After leading the Denver Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50, Peyton Manning should have been able to rest on his laurels in advance of a retirement announcement that would bring to an end one of the greatest careers in NFL history.
Instead, a scandal over a 1996 incident with a female doctor at the University of Tennessee, which he was attending at the time, has compounded allegations of human growth hormone use, putting Manning in a difficult spot at the very moment when he should have been able to enjoy taking his final bows.
And the situation seems to be growing more uncomfortable with each passing day.
Example: UltraViolet, a national organization that describes itself as "a powerful and rapidly growing community of people who work to expand women’s rights," has now issued a call for companies using Manning as a pitchman to dump him immediately. And UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary is naming names.
"it would be flat out unacceptable for the NFL and major companies like Nationwide Insurance and Papa John’s Pizza to continue to stand with Manning in light of emerging evidence," she says in a statement.
There's no doubt that Manning's relationship with "Papa" John Schnatter is close. Immediately after the end of the Super Bowl, the two men were caught on camera embracing.
Additionally, Manning's commercials for Nationwide are extremely popular.
They trade on his easy charm and natural wit as he comes up with new words for the company's jingle to fit any and every situation.
Here's a compilation of the clips.
Manning makes a reported $12 million per annum on endorsements.
But firms tend to distance themselves from pitchmen when they are perceived as a liability. And while that hasn't happened yet with Manning, his troubles have certainly become an enormous topic of conversation in the sports world.
Yesterday afternoon, for instance, national syndicated radio programs heard on local affiliates for Fox Sports and ESPN were hashing over the matter simultaneously.
The reason has everything to do with cultural shifts since '96, when a lawsuit says Manning "placed his 'naked butt and rectum'" on the face of Dr. Jamie Naughright, then Director of Health & Wellness for the University of Tennessee Men's Athletic Program, during an examination for a possible stress fracture.
The two parties eventually settled that case, and they did likewise again in 2003, after Naughright sued Manning for mentioning the happening in a book (the passage called what took place "crude but harmless" but dubbed her "vulgar") despite a confidentiality agreement.
And while USA Today columnist Christine Brennan wrote disparagingly about Manning's behavior in a 2003 column headlined "Do You Really Know Your Sports Hero?," her take gained no traction.
That changed, however, when the Manning-Naughright episode was mentioned in a federal lawsuit against Tennessee that cites a "culture that enables sexual assault by athletes."
Thus far, Manning hasn't spoken publicly about the story's revival.
But UltraViolet certainly has — and if advertisers react by benching him, Manning's decision about retirement will become that much more complicated.
Here's the complete UltraViolet release.
Women’s Group Urges Nationwide Insurance, Papa John’s to Drop Peyton Manning as a Spokesperson After Resurfacing of Sexual Assault Charges
Last Tuesday, six women filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, stating that the school has "intentionally acted by an official policy of deliberate indifference to known sexual assault." The result, they say, was "a hostile sexual environment," which is a clear violation of the Title IX statute. The lawsuit cites Peyton Manning as one of the student-athletes accused of sexual assault.
In response to the news, Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet released the following statement calling on Peyton Manning’s sponsors to suspend their relationship with Manning as the allegations are investigated:
“When institutions like the University of Tennessee tacitly condone violence against women by ignoring cases of sexual assault by student-athletes, it perpetuates a dangerous culture of violence that ultimately hurts women everywhere.
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"While it is outrageous that the University of Tennessee chose to turn a blind eye to sexual violence by student athletes like Manning, it would be flat out unacceptable for the NFL and major companies like Nationwide Insurance and Papa John’s Pizza to continue to stand with Manning in light of emerging evidence.
"The NFL should thoroughly investigate this incident before allowing Manning to play or work in NFL again. Nationwide Insurance and Papa John’s Pizza must show their customers that they will never stand for sexual violence — and suspend their relationships with Manning pending further investigation.”