Peyton Manning Scandal
by James Oh on Friday, February 26th, 2016
First pick in the 1998 NFL draft, passer of 539 career touchdowns and 14 seasons of 4000+ passing yards, and winner of two Super Bowls, Peyton Manning is an undeniable first ballot Hall of Famer and is also the sports media’s golden boy. Winning Super Bowl 50 less than 3 weeks ago, Peyton Manning wrote the storybook ending to his illustrious career. Yet why is it that accusations and bad news always resurface after great accomplishments? Recently, descriptions of Peyton Manning’s sexual assault against University of Tennessee trainer Jamie Naughright made headlines and tarnished his exit from the NFL.
In 1996, during his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning was well on his way to winning the SEC Player of the Year Award and was recognized nationally for his potential to become a franchise quarterback in the NFL. The spring of that year, Manning was getting his foot examined for a possible stress fracture by Jamie Naughright, the university’s health and wellness trainer at the time. The document filed by Naughright and her attorneys suggest that, while at the desk, Manning began to scoot down from the table and maneuvered his naked groin area into her face. Naughright, overwhelmed by shock and disgust, allegedly pulled Manning away and reported to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville just hours after the incident. Manning, however, denied all allegations at the time, and his coach took a willful risk by declaring that the player was simply “mooning a teammate,” though the description had not been used before in the case. While Naughright, well respected by the staff, decided to go on medical leave from the trauma, Peyton Manning was the star of Tennessee football—hence, it was his words against hers.
When the Mannings later released a book called Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy, Peyton Manning gave his own perspective of the story. Manning insinuated in the book that Naughright had rude manners, a theme he also went on record to pursue during his deposition. However, witnesses have strongly disputed this argument under oath. Even John Underwood, the ghostwriter for the book, attested that Archie Manning, father of Peyton Manning, fabricated descriptions of Naughright in an attempt to destroy her image and save that of Peyton’s. John Underwood claims that Archie Manning conveyed to him in the writing process that Naughright went into boys’ dorms and had sex with multiple black athletes. Archie Manning also attempted to restore Peyton Manning’s image at the time by saying that Peyton respected Naughright and that “[Peyton] never looked down at a trainer.” Again, Archie Manning’s statements about Naughright being offensive to players and faculty at the University of Tennessee was debunked when Naughright’s attorneys asked each staff member to identify an instance where Naughright used profane language, and no one was able to do so. No one in court was able to testify to her ever having sexual relations with students either.
How would this incident affect Peyton Manning’s career if social media, like Facebook or Twitter, was around during 1996? Would the public view Peyton Manning as the intelligent and humble guy that he seems to be now, or would he even be in the National Football League to start with? If the references of the 1996 incident had not been redacted, perhaps Peyton Manning would be “that guy” with all the talent in the world, who was set-back by his own faults. Instead, the details of this story have been concealed for the past 20 years and the 19 year-old Peyton Manning from the University of Tennessee lived to become a decorated, Super Bowl winning quarterback.
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