In addition to being a busy day on the diamond, October 4 was a busy day off the field for some of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars. On Friday, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez filed lawsuits related to allegations that they used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Pujols filed a defamation action in a Missouri state court against retired St. Louis Cardinals player and talk show host Jack Clark. The complaint alleges that Clark published malicious falsehoods suggesting Pujols used steroids and other illegal PEDs. The statements were made on Clark’s radio show and were based on an alleged conversation with Pujols’s former trainer. Pujols contends that the statements were a malicious attempt to attract listeners to Clark’s show and were flatly disavowed by his trainer. The complaint requests an undisclosed amount of damages against Clark for humiliation, mental anguish, and loss of reputation.
On the very same day, Rodriguez filed suit against both Major League Baseball (MLB) and its Commissioner, Bud Selig, in a New York state court. The complaint comes on the heels of Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension for his alleged receipt of PEDs from the Biogenesis of America facility. In a strongly-worded complaint, Rodriguez accuses the MLB of “vigilante justice” and a “witch hunt” in which Rodriguez contends that he was targeted for suspension in an improper Biogenesis investigation. The complaint includes causes of action for tortious interference with Rodriguez’s prospective business relationships and existing contracts. The MLB has since filed a notice of removal to the federal district court for the Southern District of New York.
Both lawsuits underscore the importance athletes place on protecting their reputations against allegations of PED usage. It remains to be seen if either Pujols’s or Rodriguez’s claims will prevail in court or if these type of claims will become a trend among athletes who face very public allegations of wrongdoing. On their face, the tort actions brought by Pujols and Rodriguez are often difficult to prove. To prevail in a defamation claim where the charging party is a public figure like Pujols, the offending statements must be not only false, but made with “actual malice.” Tortious interference claims require intentional rather than incidental interference with contractual relations, and interference with prospective contractual rights may require some degree of speculation as to future contractual commitments.
The Rodriguez lawsuit also implicates several issues that are not exclusive to professional leagues. For example, the MLB sought removal of the case to federal court based on the argument that the tort claims are preempted by the Labor-Management Relations Act. In addition, the MLB’s notice of removal hints that the MLB will later argue that Rodriguez’s claims are preempted by the players’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and must be resolved by the CBA’s exclusive grievance and arbitration provision. These are issues faced by labor organizations on a regular basis.