Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning hasn’t decided whether to sue Al Jazeera for its report that his wife, Ashley, received HGH on multiple occasions, with the clear implication that it was intended not for use by her but by him. Two other athletes named in the report have filed suit.
As first reported by Diana Moskovitz of Deadspin, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (pictured) and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman have sued Al Jazeera, reporter Deborah Davies, and undercover operative Liam Collins for libel and invasion of privacy.
Via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that Manning still plans to make a decision of his own on litigation after the season ends.
Four important factors remain, for any athletes deciding to sue over the allegations in the Al Jazeera documentary titled The Dark Side. First, because professional athletes are public figures, they must prove that Al Jazeera acted with “actual malice.” More specifically, they must prove that Al Jazeera knew the information being published was false, or that Al Jazeera acted with reckless disregard to the truth or falsity of the content of the story.
Second, the athletes must brace for the inevitable probing into their personal lives for any and all evidence that can be used against them at trial. A defamation lawsuit seeks compensation for damages to the plaintiff’s reputation; a jury can’t assess that harm without knowing the pre-existing reputation — which becomes a green light for a Seinfeld finale-style parade of evidence aimed at making the plaintiff look as bad as possible.
Third, fighting the allegations in court gives them notoriety and longevity. It’s a phenomenon known in Internet parlance as the Streisand Effect; in 2003, Barbra Streisand sued over photos posted online of her California home. The mere filing of the lawsuit resulted in thousands of people who previously weren’t aware of the photos finding them online.
Fourth, denying the allegations via litigation becomes challenge to the defendant (and anyone else) to prove that the allegations are true. Also on Tuesday, Michael Powell of the New York Times released an article connecting the dots from unwitting Al Jazeera source Charles Sly to a fitness trainer named Jason Riley, who together founded a supplement company named Elementz Nutrition. According to Powell, Zimmerman is featured on the company’s website, and Howard appears on the company’s Facebook page.
Powell also reports that in the aftermath of the Al Jazeera report and Sly’s hostage-video recanting of the things he said when he didn’t know he was being recorded by Collins, Elementz Nutrition went out of business.
Look for plenty of additional dots to be connected within the context of the lawsuit filed by Howard and Zimmerman. And look for the detail-oriented Manning to consider this angle and all others before necessarily surrendering control of the situation by filing a lawsuit against Al Jazeera and/or anyone else.