VIERA, Fla - Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman vigorously defended himself against performance-enhancing drug allegations made in a documentary that aired in December.
Zimmerman said he never heard of or met the people featured in the Al-Jazeera America documentary, "The Dark Side: Secrets of Sports Doping." He and Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard in January filed a defamation suit against the network, which Zimmerman said is the strongest way to prove his innocence.
The organization's longest tenured player said he was willing to open up his entire life, including phone and email records, to discovery as part of the defamation suit. Even though Zimmerman acknowledged it's difficult for public figures to successfully sue for defamation, he felt it was his responsibility to go through the process to clear his name.
Zimmerman, who expressed shock at first and then anger and frustration about the allegations, believes trainer Jason Riley is how his name got linked to pharmacist Charles Sly, who was featured in the documentary. Sly recanted his statements about Zimmerman, Howard and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning taking human growth hormone before the documentary aired.
"I've never met that guy, I've never heard of that guy," Zimmerman said of Sly. "None of that stuff is true. I've never done any of that. I've never even thought about doing any of that."
Zimmerman and Howard filed suits in U.S. District Court in Washington Jan. 5 against Al-Jazeera America. The 31-year-old said his ability to afford to file for defamation and the statement it made about his life and career made doing so an easy decision.
"Opening myself up to everything that filing a suit opens you up to, I don't really think there's much of a stronger I guess action for me to take than saying: 'Here you go. Come look at me legally,'" Zimmerman said. "A lot of people have said certain things when they're accused of these but have never taken these actions, so by taking these actions I'm basically letting them into all aspects of my life. ... I'm willing to take to show people that I have nothing to hide."
Zimmerman is going into his 11th full major league season. He's a .283 career hitter with 200 home runs and 783 runs batted in.
The documentary added Zimmerman and Howard to the long list of baseball players who allegedly have taken performance-enhancing drugs. Zimmerman said he's in favor of continued investigations as long as they're not reckless.
"We need investigations because I'm one of the biggest advocates for getting things out of sports," he said. " I think people need to be a little bit careful before they just start throwing peoples' names out there."