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Shortly after Super Bowl 50 ended with a humiliating defeat for the heavily-favored Carolina Panthers, led by quarterback Cam Newton, Newton and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning shook hands on the field and exchanged greetings and comments, with Manning (who has suffered his own humiliating losses in previous Super Bowls) offering encouragement, then each went his own way. Unfortunately for Newton, he later would have an infamous press conference in which he showed up wearing a “hoodie,” mumbled some answers to questions, and then would walk out after three minutes, leaving the press astonished.
Not surprisingly, the sports media jumped on this – as they would with any other quarterback who had walked out of a similar situation – as Newton, this year’s NFL Most Valuable Player for the regular season, had to eat the same humble pie that Manning ate after the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVII. (Manning did not leave his post-game press conferences after his Super Bowl losses, although one figures he would rather not have shown up at all.) While much of the press lambasted Newton for his less-than-stellar post-game performance, Peyton Manning’s father, Archie, himself a legendary quarterback in college and in the pros, defended Newton, saying he fully understood how Newton felt after such a defeat.
In normal situations, the bad press for Newton would have stopped soon, Manning would have had a quiet time before announcing his inevitable retirement, and Newton would be preparing for the next season. However, in this politically-and-racially-charged society, that would not be the case, as a number of black journalists, furious that Manning’s Broncos won the game, decided to go on the attack against Manning.
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First came Shaun King of the New York Daily News, who noted the morning after the game that Manning walked off the field after a 2010 Super Bowl loss to New Orleans – when Manning still quarterbacked the Indianapolis Colts. Others chimed in. Manning did not get bad press (actually, he did, and he apologized at his press conference for walking off), so that means that Manning is favored by the press because he is white. Newton, on the other hand, got bad press because he is black. There you have it: Peyton Manning = White Privilege.
Lest anyone believe I am exaggerating, this screed comes from Howard Bryant, a black writer for ESPN:
In the black community, the public has concluded the conspiracy is, yes, that the price of protecting Manning is sacrificing Newton: Because the airwaves won’t cover one, it must be filled by castigating the other. In New England, still wounded and enraged by Deflategate, it concludes the NFL will go after the Patriots, that the league was willing to sacrifice Tom Brady. It has concluded the NFL will go after everyone and anyone but Peyton Manning, who has created a narrative of football royalty — born a prince of a football family, embedded with NFL business partners and rumored as potential Tennessee Titans owner someday. It concludes that the NFL machine will not only avoid investigating him, but it also will trip over itself to protect him.
The truth is that in many ways, all are correct, and like with all conspiracies, everyone has to take their piece of it. That racially, the filter of professional sports is this: Black players, who make up the majority (or in baseball, where the near majority is Latino-African American), are filtered through a predominately white season-ticket base and predominately white talk radio-broadcast media machine, and the result is distortion. Maybe the coverage of Newton is payback for an athlete who dared defenses all season to take him down and finally received his comeuppance. Maybe it’s that special alchemy of admiration and hatred fans can have for black athletes. There were people who wanted to see Ali get his a– kicked, others who wanted to see him get his black a– kicked.
One should understand that this is not the opinion of black players in the NFL. Manning – for all of the hateful press he has received from people like Bryant – has been popular with teammates, both black and white, with both the Colts and Broncos. He has been well-liked in the communities where he has lived and has contributed much off-the-field. For example, the Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis is named after him, and that is not because he threw some touchdown passes while playing for the Colts.
Yes, all prominent people have their image makers and protectors. Manning didn’t invent the publicist, nor is he the only person ever to have had a public relations machine behind him. One only has to follow the political careers of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to know that PR matters, and it matters greatly.
