In 1996, Peyton Manning allegedly thrust his naked crotch into a University of Tennessee trainer's face as she was examining his foot. The trainer, Jamie Naughright, claimed she was harassed while working for the Volunteers, and left the university in 1997 as part of a settlement related to the incident with Manning. In 2002, she sued Manning and his father, Archie, for defamation because she claimed they downplayed the incident and disparaged her in a book about their legacy. The two sides settled in 2003, and terms were never disclosed.
Manning has since solidified himself as one of the most recognizable celebrities in the country and an eventual first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. Naughright appears to be a successful personal trainer in Florida. Neither party appears to have had any hand in the case's resurfacing the week after Manning's Broncos won Super Bowl 50.
The case rushed back into the headlines when Shaun King of the New York Daily News obtained a document from Naughright's 2002 lawsuit that hadn't been directly cited since 2003 when USA Today wrote about the case. USA Today did not release the document then, nor did it reveal its full contents. Some of the details, previously unknown, raise questions about Manning's character from his time at Tennessee to when he reportedly sent Naughright an envelope containing book excerpts that may have led to her dismissal from her job at Florida Southern College.
Important to note: The New York Daily News story that King wrote cited only the facts of the case as presented by Naughright's legal team. The quarterback has a different version of events. Sports Illustrated obtained other documents from the case that question whether Manning made physical contact with Naughright -- "the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles, and the area in between the testicles," as Naughright claimed -- and corroborate his claim that he was "mooning" another Tennessee athlete.
The unearthing of a 13-year-old lawsuit stemming from a 20-year-old incident may seem conveniently timed. Manning just won a second Super Bowl ring, and may soon be retiring and thus formalizing his legacy. The story was published during the post-Super Bowl lull when it would have more room to breathe on its own (indeed, Robert Silverman of the Daily Beast brought up the scandal before the Super Bowl but his story didn't have the same impact as King's).
The story may seem new to many, but it is largely a rehash of a battle that occurred before ubiquitous social media and the scrutiny it puts on high-profile athletes. It's a messy story, one that is difficult to discuss objectively because Manning is polarizing as a player and a omnipresent pitchman. Unclear from recent reporting is what is new and what is old, and what the sources are for both.
What we knew
The complete timeline of facts known before 2016.
February, 1996 -- Dr. Jamie Naughright, who was known as Jamie Whited during her time as an athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee, alleged that Manning committed the act while she was examining his foot in the locker room during his sophomore year at Tennessee.
"It was the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles, and the area in between the testicles. And all that was on my face when I pushed him up and off. And it was like this and I pushed him up to get leverage, I took my head out to push him up and off."
Manning, himself, admitted that a "mooning" happened in the locker room in his book Manning, published in July 2001. The details of the incident from Manning's perspective were different than the description Naughright gave, however.
One day I was in the training room and a track athlete I know made some off-color remark that I felt deserved a colorful ... response. I turned my back in the athlete's direction and dropped the seat of my pants. ...
But I did it thinking the trainer wasn't where she would see. ... Even when she did, it seemed like something she'd have laughed at, considering the environment, or shrugged off as harmless. Crude, maybe, but harmless.
The incident involving Manning was one in a series of ongoing harassment and discrimination Naughright suffered at Tennessee.
August, 1997 -- Naughright left Tennessee as part of a $300,000 settlement related to the incident with Manning. Less than three months after the incident, Manning apologized for his "practical joke."
Fall, 1998 -- Naughright accepted a job at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla. She is seemingly successful at it. USA Today reported that her salary jumped from $45,000 to $63,022 in two years as the program director of the Athletic Training Educational Program and an assistant professor. She received a strong review from her supervisor, who recommended Naughright for an "exemplary" salary increase.
May, 2001 -- Naughright came back from leading an educational trip to South Africa to find an envelope addressed to "Dr. Vulgar Mouth Whited" that contained excerpts from Manning's book. Naughright's supervisor had already opened the envelope and resealed it before Naughright could look at it. According to court documents, the envelope led to her demotion at Florida Southern. Via USA Today:
A semester later, according to Naughright's filing, her evaluations went from "outstanding, excellent and asset to our campus" to describing her as "demanding, hostile and vindictive."
And Naughright says in court documents that the letter addressed to "Dr. Vulgar Mouth Whited," was the "turning point" that led to Florida Southern demoting her and removing her as the program director.
The lawsuit said that copies of the book that pertained to Naughright were distributed around campus and at the school's athletic events.
May, 2002 -- Naughright sued Manning and his father, Archie, for defamation, as well as Manning ghostwriter John Underwood and publisher Harper Collins. In the book, Manning described Naughright as someone with a "vulgar mouth," but a judge in the defamation case believed that Manning falsified his description of Naughright and the incident that drew an investigation at UT. Via USA Today:
"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.
Manning claimed that he was simply "mooning" a teammate who had made a remark. The player named by Manning, Malcolm Saxon, wrote a letter in 2002 asking the quarterback to take responsibility for his actions.
"She was minding her own business when your book came out. Peyton, the way I see it, at this point, you are going to take a hit either way, if you settle out of court or if it goes to court. You might as well maintain some dignity and admit to what happened. ... Your celebrity doesn't mean you can treat folks that way. ... Do the right thing here."
