This past weekend, one of the most revered, accomplished and admired sports stars of the past half century announced his retirement. The entire sports world paused to congratulate him on his illustrious and record-breaking career, showering him with adulation and respect. News cycles, sports pundits and even other celebrities took time out to acknowledge Peyton Manning’s retirement, which comes after 18 truly incredible seasons and 6-8 months of intense scrutiny.
Lost in the 48-hour coverage of his retirement from last Sunday evening into Tuesday — which featured both ESPN and the NFL Network devoting nearly all airtime to some sort of commiseration — were two startling accusations held against the five-time MVP and his supposed impeccable distinction. Oddly enough, both accusations revolve around two subjects that the sports world in general would like to, not only distance itself from, but ignore altogether.
In the midst of a six-game stretch from November to late December that Manning sat out of due to a foot injury, a report from Al Jazeera came out that named Manning’s wife as a recipient of human growth hormones, or HGH, from an anti-aging clinic, the Guyer Institute, based in Indiana. Manning, his agent and the Denver Broncos all vehemently deny him ever taking the banned substances, but according to Al Jazeera reporter Deborah Davies, the allegation that HGH was sent to his wife has never been refuted by Manning or his representatives.
“The allegation is very simple … the clinic was sending out not one shipment, but repeated shipments to Ashley Manning in Florida. That’s it. That’s the allegation,” she explained in an interview on The Today Show. The accusations are now old news, and any possible repercussions or even adequate investigation into the report’s claims have been nullified by the Broncos’ championship run and Manning’s subsequent retirement.
Also rearing its head in the twilight of Manning’s career is a report from the NY Daily News that USA Today had, in 2003, obtained court documents totaling 74 pages, that alleged that Manning, his father Archie and the University of Tennessee had devised an elaborate coverup of a sex scandal Peyton was involved in while he was a student at Tennessee. It’s a disturbing indictment, with complex and intricate narratives, and coverups involving the head football coach at Tennessee and the associate trainer of the school. The victim of this sex scandal was a trainer at the school, an established and proven professional named Jamie Naughright.
Following an unknown incident involving Naughright and Manning in 1994, forever lost after Manning’s representatives had the pages permanently erased from the court records, Naughright again experienced inappropriate and borderline criminal behavior from Manning.
The act Naughright alleges is heinous, and constitutes sexual assault, and, regardless of his age, or whatever other excuse he may use to defer responsibility or further questioning, like he did at his retirement press conference, he deserves to be held accountable for his actions like any other person would if they performed a criminal act. And yet when Mike Rollo, associate trainer at the school and a boss of Naughright’s at one point, fabricated a story that Manning was mooning another athlete in the room, the burden of proof was placed on the victim. The story revolved around Manning mooning another student and that any genital placement on Naughright was an unintended consequence.
The incident ended with no criminal charges and Naughright seeking employment at another college. It did not, however, end Manning’s assault on her. There were letters and words spoken about Naughright to defame and demean her and to keep her mouth shut. But in 2003 she filed a lawsuit against the university that settled for $300,000, while “The Book of Manning” written by Archie, Peyton and a ghostwriter continues to sell and includes damning, false accounts of Naughright.
Drug use and sexual assault from an athlete as pervasive as any in American history – and both stories have been buried deep under the mountains of adornment and admiration for the once infallible quarterback.
Eli Manning, Peyton’s younger brother, said he got out at just the right time. While he may not have been referring to the allegations against his brother, I do tend to agree with the younger Manning. Peyton did get out just in time, just in time for people to stop questioning, just in time for them to get wrapped up in the nostalgia and decoration that comes with retirement and a sure-fire hall of fame career.
An “honest family man” became a profit center when Manning became an over-commercialized player, an over-simplified man and an over-gratified quarterback. Certainly businesses made their money, as Papa John’s wet kiss on Peyton’s cheek after the Super Bowl can attest, and the NFL more than benefited from having a washed up quarterback, “the Sheriff” as he’s now called, ride off into a sunset of dementia and hip replacements.
Good riddance, Peyton.