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As hateful as Bryant’s column was, however, it didn’t match the broadside that King would launch a few days later, in which King would allege that Manning is so evil and so depraved that he probably should be in prison. He wrote:
Thirteen years ago, USA Today obtained 74 pages of explosive court documents on Peyton Manning, Archie Manning, the University of Tennessee, and Florida Southern College that revealed allegations of a sexual-assault scandal, cover up, and smear campaign of the victim that was so deep, so widespread and so ugly that it would’ve rocked the American sports world to its core.
…as his career winds down, we’re left to grapple with the reality that there is credible evidence that Peyton and the Manning family knowingly, willingly, wantonly ruined the good name and career of Dr. Jamie Naughright, a respected scholar, speaker, professor, and trainer of some of the best athletes in the world.
Manning, wrote King, “…sexually assaulted a girl in college.” Wow. Sexual assault! Why didn’t we know about it?
Actually, we did. We knew a lot about it, and we knew (1) Manning did not sexually assault anyone, and (2) he and his father did not conspire to destroy Naughright’s career.
Before going on, we must deal with some narratives that journalists – and especially the black journalists that are leading this anti-Manning pack – have created.
Narrative #1: Peyton Manning sexually assaulted Jamie Naughright in February 1996 in a training room incident when he was a junior at the University of Tennessee
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According to the accounts given at that time by Naughright (then Jamie Whitted), Manning, and others who were in the UT training room at the time, Manning, who then was 19, allegedly “mooned” another athlete while Naughright, then the university’s Director of Health and Wellness was working on Manning’s injured foot. While Naughred saw his rear end and everything else attached, Manning did not touch her; and no one, including Naughred, claimed any differently.
Note that Naughright signed a legal affidavit in which she said Manning never touched her with his rear end or other private parts, and no witness contradicted her. (One athlete did say later that Manning was not “mooning” him, but he did not claim that Manning “teabagged” Naughright, either. One is left to believe that perhaps the “mooning” was intended for Naughright.)
Whatever happened between Manning and Naughright (who clearly never liked each other), no one at the time claimed there was a sexual assault. When she left UT, she received a settlement from the university, and the Manning incident was part of that payment. However, nowhere in any legal papers at that time was there a mention of sexual assault. (Among the money she allegedly received, Naughright also requested and was given a watch that was given to Tennessee players when they played in the 1996 Citrus Bowl in which Tennessee beat Ohio State, and a ring from the men’s track team’s 1991 NCAA outdoor championship.) I also add that Manning immediately tried to apologize, leaving a message on her answering machine and sending her a registered letter – to which she did not reply.
Although one can fault Manning for bad judgment and – as he self-described in his book – “way out of line” behavior, he was not charged with anything. There was no police investigation, and his coach, Phil Fulmer, did impose disciplinary measures, including making Manning run at 6 a.m. for several weeks and banning him from the athletes’ “training table” for a long time. This would not have been an appropriate punishment had Manning actually committed sexual assault, but it probably was appropriate for the incident and to a former Division-I athlete like me (track and cross country, University of Tennessee 1971-75); I have seen athletes be punished less for having committed worse acts.
So, where does the “sexual assault” accusation fit in? When Manning published an autobiography in the early 2000s, he foolishly brought up the incident but did not mention Naughright by name, only saying that she used a lot of “vulgar language.” Naughright claimed that shortly afterward, her then-employer, Florida Southern College, fired her.
In return, Naughright filed a breach-of-contract suit against Manning and his father, and it was in that lawsuit that she claimed Manning placed his anus and genitals on her face. This also is the lawsuit from which King copies word-for-word (although not attributing those words to the document itself) and claims to be totally factual.
Sportswriter and television journalist Bob Kravitz has a different take on this situation, writing:
For one, the document that the writer, Shaun King, cites is a 74-page “Facts of Case’’ document that was written by Naughright’s lawyer in order to make the case against Manning. It is, by definition, a one-sided document; that’s why she’s paying a lawyer to make her case and make it stick. Maybe it’s true that Manning did more than simply moon a teammate in the locker room that day; maybe he did, in fact, stick his naughty bits in Naughright’s face, which would be a reprehensible act that goes far beyond playfulness. But you have to remember, this is her lawyer’s document.
