What is likely to be the end of Peyton Manning’s football career is being accompanied by unsavory off-the-field headlines concerning alleged use of HGH and, now, the details of a decades-old sexual assault that allegedly occurred when he was a student at the University of Tennessee.
Manning is among athletes named in a lawsuit filed last week by six former female students that alleges that Tennessee violated Title IX by treating assaults by student-athletes nonchalantly and creating a hostile work environment. It argues that the athletics department has a history of such behavior dating back to the mid-1990s, which is where Manning enters the picture.
On Sunday, matters grew worse for Manning when Shaun King of the New York Daily News revisited a 74-page court document from a 2001 lawsuit that depicts ugly details of an alleged sexual assault by Manning. In addition, the document, titled “Facts of the Case: Filed in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment” and filed in a Polk County, Florida, court by plaintiff’s lawyers, alleges that Manning and his father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, sought to cover up the matter and smear the alleged victim. Although the document was obtained and reported on by USA Today in 2003, it has only recently resurfaced.
Manning was a sophomore in the spring of 1996, when the alleged incident occurred. He was being examined for a foot injury by Dr. Jamie Naughright, whom King describes as “a respected scholar, speaker, professor, and trainer of some of the best athletes in the world.”
As Naughright examined him, according to the document, Naughright said that he intentionally placed his naked genitals on her face.
“It was the gluteous maximus, the rectum, the testicles and the area in between the testicles,” Naughright says. “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.”
Naugright stated that, when she pushed him off, she told him he was “an ass.”
“When he turned around and looked at me with the anger in his eyes that I saw, I did not want to get confrontational with him,” she said. “I could see that anger and when I looked at another student-athlete, Malcolm Saxon he was just shocked. He had his mouth wide open and he was in shock. In disbelief.”
Manning’s reaction, according to Naughright, was “anger and he smirked and he laughed.”
She reported the incident to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville “within hours.” In addition, the document alleges that there was a previous incident in 1994, but that document was filed under seal.
As for the alleged incident in 1996, the document states that Manning initially denied the incident and that Naughright’s supervisor, associate trainer Mike Rollo, claimed that it occurred as Manning was mooning another athlete, Saxon. Later, the document states that Manning adopted the term “with a vengeance” to explain what had happened. Later, the document says that Saxon supplied an affidavit that “clearly refutes Peyton Manning’s version of the incident.”
Naughright claimed that the school asked her to change her story and say that, when she later left the Knoxville school, it was because an African-American athlete had exposed himself to her and was not because of the alleged incident with Manning. Naugright left the school as part of a settlement agreement, reportedly worth $300,000, in 1997, with both she and Manning signing a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement.
Naughright became an assistant professor and program director of the Athletic Education Training Program at Florida Southern College and in 1998 was head athletic trainer for the U.S. women’s track and field team in Beijing. But the alleged incident at Tennessee wasn’t going to go away.
Returning to Florida after an educational and medical trip to South Africa in 2001, she found an envelope addressed to “Dr. Vulgar Mouth Whited” (her married name during her time at Tennessee) and containing copies of a publication called “Manning” that appeared to have been written by Manning, his father and ghostwriter John Underwood. Because her supervisor had opened the envelope, Naughright’s career at the Florida school was over and Naughright filed a defamation lawsuit against the Mannings, Underwood and publisher Harper Collins.
“Even if the plaintiff is a public figure, the evidence of record contains sufficient evidence to satisfy the court that a genuine issue of material fact exists that would allow a jury to find, by clear and convincing evidence, the existence of actual malice of the part of the defendants,” Polk County Circuit Judge Harvey Kornstein wrote.
“Specifically, there is evidence of record, substantial enough to suggest that the defendants knew that the passages in question were false, or acted in reckless disregard of their falsity. There is evidence of record to suggest that there were obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of Peyton Manning’s account of the incident in question. The court further finds that there is sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendants entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the passages in this case.”
In a deposition, Manning was asked to recall examples of Naughright’s vulgarities and could only come up with one. Underwood’s statement revealed that Archie Manning suggested to him that Naughright was going into the dorms and having sex with large numbers of black student athletes. King writes: “After saying that she was up in the dorms with black students, Archie, states: ‘And, she’d, she’d, been up in the dorm before, I mean hey, you know, they could have, you know, could have pulled off stuff on her too. Ah, she, toilet mouth, ah Peyton told me he never did like her, but he always did, cause what I’d told him to do, ah, I instructed him to be nice to the tr- … don’t ever look down on a trainer or an equipment person you know.’”
Athletes and former athletes swore in depositions that Naughright conducted herself professionally and, eventually, the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum. Meanwhile, the book remains for sale and Manning contemplates whether to walk away from the game, as the NFL investigates the report that HGH was mailed to his wife at their home.
All these years later, what should one make of the details of the Naughright case? For one thing, it’s important to note that, for now, the court document provides only one side of the story and it is impossible to reach conclusions. Manning’s fans are likely to remain ardent; his critics, like former NFL punter Chris Kluwe on social media, are going to mercilessly rip him.
“The 74-page document is a piece of advocacy,” Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, a lawyer, writes. “The 74-page document is something that was written by the lawyers representing Jamie Ann Naughright in her defamation case against the Mannings. The 74-page document is, necessarily, one-sided.
“The 74-page document is not objective. The 74-page document is not supposed to be objective. The 74-page document is not a court order or any other decision made by a neutral party. And, ultimately, the 74-page document is incomplete without comparing it to the corresponding ‘Facts of the Case’ document submitted by the defendants in the case.”
SI.com writer Michael McCann, also a lawyer, writes that there may never be a resolution about what happened. The statutes of limitation have expired and reaching a settlement is not an admission of guilt. Nor is the NFL likely to look into an alleged incident that happened before Manning’s pro career began.
“The accusations and denials were made under oath and thus under penalty of perjury,” McCann wrote. “It would seem that someone is lying, but we likely won’t ever find out who that might be. … No records have surfaced indicating that he was ever investigated by law enforcement for either incident. While star college athletes have been known to receive favorable treatment by law enforcement, that alone does not prove Manning’s guilt.”