Peyton Manning Controversy: Tennessee Court Motion, His Defense of "Mooning"

Last week, we reported about a mention of Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning in a federal lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, which he attended.

Specifically, the complaint, which alleges that UT has a "culture that enables sexual assault by athletes," cites a 1996 incident during which Manning allegedly pressed his bare anus and genitals into the face of athletic department trainer Dr. Jamie Naughright.

The university eventually settled with Naughright, and Manning did so as well in 2002, after Naughright objected in a lawsuit of her own to passages about the incident in a book titled Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy.

While Manning hasn't addressed the resurfacing of the allegations against him since the filing of the suit and the publication of an accusatory column in the New York Daily News, the University of Tennessee is coming to his defense. In a newly filed motion, the school asks that the Manning passage be stricken from the complaint.

Additionally, we've obtained Manning's motion to dismiss Naughright's lawsuit over the book, which presents his side of the story. The main argument: The passage about Naughright in Manning is "substantially true."

Here's the passage from the federal lawsuit, filed by women identified as Jane Doe I-VI.
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.
And this is the reaction from "Defendants' Motion to Strike Paragraph 21 of the Complaint and Memorandum in Support," a University of Tennessee document on view below:
This paragraph, referencing a twenty-year old allegation against noted University of Tennessee alumnus Peyton Manning, is immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous. It appears that Plaintiffs’ attorney included Paragraph 21 in a misguided (and unfortunately successful) attempt to generate publicity for this meritless lawsuit. Because of the utter lack of relevance the decades-old allegation against Peyton Manning has to this lawsuit, the Court should strike Paragraph 21 in its entirety.
As for the 2002 Manning motion to dismiss, it contains the passages from the book that refer to Naughright. A paragraph from the introduction reads:
At Tennessee, Peyton was implicated in a harassment suit when he mooned (showed his backside to) a woman athletic trainer in the training room, but that proved mostly exaggeration. He was aiming at somebody else, and so was the trainer. She was suing the university over job grievances.
And this is the longer section about what happened from Manning's perspective; it's written in the first person and makes mention of his older brother, Cooper, and his wife, Ashley:
I think that's why in the end, the recognition I appreciated most (besides "first-team All-America") was the Sullivan Award, given to the top amateur athlete not just for what he does in sports but for what he does in school and in the community. Not every Heisman winner has been a model citizen. The Sullivan people honor you for at least trying to be one, as well as for being a good player. They vote on it for reasons I hold dear.

A lot of people will read that and say, "Aw, you're just saying that." No, I'm saying it because I mean it. Whether I'm believed or not doesn't matter. If nothing else in life, I want to be true to the things I believe in, and quite simply, to what I'm all about. I know I'd better, because it seems whenever I take a false step or two, I feel the consequences. Like with the "mooning" incident that made such a stir in Knoxville before my junior year. Cooper would have sailed through it unscathed. Not me.

The way it happened, Tennessee had hired a female trainer, and never mind that women in the men's locker room is one of the most misbegotten concessions to equal rights ever made. When Dad played, there was still at least a tacit acknowledgment that women and men are two different sexes, with all that implies, and a certain amount of decorum had to be maintained. Meaning when it came to training rooms and shower stalls, the opposite sex was not allowed. Common sense tells you why.

I admit that even in the context of "modern" life, what I did to offend the trainer was inappropriate. Not exactly a criminal offense, but out of line. I certainly didn't dislike her. I thought she had a vulgar mouth, but I always tried to be nice. A couple of times I went out of my way to help her, once giving a talk to a group at her invitation, another time when I was at the University of Virginia visiting Ashley and she was there with some youth athletes who needed to be escorted to a party. I agreed to do it for her.

Then one day I was in the training room and a track athlete I knew made some off-color remark that I felt deserved a colorful (i.e., Cooper-like) response. I turned my back in the athlete's direction and dropped the seat of my pants. Cooper would have applauded, whether the trainer saw it or not. He'd been mooning people since he was twelve years old — out the back of buses, out car windows, whenever he felt the urge. He's the mooning champion of the world.

But I did it thinking the trainer wasn't where she would see. (Cooper would have done it so she could see.) Even when she did, it seemed like something she'd have laughed at, considering the environment or shrugged off as harmless. Crude, maybe, but harmless. But as luck would have it, this particular trainer had been accumulating a list of complaints against the university that she intended to take action on — alleged sexist acts that,w hen her lawyer finally put it all together, resulted in a lawsuit charging thirty-five counts of sexual harassment. In the end, the university settled with her for a good bit of money. My "involvement" made headlines.

It's all past history now, of course, but it hurt me. Probably much more than it should have. I'd have to say in such cases it's easier being Cooper.
Naughright's version of events differs substantially from Manning's. For instance, she stresses that his posterior made actual contact with her face. In a deposition excerpted in the lawsuit, she's quoted as saying, "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."

Nonetheless, the Manning motion to dismiss maintains that "Plaintiff's own Sexual Harassment Complaint describes the incident in terms nearly identical to those included in the Book.... Therefore, Plaintiff cannot argue that the Book's retelling of the mooning incident is false."

The motion goes on to argue that "those statements that Plaintiff does, in fact, dispute on factual grounds are so insignificant as to have no effect on the substantial truth of the Book. For example, Plaintiff suggests that Peyton Manning aimed his mooning at her and not a fellow athlete, as he suggests in the Book, and so the Book is false.... Obviously, such a small detail does not effect the substantial truth of the Book; what is significant is not at whom Peyton Manning was aiming when he dropped his trousers but that Plaintiff saw Peyton Manning's bare backside. Since that fact is included in the passage, the passage is substantially true."

As noted above, Manning and Naughright eventually reached a settlement in the 2002 case. But his arguments provide a greater insight into what he clearly saw as a frivolous complaint, albeit one that's returned to make more news in 2016.

Below, see a video tribute to Manning's time at Tennessee, followed by the university's request to strike the paragraph mentioning him from the federal lawsuit and the 2002 motion to dismiss.

University of Tennessee Motion

Peyton Manning 2002 Motion to Dismiss.pdf

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts