There are many different reasons for an athlete to fake an injury. It’s possible that a player might want to avoid a confrontation with a more skilled rival. Or the actor might be hoping to ascribe fault for the “injury” to an opposing player. It’s also possible that the athlete might simply want to buy some time to catch his breath, or that the sportsman is seeking a way to halt the opponent’s momentum. Whatever the reasons are though, it doesn’t change the fact that faking an injury is exactly that: fake. And anything maliciously deceptive should be considered a deplorable practice whether or not the rules specifically penalize the act.
Unfortunately, athletes often get away with faking an injury, sometimes even escaping with an undeserved victory. Other times, however, fate is kind and allows justice to rule with the faker being penalized in one way or another. A healthy mix of both types of outcomes, the following ten cases are the most infuriating incidents of athletes faking (or allegedly faking) sports injuries:
10. Roberto Rojas / Football
It’s appropriate that this list begins with a case from the sport where flopping is most widely practiced, but this one is much more than the typical fake kicked-shin injury. During a 1989 World Cup qualifying match, Chile was facing elimination as they were down 0-1 against Brazil. At around the 70-minute mark, a flare was thrown from the stands by a Brazilian fan, and Chilean Roberto Rojas suddenly appeared with a bloodied head, apparently hit by the firework. He was then carried off the field with the match left unfinished. However, a replay showed that Rojas had, in an attempt to have the match nullified and Brazil penalized by FIFA, slashed his face with a hidden razor blade and blamed the wound on the flare. The discovery resulted in FIFA awarding Brazil with a 2-0 win and Chile being eliminated from the 1990 World Cup. Worse, Rojas was handed a lifetime ban, while Chile was suspended from the next edition of the World Cup.
9. Chris Bosh / Basketball
Chris Bosh is considered one of the
best worst floppers in the NBA today, and this acting job from 2011 is a perfect example of why he deserves the distinction. In a game against the Chicago Bulls, Bosh is defending against Carlos Boozer when, shortly after Boozer turns, Bosh falls backwards and clutches his head as if elbowed. The referee buys the act and calls Boozer for an offensive foul. The replay clearly shows, however, that there was no contact between the two players, thus effectively marking the incident as “Exhibit A” for why the NBA had to institute anti-flopping guidelines in 2012.
8. Aaron Tipoti / American Football
It should be considered the height of poor sportsmanship when the coaching staff orders a player to take a dive, and unfortunately, that seems to be what happened when Aaron Tipoti of the California Golden Bears obviously faked an injury. His team was up against the Oregon Ducks in their NCAA game in 2010, and at that time, analysts were raving about how explosive Oregon’s offense had been all season. Apparently, the Bears felt that faking an injury was one effective way of slowing the Ducks down. In carrying out the team’s plan in one play, Tipoti looks to the sideline, then dramatically falls to the ground as if hit by a bullet. The tactic of slowing down the game unfortunately seems to have worked as Cal beat Oregon 15-13.
7. Mike Ribeiro / Hockey
There are very few things more infuriating in sports than an athlete faking an injury to get an opponent in trouble. Perhaps something even more maddening is when the faker acts all cocky about what had just been accomplished. Certainly, Boston Bruins fans felt the worst kind of rage when Mike Ribeiro of the Montreal Canadiens faked an injury during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. The stakes were high as Boston had gone up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, and in the crucial game three, Ribeiro collided with Boston’s Mike Knuble. Ribeiro then began convulsing as if undergoing a seizure. But after he got up, Ribeiro proceeded to taunt the Bruins on his way to his bench, where he smiled cockily as if gloating about what he had done. The Canadiens won the game, and later the series, 4-3.
6. Charles Rowan / MMA
Apparently, faking an injury was too mainstream for MMA fighter Charles Rowan, so he took it to another level and faked his own death. The drama began in February of 2013 when Rowan’s girlfriend, Rosalinda Martinez, reported that Rowan had died in a car accident while driving to his fifth bout. His friends in MMA were devastated and organized a small event to raise $1,350 for their comrade’s funeral. That amount was claimed by a friend of the couple, Michael Bowman, who tearfully took the money. However, the kindhearted group of friends were shocked when just a few weeks later, they learned that Rowan, Martinez, and Bowman were all arrested as suspects in the holdup of a gun shop in Michigan. One of the organizers of the fundraiser, Christos Piliafas, later said, “I had people saying this was a little bit fishy. There was no obit. There was no funeral service. But in that situation, you want to be sensitive to the family.”
5. Brian Walker / Baseball
Perhaps the only time when faking an injury is useful in baseball is when a batter pretends to get hit by a pitch to earn an automatic walk. Well, that’s what Brian Walker of the Arkansas Razorbacks tried to do in 2006 after an Ole Miss pitch came close to hitting him. After the pitch, Walker held on to his right elbow as if in great pain, but fortunately, umpire Nelson Graham didn’t buy his act and ordered him to proceed with batting. Walker then ended up striking out, causing him to point his bat the umpire, who then ejected the actor. That infuriated Walker who slammed his helmet onto the ground and threw his bat towards the dugout before walking out. Brian later apologized to Graham and ended up a Wichita State assistant baseball coach.
4. Mick Pennisi / Basketball
Despite not making waves on the international scene, the Philippines is deeply in love with the sport of basketball, local players often doing their best impersonations of their NBA counterparts. Apparently, one of the players of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Mick Pennisi, has been watching a lot of Dwyane Wade. He proved that in a 2012 game that his Barako Bull Energy Cola team played against the Petron Blaze Boosters. Petron’s Will McDonald blew his top and threw the ball right at Pennisi’s cranium, hitting him on the forehead. Pennisi seemed stunned at what had happened, then after a second, comically fell to the floor backwards and clutched his head. McDonald was quickly called for a flagrant foul and ejected from the game. Pennisi, meanwhile, declared afterwards, “I think I’m going into acting after my PBA career is over.”
3. David Villa / Football
What would happen if an opposing player actually called out a flopper’s bluff? Well, that’s what happened at the 2011 Copa del Rey final, which was an ‘El Clásico’ matchup between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The game was marred by numerous fouls, the referee having to issue a total of eight yellow cards. One noteworthy incident took place at the 27th minute with Barcelona’s David Villa writhing in pain after his leg was stepped on by Real Madrid’s Álvaro Arbeloa. Arbeloa and teammate Sergio Ramos knew that Villa was faking and forced him up onto his legs. Miraculously, the call of the bluff cured Villa’s supposed injury, but Real Madrid nevertheless took the championship with a 1-0 victory.
2. Victoria Azarenka / Tennis
In a women’s semifinal at the 2013 Australian Open, defending champion Victoria Azarenka from Belarus appeared headed for an easy victory over newcomer Sloane Stephens of the United States. She was up 6-1, 5-3 and was serving for the match. Then suddenly, the Belarusian appeared to start choking, squandering five match points with nervous-looking errors and handing Stephens the serve break. Then, before the Serena Williams conqueror was about to serve, Vika called for a medical timeout due to her supposed difficulty breathing and stepped off the court for ten minutes. When she came back, she broke Sloane’s serve for the victory. However, the win didn’t go over well with sports fans and analysts as they noted that Azarenka had changed her story about the injury timeout from being the result of nervousness to being caused by a back/rib injury. Nevertheless, Vika went on to win the final against China’s Li Na and collect her second straight Australian Open title.
1. Paul Pierce / Basketball
This case of alleged injury faking is so infamous that almost any basketball fan knows exactly what event the phrase “wheelchair incident” refers to. It took place in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals contested by the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Pierce seemed to be leading the Celtics to victory when suddenly, his teammate, Kendrick Perkins hit Pierce, causing him to fall to the ground and clutch his knee in apparent agony. Boston fans were horrified; without team captain Pierce, beating the Lakers seemed impossible. It didn’t help assuage fears that Pierce continued to cringe as he was carried off the court to be rolled away in a wheelchair. But surprisingly, just a few short minutes later, a hopping and pumped up Pierce emerged from the locker room as if nothing had happened. In fact, upon being subbed in, Paul sunk two three-pointers and played with no hint of a limp. The Celtics later described the injury as a sprained MCL, which Pierce managed to heroically play through. Boston haters, however, have a sharply different version of the events that took place.