Howard, Zimmerman file defamation suits against Al Jazeera

First basemen respond to network's recent report about PEDs

Howard, Zimmerman file defamation suits against Al Jazeera

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman filed defamation lawsuits Tuesday in Federal District Court in Washington against the Al Jazeera network and two reporters after a report linked the Phillies first baseman and Nationals first baseman, respectively, to performance-enhancing drugs.

"Their irresponsible reporting forced me to take this action to protect my name and to fight back against the spreading of these lies," Howard said in a statement.

"I have always taken pride in my personal conduct," Zimmerman said in a statement. "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."

Howard's suit states his public image and reputation have been damaged by "outrageously false and defamatory statements recklessly published by Al Jazeera." It said the network and the two reporters named in the suit smeared 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."

The report entitled "The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers," aired on the network on Dec. 27. It focused on Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, but included other professional athletes. But the source in the report, Charlie Sly, recanted his comments before it aired. 

The report said Howard used a steroid known as Delta 2 and questioned whether he used human growth hormone.

"These remarks are further defamatory in that they falsely suggest that the taking of these illegal and banned substances by Mr. Howard was part of an ongoing 'maintenance' plan," the suit states.

William Burck represents both Howard and Zimmerman. He called the claims in the report "outright lies."

But the suit means Howard and Zimmerman might have to make statements under oath. And to win in court they will have to prove the reports are untrue and that Al Jazeera and its reporters knew it.

The suits tried to establish that.

Howard's suit said he learned Dec. 9 of the impending Al Jazeera report. His lawyers sent the network a letter Dec. 18 that said Howard "'unequivocally and emphatically den[ies]'" using or having used Delta 2 or any other performance-enhancing substance."

Howard's lawyers sent Al Jazeera a second letter Dec. 23 that said publication of the report would amount to defamation. It demanded Al Jazeera "cease and desist from making false and injurious statements regarding Mr. Howard's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs."

On Dec. 26 Howard learned that Sly had advised one of the reporters and Al Jazeera's counsel, in writing, that the purported statements were false. That day, Howard's counsel sent a third letter to Al Jazeera that there "can be no conclusion but that the sources for Al Jazeera's statement regarding Mr. Howard's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs are patently unreliable." They again demanded that Al Jazeera not run the story.

Al Jazeera posted it later that day on YouTube.

Howard's suit also states the report has no credible evidence corroborating Sly's initial claims.

"The combination of this lack of specificity and utter absence of any corroborating evidence casts further doubt on Sly's credibility," the suit states. "Yet Al Jazeera published its report despite its inability to gather any corroborating evidence or to answer even the most basic questions underlying the defamatory statements concerning Mr. Howard."

Major League Baseball said it will conduct a thorough investigation of the report.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.