If you went online at all this weekend, you probably saw the "breaking news" on the 20-year old story of Peyton Manning, then a student at the University of Tennessee, allegedly sexually assaulting a trainer, Dr. Jamie Naughright.
A piece by Shaun King in the New York Daily News featuring court documents led to a firestorm on social media, as the news from 1996 was brought into the digital and social media age. Twitter ran with it, and the story has become absolutely huge ever since. It shouldn't be a surprise that King, whose post-Super Bowl story was pointing out the racial double-standard between Cam Newton and Peyton Manning, then wrote an article a week later about this subject. Nonetheless, the story on the Manning allegations has become one of the leading "news" stories of the past few days.
I have been asked quite frequently for my take on the situation, and you'll notice that I have not yet written anything about it - aside for a few tweets on Saturday night. I wanted to gather information and avoid a rash reaction (something Patriots fans taught me after I jumped the gun on Deflategate), and what follows are my thoughts on the matter.
- If Peyton Manning did it, it's disgusting and shouldn't be excused. I want to start out by saying this very clearly: sexual assault is not something that we should take lightly. It's awful and we shouldn't overlook it even if that person is Peyton Manning and even if that person, like Manning, has done an insane amount of good for people all over the country, but particularly in Indianapolis. There's no denying that Manning has done a whole lot of good (much more than we know), but at the same time, if the allegations that Dr. Naughright brought forward are true, we shouldn't overlook them or excuse them. I feel that this is an important point to make because when it comes to specifics of discussing the case, it's probably easy to feel like someone is coming off as insensitive, and that's not what I want to do. If Manning did it, it's disgusting.
- This is not a new story. Over the past few days, I've seen a number of people express their shock and surprise at this story, and a large number of people have suggested that because they hadn't heard about it before, the media had failed in covering it. That's absolutely not true, however. This story broke 20 years ago and has been mentioned ever since, though since twitter wasn't around at the time, perhaps it wasn't covered like you would have liked it to be in today's age. Ultimately, I'm sorry if you missed the story before, but that's your own fault and not the fault of the media and doesn't mean there was an elaborate cover-up including the media. The details of this story have, for the most part, been public for a long time.
- The document provided is one-sided. It is very important to understand that the document provided in King's article is from Naughright's side of things, prepared by her legal group. It doesn't appear that there was any attempt on the part of the author to find out Manning's view of things or contact his legal team, as instead the one-sided court documents were passed off as factual. Perhaps they are, indeed, telling the truth. Perhaps every single word contained in the document is factual. But we must realize that the view presented was from one side of the argument. That doesn't make it false, but it does mean that we should take it with a grain of salt in realizing that it may very well not be the whole story. In his article, King presents as fact what is actually allegation. Again, that doesn't mean it's not true, but it's important to note the reality of the situation.
- Peyton Manning was never charged and the case was settled. Just as it is important to understand the reality of King's article and the allegations made against Manning, it is also important to understand the reality of the situation. The reality here is that Manning was never charged with a crime and that the case was settled over a decade ago. Of course, just because Manning wasn't charged doesn't mean he is innocent (we've seen star athletes receive beneficial treatment before), but it's also crucial to understand that just because someone made the allegations doesn't make it true. The details of the case are hard to come by, but Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann did an excellent job of providing a timeline and pertinent information. According to McCann, Manning's legal team had an affidavit signed by Naughright in 1996 in which she claims that Manning mooned her but in which she does not allege any contact. That allegation of contact - which was one of the more striking parts of King's report - did not come until 2003, it appears. Manning, in fact, has admitted the incident happened, though his take is vastly different from the one presented this weekend. In a book authored by Archie and Peyton Manning that was co-authored by John Underwood, titled "Manning" and released in 2000, Manning describes how he intended to moon a teammate and the female trainer (not mentioned by name) saw it and took offense. It was immature and stupid, yes, but a far cry from sexual assault in the way Naughright later alleged. To the best of my ability to sift through the available information, it seems that this was at the time simply regarded as a mooning incident before the more serious allegations appeared in 2003. In the meantime, however, Naughright (after settling with the University of Tennessee) sued Manning for defamation in 2002 over the comments made in the book. Manning and Naughright later settled the case in 2003, though the details of that settlement are not known publicly. Later, in 2005, Naughright alleged that Manning breached the terms of the settlement, leading to another settlement. Basically, here's the deal: this issue - regardless of what happened - was settled over a decade ago and did not prompt any charges or legal investigation. That means that we likely won't ever find out the ultimate truth, but it also means that it is still very much unclear what actually happened.
- Guilty until proven innocent? Because of the nature of the story, a lot of people are taking it and running with it. You will see it all over twitter, and no matter what the subject is, if someone brings up Manning there are people who respond with some variation of, "well, he is guilty of sexual assault." There are many benefits of the social media age - the spread of news and information is a huge one - but there's also the downside of someone's reputation and character being ruined by one allegation such as this one. We've already examined how there is still much uncertainty as to what actually happened during that incident in 1996, but that doesn't matter in the court of public opinion and in the court of twitter. There, Manning is already guilty, and he won't be innocent until he's proven guilty - and, since this is a 20-year old incident that was settled over a decade ago, we may never get that concrete evidence to prove either way.