Suited in orange and navy, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning recently cemented the on-field legacy of his 18-year-old NFL career with Denver’s claim of Super Bowl L. Off the field, Manning has been largely regarded as a decent, honest quarterback as well as an outstanding role model for football-loving youth. Just weeks ago, when 20-year-old allegations of sexual assault resurfaced, his clean reputation built throughout the course of his career was called into question. This new evidence provokes questions about whether or not Manning’s jersey would have sold as many replicas, whether or not he would hum the Nationwide jingle in countless advertisements, and whether or not he could ever be again identified as one of the most skilled, respectable quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL.
Manning graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1998 having been implicated of sexual assault during his sophomore year in 1996. The victim of the assault in question, Dr. Jamie Naughtright, dedicated her life to the studies of exercise, physiology, and wellness earning, her Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctorate in those respective fields. She made the University of Tennessee her home, beginning her career as an athletic trainer’s intern in 1989, working her way up to the Director of Health and Wellness of Men’s Athletics in 1996. Despite her enormous contribution to the Men’s Football program, she faced constant verbal sexual harassment from the males with whom she worked. Upon Manning’s arrival as a freshman in 1994, he established himself in the same category of men who mistreated Dr. Naughtright. The supposed incident, dating back to twenty years ago on Febraury, 29, 1996, was a culmination of perpetual tension between the two parties. Manning was an arrogant, young football hero who displayed no respect toward a highly staffed female leader of University athletics. Serving as associate trainer for the football team along with her many other duties, Dr. Naughtright examined Manning’s foot on the alleged date of the assault. While she gave Manning’s foot medical attention, he laughingly and vulgarly thrust his genitals onto her face. Her official deposition states, “Manning’s naked butt and rectum were on my face.” Manning has, since the assault, claimed he playfully “mooned” another male athlete in the room when his trainer inadvertently took witness.
Possibly even more upsetting and disgusting than the facts of the assault themselves is the elaborate cover-up which directly followed the allegations made against Manning. Dr. Naughtright, just hours after her assault, called into a crisis center and described her assault. Furthermore, she informed the head trainer of University of Tennessee football, Mike Rollo, who proceeded to keep the matter separate from any official investigation or public knowledge. It is now known that Dr. Naughtright took a $300,000 settlement from the University in exchange for her resignation. Just weeks ago, all of this information was virtually unknown to the nation.
Journalist Shaun King for the New York Daily News came across a 2002 article of Manning’s assault while researching and reporting on Manning following his Super Bowl win. He was sent a 74-page court document outlining the cover-up and occurrence of Dr. Naughtright’s assault. Within hours of his publication, millions would be informed about the events of February 29, 1996. In the modern times of 2016, information spreads incredibly faster than it did in 2002. Facebook and Twitter now allow information to be shared directly with billions of people within a period of seconds.
Football is arguably the most popular sport in America and the industries of playing, coaching, and officiating the sport are almost 100% dominated by men. Dr. Naughtright faced discrimination and exclusion despite her impressive credentials which spoke to her ability to care for and protect the physical well-being of her athletes. With the validity of Dr. Naughtright’s statements aside, these events serve as a wake-up call for all football fans of America.