Professor Eric Easton discusses ballplayers’ defamation suits

Professor Eric Easton was quoted in a Jan. 6 USA Today story about defamation lawsuits filed this week by two major league baseball players against Al Jazeera America for a documentary that linked them and other athletes to performance-enhancing drugs.

Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, over the documentary, The Dark Side, which aired Dec. 27, 2015.

In the newspaper story, “MLB players’ defamation suits against Al-Jazeera may not mean others will follow,” Easton said that other athletes named in the documentary, including Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, might not necessarily file suit themselves.

“[Manning has] made unequivocal denials in the press, and that might be enough,” Easton said. “From what I can tell by watching TV, Manning’s commercials for Nationwide and others are still running.”

Easton said Howard’s and Zimmerman’s lawsuits could have a “redemption effect.”

“They could be looking to redeem their reputations, and you get a certain amount of that when you file a lawsuit,” Easton said. “The lawsuits say, ‘These accusations are ridiculous and I’m standing behind my assertions the story is false.’ There is a redemption effect simply by filing a lawsuit.”

Easton emphasized that defamation lawsuits are expensive for plaintiffs and are among the toughest cases to win in civil court.

“There’s a very high burden of proof,” Easton said. “As public figures, there’s a laundry list you have to prove, starting with proving that the accusations made are actually false.”

Learn more about Professor Easton.

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