The back of Ryan Zimmerman’s neck became red. Seated in the home dugout at the Washington Nationals’ spring training complex in Viera, Florida in February, Zimmerman was in the midst of an expansive explanation about why he filed a defamation lawsuit against Al Jazeera America, Liam Collins and Al Jazeera reporter Deborah Davies.
“After the first week or two, when all the shock and the media and all that wears off and now you just have to live with it and go through it when there’s no attention really, it becomes part of your daily life,” Zimmerman said. “Which, I would say at the beginning, it almost consumed me because you’re so upset about it and you’re so worried about making it right. Also, that’s kind of the personality I have. I’m a very type-A person. I’m very scheduled and regimented and to have something like this happen, it was almost to the point where I just wanted to do whatever I could to show people my innocence, to the point where my wife had to tell me to take it easy.”
Zimmerman was reacting to a portion of the Al Jazeera America documentary titled “The Dark Side”, which featured a former Indianapolis anti-aging institute worker named Charles Sly. He said Zimmerman was among those who had obtained performance-enhancing drugs — specifically a substance named Delta-2 — before recanting his statements in a YouTube video just prior to the documentary airing. Zimmerman denied the accusation, then filed suit, he explained, as backing to his words.
The suit was filed on Jan. 5 in Washington District Court. Zimmerman is suing for $75 million, according to court documents. He is also in pursuit of a jury trial. If that happens, it is far off, as the suit slogs along.
Lawyers for Al Jazeera, Collins and Davis have filed motions to dismiss the case. During the last four months, the defense has begun to build a case on the basis that Zimmerman cannot prove malice.
“Even if Zimmerman had adequately alleged publication by Collins, Zimmerman’s claims would still fail for two additional, independent reasons, as demonstrated by the Al Jazeera Defendants and in whose arguments Collins joins,” the motion to dismiss reads. “First, Zimmerman cannot show that the Documentary or the article are reasonably capable of sustaining the defamatory meaning he attributes to them. Second, Zimmerman is a public figure who is required to but has failed to plead ‘actual malice’ (knowing or reckless falsity) with the required specificity — indeed, with respect to Collins, he has entirely failed to plead actual malice at all.”
The defense is also trying to use other athletes’ past against Zimmerman. Appendix A, titled “Professional Athletes Who First Denied Use of Performance Enhancing Substances and Later Admitted Use,” includes the names of 29 athletes dating back to the 1980s, with Barry Bonds, Ryan Braun, Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi among them.
The most invasive portion of the process has been put off for now. Zimmerman’s suit opens him to discovery — meaning all his personal communications and documents can be combed through, in addition to the possibility of him being deposed and subpoenas sent. Zimmerman mentioned in February that he was aware of the personal and laborious nature should the suit move to that point, again suggesting his willingness to allow that as another sign of his innocence.
Since the parties are awaiting a ruling from judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about the motions to dismiss the suit, the discovery process has been stayed until the motions are ruled on.
According to the suit, Zimmerman was first aware he was going to be named in the Al Jazeera report on or about Dec. 9.
“On December 26, 2015, Mr. Zimmerman learned (from a source other than Defendants) not only that the sole source of the allegations against him were statements made by Sly and relayed to Al Jazeera by Collins, but that Sly had unequivocally advised Davies and Al Jazeera’s counsel, in writing, that the purported statements were false,” Zimmerman’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit’s filing.
In the four months since the suit was filed, 28 other actions have lined the docket. Lawyers for the defendants have withdrawn, Zimmerman has filed a sealed document and motions to dismiss the suit have been entered.
Sitting in Florida, Zimmerman knew this would a difficult and lagging process. The start of the suit has proved to be just that.