Two Major League Baseball players file defamation suit against Al Jazeera over PED report

"While I am not a litigious person, I felt it was necessary to file this suit to restore my reputation and to hold Al Jazeera accountable for its actions," Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman said Tuesday.
By Doug G. Ware  |  Jan. 5, 2016 at 10:00 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Two Major League Baseball players filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against the Al Jazeera news network for a report that aired last month which identified several professional athletes it claimed were linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

The report, titled "The Dark Side," claimed the athletes were linked to PEDs like human growth hormone (HGH) and a steroid-like substance called Delta-2. Among those identified were pro quarterback Peyton Manning and baseball players Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman.

After first threatening legal action against Al Jazeera, Howard and Zimmerman filed separate suits Tuesday. Both lawsuits were filed in Washington, D.C. District Court.

Zimmerman is an infielder for the Washington Nationals and Howard a first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The lawsuits claim Al Jazeera acted in a reckless manner in producing the report, which contained false statements and inaccuracies.

The allegations were provided in the report by a man formerly employed by an anti-aging clinic who claimed Howard and Zimmerman had been linked to Delta-2.

The former clinician, who didn't know he was being recorded for the report, has since recanted his statements and said they were not true.

Howard's suit said the report "publicly smeared Mr. Howard 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."

Also listed as parties to the lawsuit are a Washington-based Al Jazeera reporter and a former British athlete who acted as an undercover reporter in the story.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Zimmerman said, "While I am not a litigious person, I felt it was necessary to file this suit to restore my reputation and to hold Al Jazeera accountable for its actions," ESPN reported.

"I have always taken pride in my personal conduct," he added.

Perhaps the highest profile athlete named in Al Jazeera's report is Manning, whose wife is said in the story to have received multiple shipments of PEDs. Last month, Manning said he wasn't sure whether he would file suit against Delaware-based Al Jazeera, but said he was "furious" and "disgusted" by the report.

"I don't want to deal with that until after the season," he said. The earliest the Denver Broncos' season could end is Jan. 17.

Although they filed separate lawsuits, Zimmerman and Howard are being represented in the case by the same attorney, who sent a letter to Al Jazeera a week ago demanding a full retraction of the story.

"Today I authorized my attorneys to file suit against Al Jazeera and its reporters," Howard said in a statement Tuesday. "Their irresponsible reporting forced me to take this action to protect my name and to fight back against the spreading of these lies. I will have no further comment, as the filing itself contains all I need to say."

Howard, 36, won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2005 and N.L. Most Valuable Player a year later. Zimmerman, 31, was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove award in 2009.

Specific monetary damages sought by each player was not disclosed in Tuesday's court filings and will be determined at a later date.

A network representative said Al Jazeera had no comment on the lawsuits.

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