Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Howard Sue Al Jazeera America for Defamation

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard filed separate but similar defamation lawsuits against Al Jazeera America on Tuesday.

The litigation stems from a report on the cable network alleging a link to the use of performance-enhancing drugs by both players. The documentary, The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping, employed hidden cameras, taped phone calls, and other undercover methods to glean information from medical professionals on doping in professional sports. Al Jazeera kept the drugs supplied to their athlete-reporter as evidence, recorded medical professionals openly discussing the supply of performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, and even featured a Major League Baseball player unknowingly discussing use of banned substances on hidden camera.

But Charles Sly, the man behind many of the most explosive allegations in the documentary, now denies the sensational claims he made and the lawsuits raise questions about the credibility of the undercover reporter, Liam Collins, an athlete with no journalistic experience called a “fraudster” in the litigation.

“This is a suit to redress an unjust injury to the public image and reputation of Major League Baseball (“MLB”) player Ryan Wallace Zimmerman, which have been damaged by outrageously false and defamatory statements recklessly published by Al Jazeera,” the 24-page litigation declares. “As detailed below, 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. 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.”

Zimmerman’s lawsuit categorically denies use of banned substances by the player. It does not, significantly, include a denial of a relationship between the player and the alleged PED peddler making the accusations in the documentary but instead curiously notes, “Mr. Zimmerman has not known Charles David Sly for six years”—the period that Sly claims in the documentary that the pair knew one another. Zimmerman seeks a trial in the city where he plays baseball. The fact that the investigative team that compiled the story runs its operations out of the same city makes it likely that the player receives a jury from the same pool of people who watch him in the grandstand.

Like Zimmerman, Ryan Howard seeks jurisdiction in Washington, DC, and points out that the television program damaged his reputation.

 “Due to Defendants’ defamatory statements, Mr. Howard has been at the center of a media storm speculating as to his alleged use of Delta 2 and other performance-enhancing substances,” the Phillies first baseman’s lawsuit points out. “Mr. Howard’s reputation for honesty, both generally and as a competitor, has been called into question, not only in front of the athletic community, but in front of the public atlarge. As a consequence, Mr. Howard has suffered reputational harm that has affected and will continue to affect him both in his main profession—as a professional baseball player—as well as in future sponsorship and other business opportunities, possible induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in charitable pursuits. The financial impact of this harm on Mr. Howard ultimately will be in the millions of dollars.”