Manning's claim that Naughright had a "vulgar mouth" was based on a trip to Virginia with four other Tennessee athletes for a drug education conference. Manning claimed that Naughright called the athletes "mother(expletive)," language that the athletes, three of them football players, denied ever hearing.
December, 2003 -- Manning and Naughright reached a confidential settlement agreement settling the defamation suit.
January, 2005 -- Naughright sued Manning again, this time claiming Manning breached their settlement in an airing of ESPN Classic Sports Century: Peyton Manning on Dec. 30, 2014. The two parties settled the second lawsuit in July.
What we didn't know
Naughright alleged harassment beyond the Manning incident. In the document obtained by King, Naughright claimed that her boss, an associate trainer named Mike Rollo, accused her of being a lesbian and gave her the nickname "C**t Bumper," which he used to address her face-to-face. Naughright said she endured the name for two years before she formally complained in 1992. Rollo said he simply called her "Bumper" and never used the explicit version. Deadspin has a more in-depth look at the harassment and discrimination Naughright was subjected to during her time at UT.
A Tennessee athlete may have lost eligibility because of the incident. Malcolm Saxon, the Tennessee cross country runner Manning claimed to moon, not only refuted Manning's story, but claimed he lost his eligibility as a result. In the letter that Saxon wrote to Manning, he said that he spoke to Rollo and then-Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer about the incident, and suggests that he wasn't granted a redshirt because of his account.
"First, I have stuck to my same story throughout this drama. I told Mike Rollo the next day and Coach Fulmer a week or two afterwards. I had nothing to hide at that point and I have nothing to hide today. I have never been on Jamie's side or on your side (contrary to what the athletic department was telling you and telling her). I stuck to the truth and I lost my eligibility for it. My redshirt request sat on Mike Rollo's desk for months as the process was going forward. I'm not angry about it anymore, just getting a little tired of it!!
Naughright claimed that she was asked to blame a black athlete for her leave.
From the document:
A. They were asking me to say that, in fact, it was a certain athlete, which they gave me a name, and asked me to change and alter my story to say that this athlete exposed himself and that is the reason why I took a medical leave.
Q. I'm sorry. Are you telling me that Mr. Wyant and Mr. Rollo asked you to lie and say that, in fact, the incident on February 29th occurred with someone other than Mr. Manning?
A. What I'm saying is they asked me to go with the story that it was -- the reason why I left was because of another athlete who was African American, exposed himself and said something. They wanted me to say that was the reason and not the reason of what Mr. Manning did when he assaulted me.
Q. Did a particular African American athlete exposed himself to you at any time?
A. Not that I recall.
Q. So they're asking you to make up a story?
Something happened between Manning and Naughright in 1994. The incident was redacted from 2002 court filings, but according to the documents, "Peyton Manning's animosity towards Dr. Naughright, born out of the 1994 incident, would physically manifest" in the 1996 incident.
King of the Daily News believes the redacted portion could be released shortly, and calls the incident "deep and ugly."
I believe we will be able to release the redacted portion of the court documents as well. I've discovered what that was about. Deep & ugly.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) February 14, 2016
Why is this a big deal now
The New York Daily News report was less of an uncovering and more of a rehashing of a story that was written about on Feb. 1 by the Daily Beast, and often mentioned in passing. It's mentioned here in an article in the Tennessee Ledger in January, here by Pro Football Talk in December and a few other outlets.
The Daily News brought original documents to the table, and while they didn't present much new information about Manning's alleged assault, it laid out Naughright's claims that the quarterback tried to discredit her. The report also landed on the same day that Manning was named in a sex assault lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee, which alleges the university fostered a culture that enabled and turned a blind eye to assaults committed by student-athletes.
Finally, the Tennessee report surfaced exactly when Manning's legacy is being heavily discussed. He just won a championship and seems likely to retire. He hired former Bush White House press secretary and celebrity media fixer Ari Fleischer to fight reports claiming that he obtained human growth hormone in 2011, and though he appears to be winning the public relations battle, the addition of another public scandal (even an old one) casts a sharply different image of Manning than the poised, more lovable version crafted by commercials and media appearances.
The media's assistance with Manning's clean image was discussed by Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report in a conversation with The Daily Beast.
"Part of the reason why Manning hits back twice as hard -- which is his right -- is because he knows he'll receive cover from large swaths of the media who will believe anything he says," he wrote. "There are football writers, lots of them, that would lay their bodies over a puddle of water and let Manning walk over their bodies so his cleats don't get wet."
The resurfaced allegations against Manning not only hurt his perceived character, but raised larger questions about the media's ability to shape the narrative about players and teams. The perception of Manning was often compared to the perception of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the two weeks before the Super Bowl. That comparison will likely continue now that Manning's 1996 incident is back in the news.
Manning is comfortable, poised and calculated when dealing with media, and some, like Freeman, might suggest that's why Newton or others are still seemingly being held accountable for his college indiscretions (which never included sexual assault) while Manning largely was not during his NFL career.
How perception of Manning will shift because of an old story is unknown. Now that the question has been raised, however, there may be no avoiding it for the foreseeable future.