It turns out Peyton Manning is not the only athlete unhappy with being accused of using performance-enhancing drugs in a recent Al Jazeera report.
On Tuesday, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and Washington Nationals corner infielder Ryan Zimmerman announced they had each filed a defamation lawsuit against the news station.
According to Al-Jazeera, both baseball players were fingered as PED users by Charles Sly, who claimed to have shipped them the steroid-like drug Delta-2 hormone supplement. Sly later recanted his accusation, saying he had made up names at random.
Here’s Howard’s statement, via CSN Philadelphia:
“Today I authorized my attorneys to file suit against Al Jazeera and its reporters,” Howard said in a statement. “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.”
Zimmerman, who according to Yahoo! Sports shares Howard’s attorney, expressed even stronger frustration with the Al Jazeera report. From ESPN:
In the filing, Zimmerman’s attorneys claim the “defendants knew full well that their ‘source’ [Sly] 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.”
As of December 30, Manning had not decided to file a lawsuit against Al Jazeera, nor had James Harrison, Julius Peppers or other athletes named in the report, according to ESPN.
Suing publications for defamation is very tricky, since plaintiffs who are public figures must prove “actual malice” on the part of the outlet. That means Zimmerman and Howard need to demonstrate not only that the Al Jazeera report was false but also that the station either knew the information was incorrect of otherwise acted in “reckless disregard for the truth.”
That high standard of evidence means Zimmerman and Howard will have a difficult challenge to win their suit, but from a public relations standpoint, lawsuits make for a pretty strong expression of denial.
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