After securing his second Super Bowl win and arguably his legacy, Peyton Manning is seemingly prepared to retire as one of the most prolific quarterbacks of all time. His squeaky-clean image throughout the course of his professional career has resulted in lucrative endorsement deals that will undoubtedly carry forward into his retirement. However, just as everything is going Manning’s way, sexual assault allegations from his collegiate career have surfaced yet again.

Just after Manning’s Super Bowl win, Shaun King, a political activist writing for New York Daily News, released an article claiming that Peyton Manning’s reputation was built on lies and proclaiming Manning is “a well-designed for-profit creation, maintained and manicured at all cost.” Despite many allegations against King himself that bring his journalistic credibility into question, many mainstream media outlets have followed suit and are calling Manning’s reputation into question.

King writes that he first heard of the allegations when someone sent him the plaintiff athletic trainer Jamie Naughright’s court filings against the University of Tennessee, which included, among numerous allegations against the university, allegations of an incident that took place in the Tennessee locker room in 1996.  According to the original complaint, Manning inappropriately exposed himself to the athletic trainer.  The University of Tennessee ultimately settled the lawsuit for $300,000.

Then came Manning’s book, written with his father and a ghost-writer, where Manning apologized for the incident and his inappropriate behavior toward the unnamed trainer.  Manning also wrote that he intended to moon a fellow athlete. Following the release of his book, Jamie Naughright filed another suit, this time against Manning himself, claiming defamation. The defamation suit claimed that Manning unlawfully tried to retell the story in his own light and presented Naughright as a “predatory woman looking for incidents to bolster a lawsuit against her employer.” This resulted is another settlement with the Mannings, along with a new nondisclosure.

The credibility of King and Naughright have received pushback from some members of the media. Most notably from Clay Travis, Fox Sports analyst and Vanderbilt Law School alumnus. One inconsistency highlighted by Travis is that neither of Naughright’s lawsuits claimed any physical contact with Manning. However, in reply to Manning’s motion for summary judgment of the defamation suit (seven years after the incident), Naughright claimed that Manning forced his buttocks and testicles on her head. This is very different than what she claimed in a signed affidavit from the initial suit.

Adding fuel to the fire, a Title IX lawsuit was recently filed against the University of Tennessee for mishandling sexual assault incidents. Peyton Manning’s alleged sexual assault is cited in the complaint as evidence of “a hostile sexual environment and culture” that has spanned decades. Similar lawsuits at other universities have resulted in large settlements, including a suit against Florida State University over their actions related to a claim of sexual assault against quarterback Jameis Winston. Given the large potential loss and universities’ general practice of settling these type of disputes, it is likely that the Title IX suit will never see the inside of a courtroom.

However, with help from the Peyton Manning reference, it has had no trouble grabbing headlines and furthering the coverage of Manning’s past sexual assault allegation. With Manning’s hands somewhat tied by a nondisclosure, the battle over his legacy will take place in the court of public opinion, with Manning in an unfamiliar position– watching from the sideline.

Zack Lawson

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