MLB Players Can Pursue Claims Against Al Jazeera

(CN) – Two Major League Baseball players can move forward with their claims Al Jazeera defamed them in a documentary by linking them to the use performance-enhancing drugs, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled Friday that Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals and former Philadelphia Phillies player Ryan Howard can proceed with a lawsuit filed after the network aired the documentary “The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers” in December 2015.

In the documentary, a pharmacist filmed covertly says Zimmerman and Howard took a banned performance-enhancing drug called Delta 2.

The pharmacist later recanted and each player denied taking banned substances.

Major League Baseball investigated the allegations and found no violations of its drug agreement.

“In this case, there is no dispute that the plaintiffs — two Major League Baseball (“MLB”) players — are public figures. The question is whether their complaint contains allegations of fact that, if true, are sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the named defendants — a major media conglomerate, one of the company’s news producers, and an independent consultant — published a false and defamatory statement about these plaintiffs, and did so with the requisite intent,” Brown wrote.

“While it is far from clear that Plaintiffs will ultimately be able to prove the defamation and false light claims they seek to advance in this action,” the judge continued. “the Court finds that their complaint alleges facts that would permit a reasonable jury to find that Al Jazeera and [producer Deborah] Davies published false and defamatory statements about Plaintiffs in “The Dark Side,” but not in the news article, and that these two defendants published such statements with actual malice.”

That said, Jackson held that no such conclusion could be reached in regard to defendant Liam Collins, the journalist who went undercover in the film, and she dismissed the players’ claims in regard to him.

Representatives of Al Jazeera could not be immediately reached for comment.