We never saw the other side of the story, Manning’s side, which would be in a document written by his lawyer.
Here is the problem, as I see it. Naughright claimed under oath that Manning did not touch her with his privates in 1996. Several years later, she claimed under oath that Manning did touch her. One of those sworn statements is false, and suspicious people just might think that the second statement is the false one.
Indeed, had Manning actually “teabagged” Naughright in 1996, that would have been a crime; and in one well-publicized case in 2011, an Alabama fan “teabagged” a drunk, passed-out LSU fan in New Orleans after Alabama defeated LSU in the national championship game. The defendant received two years in prison after a guilty plea.
In Manning’s situation, however, there is serious doubt as to Naughright’s truthfulness, given that someone who actually had been “teabagged” would not have reacted as calmly as Naughright allegedly did following the incident. I repeat, we do not have credible evidence that Peyton Manning sexually assaulted Jamie Naughright in the UT training room.
Narrative #2: Jamie Naughright is a world-renowned and world-respected trainer, “an absolute force of nature in the University of Tennessee’s sports program,” according to Shaun King, and her conduct always was forthright
In describing someone as he did Naughright, King fails to tell the reader that Peyton Manning was not the only person to present negative views of Jamie Naughright. At least one former UT athlete who knew Naughright fairly well described her as “the most vulgar person I have met in my life thus far.”
People I know have described other incidents that are disturbing, and we know that Naughright talked to both journalists and other people in violation of the consent agreement she signed with the University of Tennessee when she left. (I also have a daughter who was an athlete at UT during the time, and she has confirmed what others have told me regarding the “incident” and about Naughright.)
One must remember, as Kravitz pointed out, King pretty much is citing word-for-word what Naughright’s lawyers wrote, as opposed to how others might have viewed the situation. Although she obviously was talented at what she did in the training world, to claim she was a “force of nature” for the athletic program at UT is, to put it mildly, an exaggeration. I have no doubt that she was talented and intelligent, but talented and intelligent people can wear out a welcome quickly through bad behavior.
(I am reminded of a time in 1989 when I ended up at the breakfast table during a conference with Fran Tarkenton, a legendary NFL quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings turned TV star and motivational speaker, who later would be speaking to the conference attendees later that morning. Within 10 minutes of listening to him brag about himself, a friend and I excused ourselves and left the table. Not all celebrities make desirable company.)
Furthermore, we are expected to believe the following claim: Jamie Naughright, a world-class trainer, was “starring” in her role as a trainer at Florida Southern College when the Manning book came out. Even though Manning’s book didn’t name her, the book supposedly so influenced the Florida Southern powers-that-be that they fired her on the spot, despite Naughright’s sterling record and despite the fact that they had a world-class trainer working for them.
If the reader believes that story, then I have some real estate joining Brooklyn and Manhattan to sell you. My sense is that there were other factors involved, but Naughright saw the opportunity to extort money from the Mannings and, indeed, received an undisclosed settlement for her efforts.
For all of King’s efforts to present Naughright as a world-renowned trainer whose personal and professional lives were destroyed by the vicious, vindictive Mannings, others present a different picture of her. In a recent lawsuit she filed against fashion designer Donna Karan, the court dismissed the suit after Karan’s defense depicted Naughright as a “serial litigant.” Granted, just as Naughright’s lawyers sought to turn Peyton Manning into a vicious, sexual predator, Karan’s attorneys have also painted an unflattering picture of Naughright; and if we disbelieve the latter (even though the proof is in the number and kinds of lawsuits filed), then we should at least look closely at the former.
