Professional athletes are treated like royalty, and sometimes even gods among men. It’s a type of recognition that most people dream of, but rarely goes beyond the fantasy stage. Of course then you’ve got people who won’t let little things like “athletic limitations” and “lack of talent” stand in their way, and wind up taking things just a little too far to live out that fantasy.
10. Herbert John Derungs
In 2000, the Original Maple Bat Company received emails from, they believed, New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox. The email from Jeter, which was sent from the totally legit firstname.lastname@example.org, said:
I am interested in your product, due to the fact that Jose Canseco let me use his last year, and I liked it although it was too heavy… I will place an order for 50-60 for the 2001 season, because my contract with Louisville Slugger is up, and I am trying to get a feel of what’s out there before I decide what bats to use next year. The sooner the better. Thanks, Derek
The owner of the bat company sent out 60 bats that were engraved with the players’ names, with each bat being worth $3,319. After receiving the bats, Derungs tried to sell them on eBay using different usernames before being arrested. He ultimately pleaded guilty to fraud and spent 21 months in jail over the stunt.
9. Israel Lang
Israel “Izzy” Lang was a running back drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 18th round of the 1964 draft after finishing his college career at Tennessee State. He played four seasons with the Eagles, including two as the team’s starter, before moving on to play for the Rams for one year and then retiring in 1969.
Lang’s retirement was a bit bumpy, to say the least. In a strange, criminal twist, he began telling people he was a professional football player – but not Izzy Lang. Instead, he told people that he was New York Giants running back Joe Morris and tried to cash some checks. He has also tried to impersonate New York’s Lawrence Taylor and Leonard Marshall, and Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins. The problem was he was trying to pose as these players during the 1980s, when Lang had been retired for 10 years and these players were in their primes. He received a total of 22 months for his 24 arrests.
8. Karl Power
On April 18, 2001, Manchester United and Bayern Munich met in a Champions League match. Before the match, a man named Karl Power was able to get close to the field at Old Trafford in Greater Manchester by disguising himself as a member of the TV crew. Once he was close to the field, he changed quickly into a Manchester United uniform and walked over to the team as they were getting ready for their pre-match photograph.
He stood beside striker Andy Cole, and only Roy Keane and Gary Neville noticed he was there. The photographer took the picture, forever capturing Power in one of the most legendary pranks in the world of professional soccer. Power, who got away clean, said that the stunt had been planned for two years. After the picture, Power went on to perform a number of other pranks, but nothing has rivaled joining Manchester United in a team picture.
7. Ronnie Craven
In 2008, an unnamed woman living in the Boston area started dating who she thought was former NBA star Jeff Turner, who played 10 years for the New Jersey Nets and Orlando Magic, and also won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1984 Summer Games. They’d met through a Craigslist ad and went on about a dozen dates over a couple months. He told her that he now worked with the Seattle Sonics front office while he lived in Somerville, Massachusetts.
When the man claiming to be Turner left town for a few weeks, she started getting suspicious. She Googled Jeff Turner (which, if she was on Craigslist for dates, probably would have been a good idea at the outset) and found out that the real Turner was a high school basketball coach in Orlando, Florida. After contacting Turner and confirming, she then discovered the impostor was actually a local property manager named Ronnie Craven.
That wasn’t the only time Craven had posed as someone involved with big time basketball either. He had been telling friends and family that he worked with the Sonics front office, going so far as to claim to be an assistant coach. When confronted by a reporter, Craven admitted that he wasn’t who he said he was. He also didn’t see the harm in it and he said that he didn’t do anything illegal.
6. Barry Bremen
By day, Barry Bremen was a novelty-goods salesman, but he became famous for his secondary career as a “professional imposter.” He got his start in 1979 during the NBA All-Star game in Detroit, when he wore a team uniform and went through pregame warmups before being discovered and thrown out. A short time later, he snuck on to the course at the U.S. Open and played a few practice rounds with professional golfers. Later in the summer of 1979, dressed in a Yankees uniform, Bremen caught a few pop flies at the MLB All-Star game. That same year, he was able to get onto the sidelines of an NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins – as a cheerleader. He had shaved his legs, dieted, and then donned a homemade Cowgirls outfit before being found out and tossed.
Over the next 20 years, he continued to sneak on the field of play of professional sports, but in 2005, Bremen retired from being an imposter because of the change in security after 9/11. Bremen died on his 64th birthday from esophageal cancer. In 2012, ESPN produced a 30 for 30 short about Breman called “The Great Imposter.”
