“It doesn’t matter!” “Who cares?” “Just a fraternity prank!” “Old news!”
Peyton Manning’s many media prizefighters were out in full force on Saturday after the New York Daily News published a thorough account of a sexual-harassment claim levied against the 39-year-old quarterback when he was a college-football superstar at the University of Tennessee.
It’s certainly true that this story has been in the public sphere for 13 years. (I have written about it, and many sportswriters can say the same.) This is a vile story in which young Peyton, as I wrote at the time,
was accused of sitting on the face of a female athletic trainer, bare-assed, spread wide. Peyton in his book claimed he was just “mooning” a track athlete, also there for physical therapy, and the trainer, whom he described as having “a vulgar mouth,” took offense…. But Peyton’s actions were serious enough that the “vulgar-mouthed” woman in question immediately reported the incident to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville. The track star Peyton claimed to be joking with wrote Peyton a letter in 2002 saying, according to USA Today, “You might as well maintain some dignity and admit what happened…. do the right thing here.”
But the Daily News and columnist Shaun King had access to the entirety of the complaint levied against Manning and UT. This brought several new factors to light. We learned, for example, that John Underwood, co-author of the family memoir Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy, testified under oath that Peyton’s father, Archie, tried to get him to stick in the book that the trainer who reported him, Dr. Jamie Naughright, was not credible because she liked to have sex with black student-athletes in the dorms. (Jesus.) We also learned that the attacks on Dr. Naughright took place over the course of many years.
But, most critically, the lawsuit reveals in methodical and stark detail—and people can read the suit here—the relentless efforts executed by the powers-that-be at the University of Tennessee to make sure that Manning and their lucrative Rocky Top football program was shielded. Instead of airing out the issues that may have existed, they went full “politics of personal destruction” on Dr. Naughright’s character and credibility.