Peyton Manning is not having a good start to his retirement. While it’s not official, most in the sports world – as well as Manning’s neck, thigh, foot and arm – all agree that Super Bowl 50 was Manning’s last professional football game. The most exciting sporting bet remaining is which body part will get surgery first – Manning’s neck, thigh and foot have all been jockeying for position in recent years and it’s still a pretty close race.
Yet despite just winning the Super Bowl, it’s another body part that seems to be getting Manning in trouble. Rewind to 1996: Peyton Manning’s days at the University of Tennessee. He was 19 and Dr. Jamie Naughright was examining Manning’s foot for a stress fracture. Documents published by Sports Illustrated on Sunday show that Manning allegedly “forcefully maneuvered his naked testicles and rectum directly” onto Naughright’s face.
Naughright continued her career elsewhere, but when the Manning’s tried to get in front of the narrative in 2000’s “Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy,” her career was affected. Despite serving at University of Tennessee and as the head athletic trainer for men’s and women’s Olympic track and field, Naughright was let go from Florida Southern College. She sued Manning for defamation. Many staff members and other student-athletes backed Naughright during the trial. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, rarely a good look for the accused.
The 74-page Facts of the Case brief submitted by Naughright’s lawyers has been made public. They describe Manning attempting to play off the alleged sexual assault as a tragically failed mooning of another teammate, but even the teammate Manning was supposed to be mooning said this was not the case. This was Malcolm Saxon, who also backed Naughright’s version of events. In an affidavit, Saxon wrote that in refuting Manning’s story, the school sat on Saxon’s eligibility as a student-athlete. Saxon has said he’s repeatedly begged Manning to tell the truth about the incident.
The incident was first reported in Manning’s earlier days in the league, by writers in Sports Illustrated and USA Today in 2003. This was before the days of social media, and the news disappeared fairly quickly. It’s been brought up again in a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee. It’s part of a claim that the university ignored a pervasively “hostile sexual environment” and acted indifferently toward sexual assaults such as this.
This all comes on the heels of Manning’s alleged use of human growth hormone to recover from neck surgery. That was claimed in an Al Jazeera documentary. The claim’s accuracy was called into question when the documentary’s source, Charlie Sly, recanted. It was later revealed that before Sly’s change of heart, men hired by Manning’s lawyers had visited Sly’s parents. They caused enough concern over the safety of Sly’s family that Sly’s parents called police.
HGH accusations, intimidation of a source’s family and now a college sexual assault that the Manning’s have worked very hard to bury – this isn’t a textbook retirement. Now, it’s up to reporters and the public to determine what’s more important? Will it be real world concerns of sexual assault, drug use and intimidation, or will it be that Peyton Manning threw a football well?
In a league and sports media that’s spent a year obsessing over the inflation of Tom Brady’s balls, maybe a little bit more time should be spent figuring out what Peyton Manning once did with his.