By Tess Fox
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos quarterback, has retired. If you can’t think of who is, he’s the football player on the Papa John’s and Nationwide commercials. He’s had a long, successful career without any major scandals that have become typical of NFL players. Well, except for this one time in college. Manning is accused of assaulting a female staff member during his time at University of Tennessee.
Dr. Jaime Naughright (at the time, Jaime Whited) was an athletic trainer at UT while Manning was a student there.
Naughright has a PhD. in Health Education and Wellness, a degree she earned with a 3.925 GPA. During her time at UT, Naughright worked her way up the ladder as an athletic trainer. She started as a part time trainer for intramurals and the women’s sports programs. She eventually became the Director of Health and Wellness for the men’s athletic programs. In addition to running a 25-person staff and numerous responsibilities, Naughright was the associate trainer for the men’s football team.
Being a woman in an environment full of men came with unintended consequences. She was perceived to be a lesbian by her boss, and called a “cunt bumper” or “bumper” for short.
Even after complaints were filed by Naughright, the behavior continued. To combat this, she created trainings and guidelines for appropriate, professional language in locker rooms and on teams.
Manning joined the school in the fall of 1994. There was a seperate during this semester that Naughright said provided context for the incident in February of 1996. The files have been sealed, no one but Manning and Naughright know of it.
According to an article in the New York Daily News, while Naughright was examining a stress fracture in Manning’s foot, he “forcefully maneuvered his naked testicles and rectum directly on her face with his penis on top of her head.” Naughright pushed him away and reported the incident to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville.
Manning said that he was “mooning” another teammate and no contact was made between him and Naughright.
Naughright settled a lawsuit, left UT and was paid $300,000. She and Manning signed confidentiality agreements. The case between the two has spanned over twenty years.
Whether the Manning incident is true or not, there are many questions that have been left unanswered. One thing is clear: Naughright experienced continued harassment during her time at UT. Any level of sexual assault is not okay and her superiors clearly needed training for handling assault.
If Naughright was alleging assault against a boss or any other student athlete, I believe this case would be a non-issue. UT would have settled and everyone would have forgotten about it. But the fact that this case is against a “squeaky clean” star quarterback makes it even more convoluted. Instead of questioning both people’s stories, Naughright seems to be the one under fire. The blame and negative stereotypes fall to Naughright, rather than the man who committed the assault.
Now, I have to say, there is a lot of character evidence about Naughright that does not paint her in the best light. Claims that she swore generously and used vulgar language. In court, she has had numerous coworkers talk, under oath, about her strong character.
Many of these claims about her character are unfounded and can be traced back to Manning and his father.
I’m not telling you what to believe. I can’t tell you what part of this involves the stigma of accusing a powerful man of assault. I can’t tell you about Naughright’s actual character. Do your research and come to your own conclusions.
Regardless of a hero’s social status, we need to be able to think critically about them. Have they earned our adoration and respect, should they be taken off their pedestal?
Manning presents himself as a moral person and I respect that. In a world where NFL players hit their wives, I always enjoyed watching Manning go out and play a good game of football and have a respectable off-field life.
These allegations make it even more difficult for me, as a woman, to support sports like football. When these players are accused of heinous crimes against women, I don’t want to watch them play, root for them or let my friends root for them. Because it validates their behavior. To me it says, “Hey you hit a woman, and that’s not cool, but hey you tackled that guy and we won so I suppose it’s alright that she’s in the hospital.”
There are a lot of moving pieces to this story, and pieces we may never know about because of the confidentiality agreements. As uncomfortable as it is, we must never place too much stock in celebrity heroes. They are people too and make mistakes just like us. Instead we should acknowledge their mistakes and then decide, “Am I still a fan?”