Thirteen years ago, USA Today obtained 74 pages of explosive court documents on Peyton Manning, Archie Manning, the University of Tennessee, and Florida Southern College that revealed allegations of a sexual-assault scandal, cover up, and smear campaign of the victim that was so deep, so widespread and so ugly that it would’ve rocked the American sports world to its core. Yet USA Today never released those documents for reasons I can’t explain.
Mel Antonen, now a baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote about the documents for the paper on Nov. 3, 2003. Three days later, Christine Brennan, longtime sportswriter for USA Today wrote an op-ed about Peyton Manning and the documents entitled, “Do you really know your sports hero?” but the scandal pretty much died right there.
Facebook wouldn’t be invented for three more months. Twitter didn’t come for three more years. The word “viral” was still only being used to describe the spread of infectious diseases.
But when the documents were sent to me on Tuesday, two days after the Super Bowl, it was immediately clear to me that had the world actually known what they contained, it’s doubtful that Peyton would have ever been the “swell, golly, gee-whiz” pitchman for Nationwide Insurance, DirecTV or Papa John’s Pizza. Certainly, evangelical op-eds calling him “squeaky clean” and positioning Peyton as the arbiter of all things good and decent in the world simply wouldn’t be the case.
But as his career winds down, we’re left to grapple with the reality that there is credible evidence that Peyton and the Manning family knowingly, willingly, wantonly ruined the good name and career of Dr. Jamie Naughright, a respected scholar, speaker, professor, and trainer of some of the best athletes in the world.
On the morning after Super Bowl 50, I posted a picture on my Facebook page of Cam Newton smiling and embracing Peyton Manning after the game and simply asked why that warm photo wasn’t being talked about instead of Cam being frustrated at the post-game press conference. It has since been shared more than 234,000 times and seen by more than 20 million people. It now has nearly 6,000 comments, but on that morning, just one leaped out at me, which mentioned something to the effect of “Peyton sexually assaulted a girl in college.”
Now, I get a lot of crap posted on my Facebook page, but I decided, on a whim, to Google “Peyton Manning sexual assault University of Tennessee.” That’s how I discovered the two old USA Today articles about the case. Later that day, when I wrote an article on the racial double standards in the media between Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, I decided to mention the sexual assault case, and how the allegations had somehow slid right off of Peyton like virtually every other mistake he has ever made in his career.
Less than 24 hours later, a source who claimed to see my article on the racial double standard, sent me a 74-page court document from Polk County court in Florida. Sitting in the San Francisco airport, waiting for a flight home, I opened the PDF, began reading, and felt like I had stumbled on to state secrets. I literally moved to where nobody could see my computer screen.
While Peyton Manning is not the president of the United States, in a land where football is king, he is the Captain America of sports and certainly one of the best quarterbacks of all time. He’s also a prolific pitchman, the friendly face of several multi-billion dollar corporations.
This document says, in essence, that it’s all a facade, an act, a well-designed for-profit creation, maintained and manicured at all cost. For me, it was like reading proof that the first Apollo moon landing was really a fictional tale filmed in a Hollywood studio designed to dupe us all. That flag, planted in the moon, seemingly blowing in the wind, was a ruse after all. Maybe B.o.B. was right on this one fact.
I read every single page in the airport before I boarded my flight. Maybe a good hundred times, I wondered to myself, Why — and how — had all of this been kept secret for so long?
Titled “Facts of the Case,” and submitted to the court by the plaintiff’s lawyers, the document, which warrants many more takes and reflections than what I will offer today, is simultaneously shocking, disgusting, painful, and infuriating. It offers us the living, breathing human names and faces of the individuals the American sports machine is willing to mow down in the name of profit and fame.
To begin with, Dr. Jamie Naughright was not “a girl” sexually assaulted by Peyton Manning; she was an esteemed professional widely admired by students and peers alike at the University of Tennessee, where she was the Director of Health & Wellness for the Men’s Athletic Program. Originally from New Jersey, Naughright had made Knoxville her home away from home.
In 1991, she earned her B.A. from the University of Tennessee in Exercise Physiology with a Minor in Football Coaching (I didn’t even know such a minor existed). A year later, with a 3.7 GPA, she earned her Master’s Degree in Health Education and Promotion. A few years later, with a 3.925 GPA, she earned her doctorate from the University of Tennessee in Health Education and Wellness.
In fact, Jamie Naughright had been a staple across all sports programs at the University of Tennessee and had more tenure than most of the football staff, including the head coach at the time, Phillip Fulmer.
Starting as a student in 1988, Naughright devoted her entire life to the University of Tennessee athletic program. She was a student trainer for the women’s athletic programs and a supervisor for intramural sports on campus. From 1989-91, she was the student trainer for the men’s athletic department. After earning her bachelor’s degree and entering grad school, she became the graduate assistant trainer for the men’s athletic program for two years. Gifted and respected throughout the campus, she was hired as the assistant trainer for the entire men’s athletic program in 1993, following a year as a full-time intern.
After two years in that role, she was hired as the Director of Health and Wellness for the Men’s Athletic Program. In that position she developed widely acclaimed educational and medical programs for students and oversaw the drug testing of all of the male athletes. She presented academic papers, served as an instructor and lecturer for college courses, and traveled frequently with students and staff to conferences all over the country. She started successful community projects and raised funds for local charities.
While serving as the Director of Health and Wellness, Naughright also was the head trainer for Tennessee’s track and field program, which includes cross country, indoor, and outdoor athletics. In that position she hired and trained 25 staff members, oversaw all medical care for every track and field athlete, served as the medical director for large events, coordinated annual physicals and supervised weekly drug testing. So many athletes — which would eventually include medal-winning Olympians — developed such a deep respect for Dr. Naughright that she would be requested to travel with them to international events and world championships.