Narrative #3: The resurfacing of the Naughright allegations against Manning completely destroy the “squeaky clean” image that Manning’s PR Machine and the NFL have meticulously crafted through the years
…the documents were sent to me on Tuesday, two days after the Super Bowl, it was immediately clear to me that had the world actually known what they contained, it’s doubtful that Peyton would have ever been the “swell, golly, gee-whiz” pitchman for Nationwide Insurance, DirecTV or Papa John’s Pizza. Certainly, evangelical op-eds calling him “squeaky clean” and positioning Peyton as the arbiter of all things good and decent in the world simply wouldn’t be the case.
Say what one will: Peyton Manning and his “handlers” never have tried to present him as an older version of Tim Tebow. Manning has performed a number of good deeds in his career, and many of them have not been done under the glare of publicity. People have told about receiving notes and letters from him providing encouragement and more, but the stories came from the people on the receiving end, not Manning or his so-called PR machine.
Writes Bob Kravitz, who knew Manning well when he played in Indianapolis:
There’s this notion that Manning has held himself up as some kind of holier-than-thou demi-god and has used that reputation to make mega millions as a corporate pitchman.
I would take issue with that.
Manning has never, at least to my knowledge, attempted to make any kind of case that he is morally and ethically superior to anybody. He has not spent his life attempting to tell people how to live their lives, has not worn his religion on his sleeve. If fans want to believe that he’s some holier-than-thou athlete who’s above reproach, that’s their choice. But in all the years I’ve known Manning, he’s made it clear, at least to me, that he’s made missteps in his life, just as we all do.
If Manning was selling me on a lifestyle, if he was Tim Tebow or someone like that, I would find these latest “revelations’’ quite concerning and hypocritical. But he’s not selling me on a lifestyle. He’s selling me credit cards. He’s selling me pizza. He’s selling me just about everything there is to sell in today’s market.
Kravitz goes on:
But I will say this, too: He’s done so many good things for people, so many things you’ve never heard about, it would make your head spin. He may have screwed up badly in the Naughright case, but he has spent most of his public and private life doing good works. Some of them have been widely reported. Most have not. On balance, yes, I would say that Peyton Manning is a very good person. And if that makes me part of the whole Indianapolis butt kisser’s club, so be it.
If he had a bad moment – and it’s possible this occurred the way Naughright’s lawyer suggested it did – he has, on balance, had exponentially more good moments. I’ve never felt you judge someone based on one of the worst, if not THE worst, moment of their lives.
Unless, you know, they murdered someone or did something else that could be deemed unforgivable.
Again, this happened 20 years ago, when he was still a teenager. It was settled 13 years ago. And everything you may have read in the Daily News piece came from a source who was specifically paid to make the case against Manning. Until I get a chance to read Manning’s side, or hear from Manning or his representatives, I will suspend final judgment – to the degree that’s really necessary after all these years. (Emphasis mine)
I repeat, the only persons claiming that Peyton Manning is not the golden child he supposedly claims to be are journalists like Shaun King, Sarah Spain, and Howard Bryant, along with the whole gaggle of journalists and bloggers that soon will pile on. No doubt, we will see a hate frenzy by the media because the media is very good both at presenting false narratives and then “destroying” other false narratives.
Please understand how this whole thing originated. Some journalists were unhappy because Cam Newton was skewered after his Super Bowl loss, despite the fact that both Peyton Manning and his father, Archie, stood up for Newton and praised him. That was not good enough, and especially for some of the black journalists who always have held an inexplicable hatred for Peyton Manning ever since his college days.
Someone had to pay for Newton’s self-inflicted wounds, and it was Peyton Manning. Thanks to the Manning-haters in the media, Peyton Manning now will be depicted as a rapist or worse (which he clearly is not) and a force of evil that was overrated as a quarterback and overrated as a human being, and who owes his entire status to his “white privilege.” Never mind that he was the NFL MVP five times, and that he holds many NFL passing records, along with two Super Bowl championships. He deserves much better, but don’t count on the Progressive American media to pull back and look for the truth. No, the media prefers juicy narratives – even if false – to what might be true.
William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.