Peyton Manning is a hero in Denver and beyond for his play on the field — he led the Broncos to two Super Bowls in four years, one of which the team won — as well as for the perception that he's a straight arrow off it.
But in recent weeks, some tarnish has appeared on his shiny image — first in relation to a report about his apparently heavy-handed reaction to claims he'd used human growth hormones while recovering from neck surgeries prior to his signing with Denver, and now in regard to a pair of lawsuits (they're on view below) related to his days as a college baller with the University of Tennessee and beyond.
The most recent suit, filed against UT by six Jane Does, uses an alleged offense by Manning against Dr. Jamie Naughright, then Director of Health & Wellness for the Men's Athletic Program, as an example of a Tennessee "culture that enables sexual assault by athletes;" he's accused of having "placed his 'naked butt and rectum' on her face."
The second, which Naughright filed against Manning back in 2003 and is only now coming to light, that act is spelled out more specifically. Manning is accused of having "placed his 'naked butt and rectum' on Naughright's face" during an examination. The complaint also outlines bullying and harassing behavior against Naughright during the immediate aftermath of the incident and years later, when Manning made a brief mention of what happened in a book.
Here's the Manning paragraph in the first suit, filed last week. Note that Naughright is referred to by the name she was using at the time, Jamie Whited.
In 1996, (then) Jamie Whited, the first female associate trainer in UT’s history,reported an incident to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville alleging that UT football player Peyton Manning had, in brief, “sat on her face” while she was assessing the extent of an injury. The incident was settled in 1997 for an undisclosed amount conditioned on the victim leaving her job at the University.
At first, the Manning's cameo in the lawsuit didn't get much attention. But then, New York Daily News columnist Shaun King obtained a copy of the Naughright lawsuit, dated October 2003. According to the document, Naughright was examining Manning for a possible stress fracture in his foot when he got far too personal with her. The following Q&A is an excerpt from her deposition:
Q: Let me be very clear there. It was not just his behind, his rear end, that was on your face, but his genitalia was on your face?
A: That's correct. It was the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles, and the area between the testicles. And all that was on my face when I pushed him up and off. And it was like this and as I pushed him up to get leverage, I took my head out to push him up and off.
Q: And what, if anything, did Mr. Manning — withdrawn. Did you say anything or scream or screech as you felt this on the top of your head?
A: I pushed him off and I said, "You're an ass."
Q: Did you yell or scream or anything like that?
A: When he turned around and looked at me with the anger in his eyes that I saw, I did not want to get confrontational with him. I could see that anger....
Q: What did Mr. Manning say, if anything, to you after you told him he was an ass?
A: He had anger and he smirked and he laughed.
After the incident was reported, Naughright charges that Manning and head athletic trainer Mike Rollo combined forces to "hatch" a story that Manning was "mooning" another athlete, Malcolm Saxon, when he accidentally sat on her face.
In a subsequent press account, based on an interview with Manning, Naughright was described as "'one of the guys.' She cursed. She told dirty jokes. She talked 'gutter' talk." And in another piece, Manning laughed off what happened, saying, "I'm glad it's all behind me, no pun intended."
However, Naughright considered what happened sexual assault and subsequently took a leave of absence — something the university didn't want connected to Manning. As such, a scapegoat was suggested — an African-American player.
Another excerpt from the deposition:
A: They were asking me to say that, in fact, it was a certain athelete, which they gave me a name, and asked me to change and alter my story to say that this athlete exposed himself and that is the reason why I took medical leave....
What I'm saying is they asked me to go with the story that it was — the reason why I left was because of another ahtlete, who was African American, exposed himself and said something. They wanted to have me say that was the reason and not the reason of what Mr. Manning did when he assaulted me.
Later, as noted by columnist King, Naughright accepted a settlement to leave the University of Tennessee — and she later took a position at Florida Southern College. But the matter resurfaced when Manning mentioned it in a book called simply Manning, despite his having signed a confidentiality agreement (as did Naughright), the lawsuit states.
The snippet in the book shrugs off the incident and suggests that Naughright had a reputation for being "vulgar." In fact, the envelope sent to Naughright with the pages from the book that referenced her was addressed to "Dr. Vulgar Mouth Whited" — a greeting that seems to confirm Manning's antipathy for Naughright, which was mentioned by his co-author. However, Peyton denied disliking her in testimony of his own.
In response, Naughright, who was bounced from Florida Southern after her supervisor saw what Manning had written about her, filed a complaint against the quarterback, who was then a member of the Indianapolis Colts. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
Elsewhere in the document, Manning is accused of verbally ridiculing Naughright. And combined with a Washington Post report pointing out that Manning's main accuser in the HGH claim only recanted his story after being visited by representatives of the quarterback — something that prompted ESPN's Tony Kornheiser to say, "Peyton Manning has goons" on a recent episode of Pardon the Interruption — the actions hardly portray Manning in his usual positive light.
Whether any of this will have an impact on his legacy is hard to say. During a news update last night, ESPN avoided going into the details of what happened with Naughright, and 9News noted the development in a truncated AP story that skipped the nastiness, too.
Clearly, most people want to see Peyton Manning as a hero. But King has a different view. Manning "has reaped tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals based on a fraudulent mystique he's cultivated as a good guy, an upstanding citizen, the ideal professional athlete," he writes. "This document alone puts the lie to all this."
Look below to see a report about the University of Tennessee lawsuit from ABC6, followed by the two complaints.