The incident in question occurred 20 years ago, when Peyton Manning was at the University of Tennessee. The case was settled 13 years ago. And now it’s back, thanks to a New York Daily News story that suggests Manning’s entire goody-two-shoes persona is a contrivance based on lies and deceit, that 20 years ago, he engaged in a lewd act with the complainant, former Tennessee trainer Jamie Ann Naughright.
There are several issues here.
For one, the document that the writer, Shaun King, cites is a 74-page “Facts of Case’’ document that was written by Naughright’s lawyer in order to make the case against Manning. It is, by definition, a one-sided document; that’s why she’s paying a lawyer to make her case and make it stick. Maybe it’s true that Manning did more than simply moon a teammate in the locker room that day; maybe he did, in fact, stick his naughty bits in Naughright’s face, which would be a reprehensible act that goes far beyond playfulness. But you have to remember, this is her lawyer’s document.
We never saw the other side of the story, Manning’s side, which would be in a document written by his lawyer.
That was never revealed in this story, nor was there any noted attempt made to reach out to Manning or Manning’s representatives for comment.
It may be that Manning did something truly awful when he was in college, but what we were offered in that Daily News piece was a decidedly one-sided view of the issue.
The fact also remains, Naughright never filed charges against Manning for the alleged act – only she can fully explain why -- and only went the legal route when Manning’s book alleged she had a “vulgar mouth’’ and painted her in an unflattering light. She sued for defamation, and it was settled out of court.
I’m not going to sit here and say that it surely didn’t happen. I’m also not going to sit here and say that it definitely happened. Again, we were offered just one side of the story in the Daily News piece, which was written to illustrate the double standard we sometimes apply to black athletes (in this case, Cam Newton) versus white athletes (in this case, Manning).
There’s this notion that Manning has held himself up as some kind of holier-than-thou demi-god and has used that reputation to make mega millions as a corporate pitchman.
I would take issue with that.
Manning has never, at least to my knowledge, attempted to make any kind of case that he is morally and ethically superior to anybody. He has not spent his life attempting to tell people how to live their lives, has not worn his religion on his sleeve. If fans want to believe that he’s some holier-than-thou athlete who’s above reproach, that’s their choice. But in all the years I’ve known Manning, he’s made it clear, at least to me, that he’s made missteps in his life, just as we all do.
If Manning was selling me on a lifestyle, if he was Tim Tebow or someone like that, I would find these latest “revelations’’ quite concerning and hypocritical. But he’s not selling me on a lifestyle. He’s selling me credit cards. He’s selling me pizza. He’s selling me just about everything there is to sell in today’s market.
The people of Indianapolis know the truth: He’s no saint. I’ve had scores of tweets and emails suggesting that he wasn’t faithful to his wife during his early years here. How do we know what goes on inside that marriage? How do we know that they didn’t have something of an open marriage? More to the point, how do we know for sure that any of those rampant rumors were true?
My feeling is, I don’t care one way or the other.
Not a bit.
Nor should you.
The people who know Manning best know that he’s not much better than the rest of us. Remember that hilarious United Way skit he did for Saturday Night Live? You know who came up with that idea? Manning’s brother-in-law. It’s a source of some humor within the Manning camp that he’s been propped up as a cross between Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
But I will say this, too: He’s done so many good things for people, so many things you’ve never heard about, it would make your head spin. He may have screwed up badly in the Naughright case, but he has spent most of his public and private life doing good works. Some of them have been widely reported. Most have not. On balance, yes, I would say that Peyton Manning is a very good person. And if that makes me part of the whole Indianapolis butt-kisser’s club, so be it.
If he had a bad moment – and it’s possible this occurred the way Naughright’s lawyer suggested it did – he has, on balance, had exponentially more good moments. I’ve never felt you judge someone based on one of the worst, if not THE worst, moment of their lives.
Unless, you know, they murdered someone or did something else that could be deemed unforgivable.
Again, this happened 20 years ago, when he was still a teenager. It was settled 13 years ago. And everything you may have read in the Daily News piece came from a source who was specifically paid to make the case against Manning. Until I get a chance to read Manning’s side, or hear from Manning or his representatives, I will suspend final judgment – to the degree that’s really necessary after all these years.
The court of law spoke. How the court of public opinion wants to rule, that’s your decision entirely.