The Daily Gamecock

Column: Manning falls victim to sensationalized journalism

Peyton Manning is not only one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football, but he is arguably one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He is an offensive coordinator playing quarterback and he understands every nuance about the game. This, along with his numerous acts of charity and generosity, led him in becoming one of the most respected players in the NFL.

This sterling reputation is in jeopardy now after Manning was cited in a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, or at least that is what the majority of the national media wants people to believe.

Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, I was quite familiar with the lore of the Volunteers program. I have known about this mooning incident since I was in elementary school. I was under the impression that the 1996 locker-room affair, where Peyton Manning “mooned” a female trainer, was widely known. I also thought that everyone knew that the trainer, Dr. Jamie Naughright, quickly reached a monetary settlement with the university and signed a nondisclosure agreement with Peyton Manning.

When it originally occurred, it was no small matter. It was scandalous, and many major media outlets such as USA Today and Deadspin covered it. However, as with any story, it was forgotten with time. Manning started to build his legacy with the Indianapolis Colts, and Dr. Naughright took a job at Florida Southern College after resigning from the University of Tennessee. It appeared as though it would largely be forgotten.

In 2003, the story reared its ugly head again thanks to a book written in 2001, by Peyton and Archie Manning. For some reason they thought it was appropriate to bring up the old locker-room story. They described Naughright as a “vulgar” woman and chalked the whole thing up to being locker-room tomfoolery. Naughright filed a defamation lawsuit in 2002 which again resulted in a settlement and yet another nondisclosure agreement in 2003.

For a second time, it looked like the story would die forever. Peyton won two Super Bowls, built his golden-boy-of-the-NFL image and miraculously came back from four neck surgeries. After winning his second Super Bowl, it looked like Peyton would finish on the highest note possible.

This storybook ending has now been destroyed thanks to this story remerging from the dead for a second time. How this has happened makes very little sense to me. As I’ve presented, it is a well-documented case. All of this information has been out there for well over a decade. Yet people are pretending as if this is breaking news.

This is a prime example of a journalist irresponsibly manipulating information to create a sensationalist story. Shaun King of New York Daily News, reported that he had acquired a 74-page document from USA Today. This document came from a Polk County, Florida, court that further detailed the lawsuit against Manning.

The problem isn’t that he recovered these documents and reported on them. The problem is that he only used evidence from Naughright’s case against Manning. So the information is skewed in her favor and misinforms pretty much everyone that reads it.

When a little research is done, it is quickly seen that there are some major holes in this case, but there is one that really sticks out. In 1996, when she formally complained to the university, she signed an affidavit that claimed Manning only mooned her. He never made contact like she claimed in 2003. What made her story change? When I see inconsistencies in stories I am automatically skeptical of anything a person says.

I’m also skeptical of Naughright because this is not her first time suing someone famous. In 2010, she filed a lawsuit against fashion bigwig, Donna Karan, because of an injury she received during a physical therapy session with a physical therapist Karan recommended to her.

These things, in combination with Manning’s outstanding history of high character, have lead me to side with Manning in this troublesome time.

Is mooning appropriate? No, not at all. Manning should have known better than that, but as the old saying goes, “Ye without sin cast the first stone.” For some reason our society has forgotten that it is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, not vice versa. The even crazier part is Manning cannot be reprimanded for this. He is not being sued again. He is not at risk of going to jail. He was simply named in a case against the University of Tennessee. It makes no sense to vilify Manning for something that happened two decades ago and was settled once and for all in 2003.

I am going to side with Manning because there is no reason to side against him. He made a stupid but very well-documented decision back in college that was covered and settled long ago. Now thanks to some good, old-fashioned yellow journalism, this has become an issue again. It is such a shame that the selfish act of some has hurt the image of such an honored member of society. If damning evidence comes out against Peyton Manning for using HGH or a new piece of evidence comes out against him about the mooning event, then I will change my tune. Until then, I will stay true to the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty.


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