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January 05, 2016

Ryan Howard files lawsuit against Al Jazeera over PED report

Ryan Howard is not taking the allegations tying him to performance-enhancing drugs lightly. He has filed a lawsuit against Al Jazeera, the TV network that aired an undercover investigation that alleged Howard (among other high-profile professional athletes) had used PEDs.

Along with filing a 25-page defamation lawsuit against Al Jazeera, Howard issued the following statement, his first words since the network’s report aired on Dec. 27.

"Today I authorized my attorneys to file suit against Al Jazeera and its reporters. Their irresponsible reporting forced me to take this action to protect my name and to fight back against the spreading of these lies. I will have no further comment, as the filing itself contains all I need to say.”

In the AL Jazeera investigation, Charlie Sly, a pharmacist based in Austin, Texas, is quoted as saying that “there's a bunch of football players who take this, and a bunch of baseball players who take it too.” He later alleged that Howard had used Delta-2, “a hormone supplement that is ‘steroidal in nature’” and also designed to “stay ahead of drug tests.”

The drug is banned by MLB.

The lawsuit Howard filed in response minced no words in categorically denying the accusations against him within the televised report. Here is paragraph 46 (of 84), word for word:

“But for the reference to Mr. Howard’s prowess as a home run hitter, all of these statements concerning Mr. Howard are categorically untrue. Mr. Howard has never taken Delta 2, human growth hormone, or any other steroid or other performance-enhancing substance banned by the MLB. Mr. Howard has never received any banned substances from Charles David Sly or “taught anything back to” Charles David Sly. Mr. Howard has never “been coached [by Charles David Sly] on what to take and how to avoid testing positive.” And, contrary to what is implied in the program, Charles David Sly played no part in Mr. Howard’s fiftieth home run in 2006 or in any of his many other home runs.”

Later in the suit, Howard also brings to light a new piece of the story: he (and other athletes alleged in the report) had dialogue with Al Jazeera before the report aired.

Howard became aware of the story “on or about Dec. 9.” Howard, through his attorneys, touched base with Al Jazeera eight days later.

They informed Al Jazeera’s counsel that “Howard ‘unequivocally and emphatically den[ies]’ using or having used Delta 2 or any other performance-enhancing substance and that such defamatory claims, if published, would cause Mr. Howard serious reputational and economic injury.” Five days later, Howard’s attorney’s reached out to Al Jazeera’s once again, reiterating that Howard “unequivocally and emphatically” denied the claims and added that publishing such a report would amount to defamation.

Three days later – the day after Christmas, and a day before the report aired – Howard learned of the source (Sly, through undercover reporter/track athlete Liam James Collins) alleging the claims and once again had his counsel contact Al Jazeera.

“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,” reads paragraph 51. “Accordingly, at 2:49 p.m. on December 26, Mr. Howard, through counsel, once again wrote Al Jazeera’s counsel, noting that, in light of the above facts and especially given Collins’ reputation as a fraudster and attention-seeker, ‘[t]here can be no conclusion but that the sources for Al Jazeera’s statements regarding Mr. Howard’s alleged use of performance enhancing drugs are patently unreliable.’

And yet, the network still went ahead with the report.

“Defendants are well aware that these statements are untrue and defamatory, and have shown reckless disregard for this fact,” reads paragraph 48 of the lawsuit.

By filing legal the defamation lawsuit on Tuesday, Howard is taking the strongest possible stance in denying the Al Jazeera report, something his attorney promised a day after the report aired. He is wasting no time bringing out the biggest artillery to the battle, taking on a media company and opening himself to the possibility of testifying under oath in court.

The longest-tenured Phillies player, Howard, 36, entering his 13th season with the team. He is due to make $25 million in 2016, which is likely to be his final year with the team. Howard has a guaranteed $35 million left on his 5-year, $125 million contract ($25 million salary for 2016, $10 million buyout for 2017).

Howard hit .229 with 23 home runs and a .720 OPS in 129 games with the Phillies in 2015. The 2006 NL MVP, Howard on-field production has been in steep decline since rupturing his left Achilles in October of 2011.

Earlier on Tuesday, the New York Times published a story after attempting to connect the names within the Al Jazeera report. 

According to the Times, Sly is a business partner of Jason Riley, who is a fitness trainer based in Sarasota, Fla. Riley has worked with Howard and three others alleged of PED usage in the Al Jazeera report: Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and NFL players Mike Neal and Dustin Keller. (And, as the Times points out, the connection between Sly and Riley is just that – a connection – and not evidence, proof, or information that backs Al Jazeera's claims).

In the lawsuit Howard filed Tuesday, Sly "unequivocally advised ... Al Jazeera’s counsel, in writing, that the purported statements were false" a day before the report aired. Sly once again recanted the statements he made within the report shortly after it aired.