With a collection of 71,940 passing yards, 539 touchdown passes, five Associated Press MVP awards and two Superbowl titles in 18 years, Peyton Manning is arguably one of the NFL’s greatest regular-season quarterbacks of all time. However, with his pending spot in the Hall of Fame and his recent announcement of intent to retire from football, evidence of scandal is resurfacing throughout the media, with some analysts and critics suggesting that his off-field game hasn’t been quite as smooth as his on-field demeanor suggests.
Manning was known as a harmless character and an outstanding student athlete during his time at the University of Tennessee, as well as someone that enjoyed getting a rise by cracking the occasional off-color joke. Unfortunately, one of his so-called “jokes” went too far and has affected him throughout his career, although some people argue that it hasn’t affected him enough considering its lack of media coverage and scrutiny.
The incident in question took place in 1996 when Manning allegedly assaulted a Jamie Naughtright, a UT trainer, by thrusting his bare crotch into her face as she examined his injured foot. Manning claims that he was playing a “practical, if not crude joke” and was actually “mooning” someone behind him, but Naughright experienced the situation differently. After what seemed like a fairly quick $300,000 settlement, Naughtright left the University in 1997 but then filed a lawsuit claiming defamation in 2002, when the Mannings published a book downplaying her assertion. The second case was settled in 2003 without much press, but it recently rushed back into headlines after Shaun King of the New York Daily News obtained a document from the 2002 lawsuit, which was published conveniently at the conclusion of Manning’s famed football career.
Originally, the public and the press expressed belief that the incident looked to have been too easily swept under the rug, and they felt that details about the incident had been held back. Now that the document has been newly obtained, including details regarding both sides of the scandal, there are even more critics questioning why Manning gets to be viewed as a football hero with a clean record. Fox News writes, “Forty-five wins and a Super Bowl championship later, it looks like Manning will ride off into the sunset with his head held high despite being named in a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee and his alleged link to human growth hormone in an Al-Jazeera America report.”
While it is true that sexual assault should never be taken lightly and that Manning’s actions were uncalled for regardless of their intent, the public isn’t entitled to information regarding a private case. Just because Manning is a public figure doesn’t mean that his life should be put on display. Furthermore, Manning has clearly not necessarily been let off with a clean record. Even in his retirement, his college mistakes are casting a shadow – mistakes that have resurfaced during what is arguably his greatest moment as a professional athlete. Additionally, the case was settled in a way in which both parties agreed that it should be enough for the scandal to be put to rest. Both Manning and Naughright had moved on from the altercation when the documents were illegally exposed. If nothing else, Naughright has specifically said that she wants to put the incident behind her, and, in respect for the victim, we all should let it go as well.