It's hard to imagine a more likable pitchman than Peyton Manning. The future Hall of Fame quarterback is spinning pizzas, offering insurance and leaving us laughing as he sings "Camptown Races" in a barbershop quartet. And his squeaky-clean image played out on the field as well, as he epitomized the cerebral, 'coach on the field' veteran player who could carve up a defense, rack up numerous records, and eventually, a 'feel good story of the season' second Super Bowl title. And now, twenty years after a woman filed a sexual assault claim on Manning, that image is taking a hit.
The claim goes back to 1996, and Manning's days at the University of Tennessee. Jamie Naughright, at the time a trainer at the university, said Manning put his naked genitalia on her head while she was examining his foot. Manning denied this, saying he was just 'mooning' a fellow athlete. There are no records showing that law enforcement ever investigated Naughright's claim. Naughright would later sue Manning, in 2003, for defamation of character, after Peyton and his father, Archie, negatively wrote of her in a book they released in 2000.
So why now? Why is the media finally catching up to this story, two decades after the incident allegedly happened? Because a recent Title IX lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee by multiple "Jane Doe" plaintiffs alleges the university created a "hostile sexual environment" favoring student-athletes. And cited in the lawsuit? The alleged incident in 1996 between Peyton Manning and a former athletics trainer.
Manning isn't looking at legal trouble here, even if Naughright's 20-year old claim was true. The statute of limitations has long since passed. But on the heels of the H-G-H claims, it's at the very least another blow to Manning's carefully-managed image and legacy. Manning's supporters can try to discredit Shaun King of the New York Daily News, who brought Naughright's allegations back to light recently and who some claim is on a "witch hunt" after King watched Cam Newton receive severe criticism following his post-Super Bowl press conference (raising the question: is Manning covered differently than others?). Others, including the Manning’s 'back in the day', can try to discredit Naughright. We'll never know the truth, because in this case, the truth isn't pursuable. But we know this: Peyton Manning is passing through a few PR storms as he rides off into the sunset. And, like a 20-year old claim of sexual abuse by one of the most popular and profitable pitchman ever, who saw that coming?
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