Four days before Peyton Manning starts in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, Al Jazeera America, the network that aired claims linking him to human-growth hormone, announced its imminent closure.
The December documentary, The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping, announced “extraordinary claims that raise questions whether an American sporting hero, Peyton Manning, is linked to performance-enhancing drugs.” But Manning, the clinic accused of supplying his wife with drugs, and the man touting the cheating in the documentary, perhaps somewhat predictably, all labeled Al Jazeera America’s claims false.
The documentary showed doctors admitting to supplying athletes with illegal narcotics, a Major League Baseball player discussing use of a steroid called Delta-2, and a pharmaceutical worker supplying a cache of performance-enhancing drugs to the network. But the undercover tactics that revealed much, critics contended, revealed more about Al Jazeera America.
The juxtaposition of Manning’s and Al Jazeera’s fortunes highlight a sudden turn for the network and the football star it sullied. Manning, injured for much of the 2015 season, dramatically came off the bench to lead the Broncos to victory in the season-ending game against the San Diego Chargers. Fans wondered if he had played his last game in an orange uniform. But the popular player starts Sunday against the Steelers. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, imagined its program on Manning and other athletes as a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism destined to win praise and catalyze change in the world of sports. Instead, it propelled change within media circles.
“I know the closure of AJAM will be a massive disappointment for everyone here who has worked tirelessly for our long-term future,” network chief executive Al Anstey told staff. “The decision that has been made is in no way because AJAM has done anything but a great job. Our commitment to great journalism is unrivaled.”
But many, including Major League Baseball stars Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman, contest that claim. The pair filed separate but similar defamation suits in Washington, DC, courts contesting allegations in The Dark Side that tied them to performance-enhancing drugs. “Defendants publicly smeared Mr. Zimmerman with false and unsubstantiated allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, based on uncorroborated accusations by a third party that had been unequivocally recanted prior to Defendants’ publication,” the Washington Nationals infielder’s suit claimed. “Defendants knew full well that their ‘source’ had recanted his scandalous and untrue allegations against Mr. Zimmerman but, abdicating all journalistic responsibilities, Defendants nonetheless chose to publish their defamatory story in an attempt to stir scandal and increase Al Jazeera’s low ratings, no matter the cost to Mr. Zimmerman.”
The Qatar-based network, which spent $500 million to penetrate the American market with the purchase of Al Gore’s Current TV, ceases operations on April 30.