MLB Stars Sue Al Jazeera for Defamation Over Doping Claims

Al Jazeera America Broadcast Room - H 2013
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Washington Nationals ballplayer Ryan Zimmerman and Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard have both filed defamation lawsuits against Al Jazeera over its sensational story linking athletes including him and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to shipments of steroids and human growth hormone.

Zimmerman's lawsuit, lodged in Washington, D.C., federal court, focuses on The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers, which aired on Al Jazeera on Dec. 27 and was based on the reporting of Deborah Davies with substantial assistance from Liam Collins, a British hurdler who went undercover. The report cited the word of Charlie Sly, who the network indicated was a pharmacist who had worked at the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis.

After Al Jazeera's story came out and made a splash by dropping the names of big-name athletes like Manning, Dr. Dale Guyer denied that Sly was ever an employee. Sly also recanted his story. Reps for many of the athletes quickly issued furious denials.

In the Al Jazeera report, Sly said he had known Zimmerman "probably six years" and "worked with him in the off-season" and was on a list for a steroid called "Delta 2," or "D-2." (The lawsuit says that Al Jazeera's written news article to accompany the broadcast report originally connected him to HGH, too.)

Zimmerman denies it. 

According to his complaint (read here), "Mr. Zimmerman has never taken Delta 2, human growth hormone, or any other steroid or other performance-enhancing substance banned by the MLB. Mr. Zimmerman has not known Charles David Sly for six years, and Charles David Sly has not gotten '[Mr. Zimmerman] to change some stuff.' Mr. Zimmerman has never received any banned substances from Charles David Sly and has never 'been coached [by Charles David Sly] on what to take and how to avoid testing positive.'”

As a public figure, Zimmerman will undoubtedly need to show actual malice on Al Jazeera's part to prevail in a defamation lawsuit. The lawsuit states the network recklessly disregarded "all indicators of lack of veracity." 

Specifically, Zimmerman's lawyer is described as putting Al Jazeera on notice before the airing of its report that the MLB star was denying use of Delta 2. Additionally, Al Jazeera was told that the sources of Zimmerman's PED use was "patently unreliable," referring to Collins (portrayed in the complaint as a fraudster) and Sly, who himself provided written advisement that statements attributed to him were false. 

Since the story came out, Davies said on NBC's Today show that Sly was in training during the time in question, while Al Jazeera has worked hard to bolster the credibility of its report by releasing a transcript where the Guyer Institute appeared to confirm that Sly was working there in 2011.

"Defendants’ own behavior similarly casts doubt on the credibility of the program and Defendants’ willingness to uncover the truth," states the complaint. "Already lacking support for the basic 'who, where, when, and how' of the story, Al Jazeera could not even remain consistent in its false reporting of the 'what.' ”

Zimmerman is demanding damages to be proven at trial, an injunction removing the statements from Al Jazeera's website and YouTube and an order requiring the network to publish a retraction in The New York Times or another paper with national distribution.

Al Jazeera declined comment.