By Ken Reed

The legacy of Peyton Manning might end up being about more than just his two Super Bowl wins and a boatload of NFL passing records.

Manning might eventually be known as the guy that indirectly spurred reform efforts on college campuses to clean up the “rape culture” problem of sexual assault by athletes.

Manning’s squeaky clean reputation has taken a hit lately. Late last year, the story broke that a medical clinic had been shipping HGH to his wife, Ashley. Manning vehemently denied using HGH at the time. He did not deny that the clinic was shipping HGH to his wife, for what reason we do not know.

That story has taken some bizarre twists and turns since the initial report came out, including news that Manning had hired two private investigators to go after the pharmacist who made the initial comments about the clinic sending HGH to Manning’s wife. The NFL is currently investigating the allegations against Manning and others.

Now Manning’s name has come up again in the news as part of a Title IX sexual assault lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee. The suit alleges that Tennessee has long allowed a “hostile sexual environment” on campus, especially involving the school’s male athletes. Manning’s name came up in the lawsuit due to sexual harassment allegations brought against him in the mid-90’s by Jamie Naughright, a trainer and director of health and wellness for all male athletes at Tennessee while Manning was a football player there.

Manning claimed Naughright’s allegations were false and that the incident in question was nothing but a prank and that he was just simply mooning a track athlete in the training room at the time.

According to a recent article by Sarah Spain on the website ESPN W, Naughright — and for that matter, Malcolm Saxon, the track athlete Manning claims to have been mooning — had a little different story:

Naughright said in a court deposition she was treating Manning’s foot when he began asking her personal questions. When she refused to answer, she heard laughter and looked up to find that Manning had dropped his pants and she claims he put “the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles and the area in between the testicles” on her face. The male student that Manning later claimed he had been mooning, track athlete Malcolm Saxon, wrote a letter saying he was not the intended recipient of any mooning and urged Manning to “maintain some dignity and admit to what happened…. Your celebrity doesn’t mean you can treat folks this way…. Do the right thing here.”

Naughright took a settlement from the University of Tennessee. Several years later she sued Manning on defamation charges for Manning’s depiction of the incident in a book. Manning settled with her out of court and part of the settlement was that neither party talk about the incident publicly. However, several years later, Manning discussed the incident in an ESPN documentary about the Manning family. Naughright sued Manning again and that lawsuit was settled in 2005. Manning continued his All-Pro football career and Naughright earned a doctorate degree and went on to become an assistant professor at Florida Southern College and the head trainer for the U.S. women’s track and field team in Beijing.

The key point here is not whether or not you think Manning has been fairly or unfairly accused in the HGH case, the Naughright case, or both. The important takeaway here is that all the publicity surrounding this Title IX lawsuit at Tennessee, due to the suit’s mention of the Manning incident, has brought much needed attention to the problem of sexual assault on the nation’s college campuses, in general, and sexual assault by college athletes, in particular.

The Title IX suit against Tennessee was filed by six women, four of whom say they were raped by athletes on campus, three by football players. Sexual assault on college campuses is a major issue that hasn’t received enough public attention. In 2015, the Association of American Universities published a survey that supported prior reports that one in five female undergraduates had been sexually assaulted. The AAU report found that 23% of female undergraduates had been sexually assaulted since arriving on campus. While some question the validity of these studies, there is little doubt that sexual assault on college campuses is a significant problem.

The Peyton Manning case might end up being just a footnote in the Tennessee Title IX lawsuit, but all the recent attention on Manning, and what his lasting reputation and legacy might be in light of these recent developments, is spurring needed discussions across the nation about the problem of sexual assault involving athletes at our nation’s universities — and how university athletic departments and school administrators are dealing with these cases.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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