#360USA: Peyton Manning's character taking a pounding

Steve Brenner 04:00 24/02/2016
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Under pressure: Manning.

Peyton Manning should be basking in the glory of a second Super Bowl triumph. Yet, incredibly, the 39 year-old squeaky-clean superstar is having his integrity and character questioned following a sensational week of scandalous accusations.

Only last month, Manning was accused by Al Jazeera of using human growth hormones (HGH) – a story angrily denied by the quarterback, though the fact that his wife received a shipment of the banned substance while he was recovering from a neck injury wasn’t refuted.

Now comes the resurfacing of a 20-year-old incident at the University of Tennessee which has send a shock wave through his devotees.

Back in 1996, while Manning was having his foot examined by the team’s female physician, Jamie Naughright, he pulled down his underwear and exposed himself, allegedly because, in his view, he was mooning a friend across the locker room who was teasing him.

Naughright, however, contested that Manning placed his genitals near her face. Her attorney said she was crouching behind Manning trying to determine the sourceof his foot pain, when he, “pulled down his shorts and sat on Dr. Naughright’s head and face.”

She said it was sexual assault. Manning said it was a playful mooning, an action denied by the friend when under oath. There was no criminal charge, but it was mentioned in a recent federal lawsuit filed against the University which claimed there was a “hostile sexual environment” towards female members of various sports teams.

Manning’s ambiguous criminality inspired an unnamed source to send the 74-page court transcript to a New York Daily News reporter to outline Naughright’s case. Suddenly, a huge can of worms had been ripped wide open. It’s a classic ‘he-said, she-said’ situation, yet serious questions are understandably being asked.

At the time, the scandal was swept under the carpet. Yet in the current climate of seemingly endless stories of physical and sexual abuse in the NFL, every word is being pored over with forensic detail.

Why would Naughright, who spent years in locker rooms with young athletes before excelling to become the head trainer for the University’s track-and-field program, promptly report the incident to officials if nothing happened?

Something clearly made her distraught. She settled for $300,000 in damages, yet incredibly, the story didn’t stop there. Despite both parties being ordered to remain silent about the case, the Mannings wrote about the incident in a book called ‘Manning’, which was co-written by Peyton and his father, Archie Manning.

“It seemed like something she’d have laughed at, considering the environment, or shrugged off as harmless. Crude, maybe, but harmless,” Manning wrote.

Additionally, Naughright was described as “vulgar-mouthed” and, unsurprisingly, successfully sued for defamation.

The ‘First Family of Football’ are the kind of people who always get their way. Manning wanted to have the final say. To hell with the consequences. Yet what does that say about the man himself? The public slandering of Naughright has devastated her career. She was blacklisted by universities while searching for work, having already been demoted as a result of the incident’s notoriety.

It has since been alleged the original dispute stemmed from a 1994 disagreement where Manning was accused of cheating in class. However, the bigger picture screams of a narcissistic bully desperate to make a point.

Women’s rights organisation, UltraViolet, wants two of Manning’s biggest sponsors, Nationwide Insurance and Papa John’s Pizza, to sever ties with him immediately. It’s a real mess and one the NFL could do without. Manning is one of the organisation’s golden boys… the untouchable hero who could do no wrong.

Recently, Manning brought in former White House spin doctor, Ari Fleischer, to help douse the flames following the HGH revelations, and he has undoubtedly told his employer to keep his mouth shut.

That doesn’t stop everyone else from talking.

Manning’s standing on a football field will remain unquestioned. His character, however, is taking a real bashing, one which could forever damage his legacy

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