5. Ryan Ward
Joba Chamberlain is a Major League pitcher who rose to fame with the New York Yankees, quickly becoming a fan favorite whenever he wasn’t busy getting injured. Out on the streets of Toms River, New Jersey a man named Ryan Ward just happened to look a lot like Chamberlain. The resemblance was so strong that people frequently asked him if he was Chamberlain, and after a while he just started saying yes because it made him feel like a celebrity. He started wearing a Yankees hat all the time and ran with the idea.
When Ward went to restaurants, people would send him drinks and food. He signed autographs for people and said that he spent time with “a lot” of women who thought he was a Yankee. In August of 2009, he started demanding restaurants and bars comp him, and management of the establishments soon became wise to him and banned him. This led to multiple arrests for Ward. After one such arrest, he checked himself into an alcohol treatment facility. Prosecutors wanted Ward to spend a year in jail, but instead he was fined $2,518.
4. Guerdwich Montimere
In 2010, Jerry Joseph registered at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. Permian was made famous after being the subject of the book (and later film) Friday Night Lights. Joseph claimed he was 16, and had documentation from Haiti to prove it. Once enrolled, the 6-foot-5 Joseph joined the basketball team as the starting center. As the Panthers were making a run for the playoffs, Joseph moved in with the school’s basketball coach. The team lost in the first round of the state tournament that season.
That summer, Joseph was playing in a tournament for high school students in Little Rock, Arkansas, when three coaches from Florida recognized him. Joseph was actually Guerdwich Montimere, who graduated from a high school in Dillard, Florida in 2007. And far from being 16, Montimere was actually 22 years old. He was quickly arrested after his fraud was discovered. The story took a rather dark turn when it turned out that during that time, he had sex with a 15-year-old girl, moving him from “impostor” to “statutory rapist” in quite a hurry. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
3. Ali Dia
In November of 1996, Graeme Souness, the manager of Southampton Football Club, received a call from a man claiming to be former FIFA Player of the Year George Weah. Weah, a former Liberian great, was calling to tell him about his cousin Ali Dia, a supposed rising star in Liberia. Without doing any due diligence, Souness signed Dia to a one month contract solely on “Weah’s” word.
Days later, Southampton was playing Leeds and at the 32 minute mark, Dia was substituted into the game. Over the next 53 minutes Dia put on what was widely regarded as the worst soccer performance ever displayed on a professional pitch. Southampton forward Matt Le Tissier compared Dia to Bambi on ice. It turns out not only was Dia a lousy player, but the person who claimed to be Weah was actually Dia’s friend. Dia’s contract was soon terminated, and Souness also resigned a short time later.
2. Ronald E. Nelson
Rocky Nelson was a Major League Baseball player for 12 seasons, with his most notable accomplishment being hitting home run to help the Pittsburgh Pirates win game seven of the 1960 World Series.
In 1996, a man claiming to be Nelson moved into a gated community in Bradenton, Florida and became a local celebrity. He did interviews for the newspaper, talking about his glory days of playing in the big leagues. Around town, he would sign autographs and even showed people his World Series ring, which he had gotten after saying his son stole the original for drug money.
One person living in the community wasn’t convinced that the man was really Rocky Nelson. He had lived in Pittsburgh in 1960 and went to every game, and knew that Nelson was bald, but the man claiming to be Nelson had a full head of hair. During a game of golf, the man noticed that “Nelson” swung from the right, but Rocky Nelson had batted lefty. Another problem was the name on Nelson’s business card wasn’t right. It said Ronald E. Nelson, but Rocky Nelson’s real name was Glenn Ronald Nelson.
It turned out that Ronald E. Nelson had been impersonating Rocky Nelson since the 1980s. His lie was exposed in 2007 after it was discovered that the real Rocky Nelson had died the previous year. Ronald said Rocky was his idol and things simply got out of hand. Amazingly, his wife didn’t even know that he had been lying for decades.
1. Bill Henry
In 2007, the Associated Press ran an obituary for Bill Henry, a Major League reliever for 16 years who had appeared in the 1961 All-Star Game and the 1961 World Series.
After the obituary was released, the AP received a call from Henry, who claimed he was alive and well and living in Texas. It turns out that the deceased Bill Henry had been living in Florida and pretending to be the former MLB pitcher for over 20 years. He even gave speeches about his glory days in the Majors, and had been living the lie for so long that even his wife thought he was the former Big Leaguer.
When the real Bill Henry was asked if he was upset by what the impostor did, he said he wasn’t at all. After all, he knew who the real Bill Henry was.