The Truth About Peyton

Posted at 12:18 pm on 02/22/2016 by Buddy Martin
I don't know Peyton Manning personally. 

Nor do I know the innermost workings of Manning's private life -- or even his public one. 

I know people who know people who know Peyton.

I’ve seen him play a lot of football.

I watched the ESPN TV movie The Book of Manning, enjoyed it immensely and came away admiring the Manning family even more.

Like most of you, I am mildly amused by Manning’s  sense of humor that seems to endear him to those of us who watch his pizza-auto-insuance TV commercials. 

Which makes me about as much of an expert as 90 percent of those writing and talking about him with such pseudo-authority. 

I greatly appreciate and respect Peyton's competitive nature and the captivating story of his John Wayne walkoff after the Broncos' Super Bowl victory.

Beyond that, I got nothing. 

Except common sense.

And I do know something about the whole incident really stinks.

I also know that we’ve been deceived many times by the public persona of celebrities only to find out later about their dark side.

I’ll never forget the night I was watching an NBA playoff game on TV with one of the most famous sports writers in America when the chase after a white Bronco (the other one) on a California freeway appeared as a cut-in on the screen.

“You don’t really think O. J. did it, do you?” asked my well-seasoned, sufficiently empathetic and otherwise adequately skeptical pal.

Clearly, we’ve all been duped at one time or another. 

There’s no way I’m comparing a murdering superstar to one who might be guilty of a tasteless, reprehensible and maybe even unlawful act in a locker room.

It does give us pause to reflect on our belief system, however, because we just don't know exactly who or what to believe. There’s just not enough information to pass judgment. And there's too much just to ignore.

Perhaps most of us are conflicted with “reasonable doubt.” Most of us remember that He Said/She Story about Manning’s locker room caper in 1996 that first came to light in a suit six or seven years ago. And now it’s back as sort of an addenda to the Title IX suit against Tennessee.

As the son of a single working mom, father of two daughters and grandfather of three girls, I detest the way women are often treated by some men who are disrespectful and abusive toward them.

So before you start finger-pointing at me, no, I do not excuse Manning's abusive behavior toward the female trainer. But let’s be frank here: The attorneys from both sides have successfully and purposely painted a distorted and confusing scenario. 

You can pick from either account in what Peyton claims was simply a “mooning incident” and Dr. Jamie Naughright says was an act of sexual abuse in which she claims he placed his butt and genitals on her face. And then there’s the Vol track athlete who supposedly observed the incident, corroborated Peyton’s story and then recanted.

While Peyton’s behavior may have been at the very least inexcusable, this was an obvious overreach by lawyers to implicate a celebrity and bring national attention to the case. Mission accomplished.

However, I’m not buying those who contend Manning is some sort of pervert who should be cast out as a sexual offender for something stupid that he probably did as a college kid 20 years ago — and which was recently regurgitated as a news story. 

At the same time I’m not making light of the sexual harassment problems that exists now in sports, on college campuses and in corporate America.

So what’s the deal? Let’s not overlook the fact that Manning’s 20-year-old case really shouldn’t be linked to what some have deemed as a permissive atmosphere of sexual harassment toward females at Tennessee in recent years. 

Somehow Peyton has been portrayed as the Poster Boy for sexual harassment in Knoxville.

This is dangerous territory.

In a day when we can dismantle an icon about as fast as we can take down a Christmas tree and pack away the ornaments, we can quickly disposed of a person’s reputation on a garbage pile. And the dismantlers don't even need a credential of credibility.

At warp speed on the Internet, we can help destroy a person's reputation or cast them into purgatory. 

Of course, some were already at hell's front door anyway. (Bill Cosby)

Some were already disgraced and are teetering on the brink of oblivion. (Tiger Woods)

Some have imploded. (Lance Armstrong) 

And some are in the waiting room. (Kanye West).

Others have dodged a bullet legally while we wait to see if their rehabilitation is authentic. (Jameis Winston)

In recent weeks, the reputations of a couple of star NFL quarterbacks were terribly disparaged, if not tainted. (Cam Newton and Manning).

It’s tough to identify the Fallen Angels these days without a program.

Please, however,  don't make the leap from the paragraph about Cosby to the one about Newton and Manning.

Therein lies the problem of amateur writers posing a journalists, not to mention the whippedsawing public opinion which is slung around like an medieval sword, chopping off people at the knees.

Like all of you, I read and I listened intently last week as the tale of the besmirched Denver Bronco quarterback unfolded.

What startled me was reading the details some of the court documents out of Polk County from the case. The writer’s journalism training and qualification may be in question, but I do credit him for digging up an old document out of the archives, dusting it off and calling attention to some aspects of the case that have been forgotten, overlooked or even glossed over.

For better or worse, the work of Daily News writer Shaun King brought an awareness of the issue back into the light. However, the motives of the former #BlackLivesMatter co-organizer have been called into question by such outspoken critics as Jason Whitlock, who got into a Twitter War with King in which they argued the degree of each other’s blackness.

Let’s not kill the messenger — yet.

The latest is that Dr. Naughright’s lawyers accused Peyton of cheating in a class where she was a guest lecturer.

According to a Washington Post story, this happened in 1994 when Manning was an 18-year-old freshman and Naughright was a 26-year-old trainer, doctoral student and a guest-lecturer in a course taught by Tennessee associate athletic director Carmen Tegano. However, Tegano now says there was no way Manning could have cheated because it was a “pass/fail” course based merely attendance.

So while it is an “old story,” it will always be a “new story” every time something other piece of it emerges. I’ve been wrestling openly with the story in private and on my daily radio show for over a week, because it cannot be ignored. Yet there is almost no information from the Manning side because they are  understandably on radio silence. 

Two of my high profile guests this week have openly criticized or questioned the behavior of football's Royal Family. 

Paul Finebaum of ESPN, a longtime acquaintance of the Manning family, spoke on my show and his own about “being played” by Archie Manning 20 years ago. He recounted the time Archie contacted him to spin and defend his son’s side of the story while Peyton was an All-American making a bid for a Heisman Trophy which he never won. “Archie knew what he was doing,” said Finebaum, who admitted that as a Birmingham newspaper columnist at the time he was “flattered” Archie had reached out to him.

Finebaum also marveled at the rapid descent of a seemingly beloved figure in the eye of some people. Only a few days after Manning’s epic Super Bowl triumph, a female caller to his show “was comparing him to Lance Armstrong.”

Terry Bradshaw, who co-hosts a weekly show with me, said he was caught off guard completely by the Manning story. He admitted there were some disconcerting information which he had not heard before, but “I really can’t offer an intelligent answer because we don’t know enough about it.” 

And that pretty much sums it up for most of us.

In the end, there is still a chance that a judge will throw out the Manning incident as not relevant to the Title IX suit. Unfortunately, the courts don’t move swiftly enough to clear the good name of those whose character has already been destroyed by social media assassins.

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