WASHINGTON (CN) - Al Jazeera America broadcast unsubstantiated reports that Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard used steroids to boost low ratings, the two professional baseball players claim in court.
Zimmerman and Howard, who star for the Washington National and Philadelphia Phillies respectively, filed separate lawsuits against Al Jazeera, reporter Deborah Davies and on-air talent Liam Collins in federal court on Tuesday.
On Dec. 27, 2015, Al Jazeera broadcast a program called, "The Dark Side: Secrets of the Sports Dopers." The program used Collins, who had no reporting experience, to pose as an athlete desperate to make the next Olympics in Rio to expose illegal sports doping, according to the lawsuit.
During the program, the plaintiffs say Collins secretly videotaped conversations he had with Charles David Sly, whom Davies refers to as a "doctor of pharmacy."
During these conversations, Sly offered Collins a steroid called "Delta-2" or "D-2" to help with strength gains, the complaint states.
The program broadcast conversations between Sly and Collins.
"Collins: How long have you known Zimmerman?" the Zimmerman complaint states.
"Sly: Probably six years. I worked with him in the off season. That's how I get him to change some stuff.
"Collins: Is he on the D-2 as well?
"Collins: What does he think of the D-2?
"Sly: It does its job.
"Collins: Does he notice a lot of power or not?
"Sly: Yeah, I think some guys have just kind of gotten used to it. It's the new normal."
A similar conversation about Howard was also broadcast.
"Collins: So with the likes of Howard, once you've set him off, is there like a maintenance thing?" the Howard complaint states.
"Sly: He's somebody that you cannot overwhelm with stuff. You just make sure you have everything in bags. He knows to take stuff twice a day. Usually I just have him like teach it back to me.
"Collins: What did he notice in his hitting?
"Sly: With the D-2?
"Sly: I think maybe just some more explosiveness. He had a couple of years where he had a ton of home runs."
Zimmerman claims Al Jazeera published a written report on the program stating that he used Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Zimmerman said Al Jazeera later corrected the article to state he used Delta 2.
The plaintiffs say the allegations are categorically untrue. They claim they have never taken Delta 2 or HGH, did not know Sly for six years and never received banned substances from him.
Zimmerman and Howard say they both new about the pending broadcast on Dec. 9, 2015 and both contacted Al Jazeera through their attorneys to deny the allegations and that the defamatory claims would cause harm to their reputations.
The plaintiffs claim they later learned that the sole source for the allegations was Sly and that "Sly had unequivocally advised Davies and Al Jazeera's counsel, in writing, that the purported statements were false."
The plaintiffs say other factors point to the unreliability of Al Jazeera's source.
"As Davies herself recognizes in 'The Dark Side,' the motivations of Collins' 'sources' are questionable," the complaint states. "Indeed, all references by Sly to professional athletes, whether generally or by name, are in the context of his sales pitch attempting to sell his services, his drugs, and his business to Collins."
Zimmerman and Howard claim that even basic fact-checking by Al-Jazeera would cast doubt on Sly's credibility. For example, the show credits Sly with working at the Guyer Institute in Indiana in 2011, but public records show he wasn't a licensed pharmacist in Indiana, but was instead a short-term, unpaid intern, the complaint states.
Zimmerman and Howard say that even with Sly's public recant and the serious questions about the credibility of the allegations, Al Jazeera continues to heavily promote the program.
"Defendants knew full well that their 'source' had recanted his scandalous and untrue allegations against [the plaintiffs] 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 the plaintiffs.
The complaint calls Collins "a known fraudster and publicity-seeker" and cites his involvement in a 2012 real estate scheme.
An email to Al Jazeera's press inquiries account sent early Wednesday seeking comment went unanswered.
Zimmerman has amassed a .283 batting average with 200 home runs and 783 RBI during an 11-year career. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006, was an all-star and won a golden glove in 2009 and is a two-time silver slugger recipient.
Howard has a .262 batting average with 357 home runs and 1,135 RBI over a 12-year career. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2005, was named MVP in 2006 and is a three-time all-star.
The plaintiffs claim the damage to their reputations, including the possible loss of sponsorship opportunities, will ultimately cause millions of dollars in damages.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for libel and false light invasion of privacy.
Zimmerman is represented by Scott E. Lerner of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Howard is represented by Andrew D. Herman of Miller & Chevalier.Follow @@joeharris_stl
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