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Ryan Howard, Ryan Zimmerman cleared in Al Jazeera PED report investigation

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Back in December, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and multiple other athletes, including Peyton Manning, were linked to performance enhancing drug use in a documentary that aired on the Al Jazeera network. Their primary accuser was a pharmacist named Charlie Sly who worked for an Indiana-based anti-aging clinic in 2011 and was caught on hidden camera bragging about his alleged client list, which he claimed included these athletes.

Howard and Zimmerman sued Al Jazeera for libel and denied all wrongdoing. Another baseball player, Taylor Teagarden, was suspended for 80 games for violations of baseball’s drug policy. Teagarden, it should be noted, appeared on camera in the documentary openly discussing his PED use. There was no such evidence, or anything close to it, related to Howard and Zimmerman.

Today Major League Baseball announced that Howard and Zimmerman have been cleared, and noted their cooperation with MLB’s investigation. Major League Baseball’s official statement:

The Office of the Commissioner has completed its investigation into the statements made by Charlie Sly concerning players Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals in the Al Jazeera documentary “The Dark Side.” This thorough investigation did not find any violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by either Howard or Zimmerman.

Both Howard and Zimmerman fully cooperated with the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation. Mr. Sly did not agree to speak with the Commissioner’s Office or provide requested information.

The most likely explanation here is that Sly, not realizing he was being recorded, erroneously claimed that Howard and Zimmerman were clients of his. Though, of course, his refusal to speak to Major League Baseball leaves that an open question.

What is not open is (a) Howard and Zimmerman being in the clear with their employer; and (b) their lawsuits against Al Jazeera still pending. So have fun with that, Al Jazeera.

UPDATE: Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman both released statements as soon as this decision was announced:

Zimmerman:

“I understand why Major League Baseball found it necessary to explore this matter, and I appreciate that MLB after a thorough investigation, was able to publicly affirm my innocence. Throughout my life and career, I have been true to myself my family, the Nationals organization and my community. It is not right that a so-called news organization and its personnel can publicly make false accusations that damage my reputation and call into question my integrity without any consequences whatsoever. As I said in January when I filed my lawsuit, I am determined to hold Al Jazeera and its reporters accountable for their defamatory actions.”

Howard:

“The accusations from Al Jazeera came out of nowhere, and I was shocked and outraged by their false claims. I welcomed the investigation by Major League Baseball as an opportunity to clear my name. I was fully cooperative and transparent in the process, and MLB’s findings validate what I have said publicly. I am glad that this part of the process has concluded, and I look forward to holding the responsible people accountable for these false and defamatory claims in my ongoing litigation against Al Jazeera and its reporters.”

Report: Some MLB teams using outside labs for COVID-19 testing

MLB COVID-19 testing
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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zach Buchanan report that the Diamondbacks are one of several teams that have used labs other than the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah to process COVID-19 testing. MLB has encountered delays with its testing, despite promising 24-hour turnaround time, so teams have tried other avenues — with the league’s endorsement — in order to get faster results.

The SMRTL had processed performance-enhancing drug screenings for MLB. The league converted it to process COVID-19 tests amid concerns that having a season and all of the testing that would be required throughout would take away testing resources from the general public. That some teams are utilizing labs other than the SMRTL suggests the league, indeed, is usurping those resources.

In prospect Seth Beer’s case, he tested positive for COVID-19. He needed to test negative twice consecutively to be cleared to return to play. Beer went to a third-party site in the Phoenix area. He received his second negative test and was cleared to return on July 9.

The Diamondbacks said that the labs they have used have assured them that they are not taking away tests from the public. That seems like a claim MLB and the D-Backs should demonstrably prove. Per Rosenthal and Buchahan, the D-Backs have gone to an outside lab about 20 times, which accounts for less than one percent of COVID-19 tests taken by players and staff. Still, those are 20 tests that could have been used by the general public. And if the D-Backs and a handful of other teams already are using outside labs, then the rest of the league likely already is or soon will be doing the same. In the end, there will be a lot more than 20 tests taken at outside labs by MLB players and staff. Considering that “Tier 1” players will be tested every other day throughout the season, the total of third-party tests taken — if things continue the way they are now — could easily reach into the thousands by the end of October.

We all want baseball back, but the players, coaches, and all other staff are no more important than cashiers, teachers, and delivery drivers, so they shouldn’t have more access to COVID-19 testing simply by virtue of being associated with Major League Baseball and all of its influence and financial muscle. It would be unethical for MLB to be cutting in line ahead of other people who need testing just as much as if not more than the players.