAILLE.

An Invictus Games commemorative coin features text in Braille
Royal Australian Mint

In honor of the Invictus Games' vision-impaired contestants, the Royal Australian Mint issued its first-ever coin with Braille text. Intended to commemorate and publicize the 2018 event in Sydney, the coin features a disabled competitor and "Sydney '18" in Braille. The $1 AUD coin sells for $15 AUD (about $11) and is limited to a run of 30,000. A gold-plated version is limited to 2018 copies and sells for $150 AUD ($108).

The Mongolian Princess Who Challenged Her Suitors to a Wrestling Match—and Always Won

iStock.com / SarahWouters1960
iStock.com / SarahWouters1960

In a lot of fairy tales, a disapproving father or a witch's curse stops the princess from finding Prince Charming. But things were a little different in 13th-century Mongolia. Any single lad, regardless of status or wealth, could marry the khan's daughter, Khutulun. There was just one caveat, which the princess herself decreed—you couldn't take her hand in marriage until you took her down in a wrestling match. If you lost, you had to give her a handful of prize horses.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. After all, this is the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan we're talking about!

Born around 1260, Khutulun was an intimidating presence. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, the princess was "so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess." She was also the picture of confidence. She had mastered archery and horsemanship in childhood and grew up to become a fearless warrior. Whenever her father, Kaidu—the leader of the Chagatai Khanate—went to battle, he usually turned to Khutulun (and not his 14 sons) for help.

Nothing scared her. Not only did Khutulun ride by her father's side into battle, she'd regularly charge headfirst into enemy lines to make "a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father," Marco Polo wrote. The 13th- and 14th-century historian Rashid al-Din was more direct, writing that she "often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds."

It's no surprise that Khutulun had suitors lining up and down the street asking for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, refused to marry any of them unless they managed to beat her in a wrestling match, stipulating that any loser would have to gift her anywhere between 10 to 100 horses.

Let's just put it this way: Khutulun came home with a lot of prize horses. (Some accounts say 10,000—enough to make even the emperor a little jealous.) As author Hannah Jewell writes in her book She Caused a Riot, "The Mongolian steppes were littered with the debris of shattered male egos."

On one occasion, a particularly confident suitor bet 1000 horses on a match. Khutulun's parents liked the fellow—they were itching to see their daughter get married—so they pulled the princess aside and asked her to throw the match. After carefully listening to her parents' advice, Khutulun entered the ring and, in Polo's words, "threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement." The 1000 horses became hers.

Khutulun would remain undefeated for life. According to legend, she eventually picked a husband on her own terms, settling for a man she never even wrestled. And centuries later, her story inspired François Pétis de La Croi to write the tale of Turandot, which eventually became a famed opera by the composer Giacomo Puccini. (Though the opera fudges the facts: The intrepid princess defeats her suitors with riddles, not powerslams.)

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