WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The case flew past its three-year anniversary in January, when Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman was home organizing things for his trip to spring training.
Jan. 5, 2016, holds the first docket entry in “ZIMMERMAN v. AL JAZEERA AMERICA, LLC et al”, an ongoing libel suit in the District of Columbia’s U.S. District Court. A flood of lawyers, paperwork and witnesses have been involved in the last three years of the case since now-defunct Al Jazeera America aired a documentary titled “The Dark Side”, in which Zimmerman was accused of using Delta-2, a steroid, by pharmaceutical dealer Charlie Sly. Sly recanted before the program aired. Zimmerman immediately sued after it did.
Major League Baseball did its own investigation. The league promptly cleared Zimmerman of any wrongdoing in August of 2016. That could have been the end of it for Zimmerman. Instead, he continued with his suit -- which the court merged with the one filed by former Philadelphia star Ryan Howard against the same company for the same reasons -- leading to a deposition last December, significant cost and repeated probing of his personal life.
“I’ve never done that before, obviously,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington of the deposition. “Not that I didn’t have faith in our justice before, but I feel a lot better about it now. If they can ask as many questions and get as much information -- and going through that process, it’s an uncomfortable process even when you know you’re innocent.
“I think -- I can’t imagine going through that if you had something to hide, because they’re going to find it. So, it was an interesting experience. I don’t think it was pleasant. Nobody wants to sit in a room and get grilled for hours. But it’s part of it, it’s over and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Nothing new has been filed in the suit since Dec. 17, 2018. Depositions are ongoing. The last took place Jan. 18. The recent dormancy is representative of how long the case has dragged.
Defamation suits are notoriously difficult to win. At the core of the discussion is if the plaintiffs can show Al Jazeera America acted with “actual malice” by airing the documentary. Among the standards for actual malice is that the plaintiff must show the author had serious doubts as to the veracity of what was being published or acted "with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."
Al Jazeera did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Zimmerman said his lawyer does not bother him often, particularly when preparation for the season -- or the season itself -- is underway. Instead, it’s a directed relationship. When Zimmerman needs to do something or be somewhere, he follows the instructions to complete the task. Then, he moves on.
The case has receded so far into the background, it’s fair to wonder why Zimmerman continues with it. Clearance from the league and an initial vehement denial, in addition to filing the suit, could have acted as enough pushback. References to the documentary don’t follow references to Zimmerman. But he’s far from done, and remains as irritated as the spring training day in Viera, Fla., when he sat to tell reporters he was innocent. His profound displeasure during that session turned the back of his neck red as he spoke.
“I’ve been cleared through MLB, basically saying, like I said from the beginning, no, I’ve never done anything like this,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “So it’s not so much that. I don’t think a company or anyone should just be able to say stuff about people and it’s blatantly not true. I think they do it all the time and people aren’t as fortunate as me and [don’t] have enough money to protect themselves. And I think companies, media, whatever you want to say, know that people won’t do anything about it."
“So I just didn’t think it was right for them to be able to say something like that without any thing to prove -- [without] accountability for what they’re going to say. So, I decided to take it to the fullest and make them hopefully be accountable for what they said. I shouldn’t have to go through that. I’ve done nothing wrong. My family has done nothing wrong. For the way I’ve carried out my career and myself as a person, I don’t deserve that. So that’s kind of the reason why I’m still going on with this. Once the MLB thing happened, I could have just said, whatever. But I just don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s fair. If it stops just one person in the future from having to go through this, then I think it’s worth it.”
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