Monday, February 15, 2016

The restless past

That was some grenade Shaun King of the New York Daily News lobbed into the middle of  Peyton Manning's sunset walk the other day. Grenades are always a nasty business, but when they come with a delayed fuse, that's when things get really bloody.

This one lay quietly beneath layers of polished image for 20 years before going off, and now everyone has formed ranks for that weary old standard, he said/she said. The "he," of course, being Manning, pure of word and unassailable of deed -- except, of course, for that one time he chose to dangle his, um, equipment in the face of a dedicated professional who was trying to treat a stress fracture in his foot.

(And, yes, yes, "allegedly." Although Manning's story that he was merely mooning a teammate, and Dr. Jamie Naughright simply got in the line of fire, is about a half-step above The Dog Ate My Homework on the believability scale. How do you moon someone when you're sitting on an examination table?)

In any case, the whole thing vanished down the memory hole in a hurry from the standpoint of the public, but not for Dr. Naughright. Because she dared to file a complaint, she got run out of  Knoxville and had her reputation smeared by the Mannings, who, in a ghost-written book, claimed she was a foul-mouthed harlot who slept around with some of the athletes she treated.

Maybe that isn't a bald-faced lie. But it's more than passing strange that not a single athlete Naughright treated -- and her standing as an eminent professional trainer brought her into contact with some pretty high-end athletes -- backed the Mannings' play. In fact, several swore out depositions that, in so many words, said what they wrote about Naughright was unfiltered BS. And the teammate Manning was allegedly mooning?

He refused to corroborate Manning's version -- a transgression, the player claims, that cost him his spot on the team. He also wrote Manning a letter urging him to man up and 'fess up.

So why is this relevant again now, after all this time?

It's not, except so much of it never got reported in the first place -- including Manning's being named in a lawsuit alleging that Tennessee fostered a hostile environment against women. Which at the very least would seem obvious if one of the school's leading lights dangled his naked genitals in the face of a female trainer and was allowed to pass it off as a mere "prank."

The other reason this is still relevant is because Manning is the public face, or certainly one of them, of the National Football League, which has its own issues with hostility toward women. It opened the door to that perception when it soft-pedaled Ray Rice punching out his fiancée in an elevator, and no amount of catch-up has been able to erase that -- particularly when one of the league's most prominent owners, Jerry Jones, goes on record praising the leadership skills of Greg Hardy, another woman-beating punk.

And so of course it's going to be a big deal when a Peyton Manning gets accused of sexually harassing a female employee of the university he was attending at the time, 20 years ago or not. Past acts, like time-release explosives, remain live no matter how many years go by if the principals choose to bury them quickly and deeply enough. And this one got buried in a hurry.

Look. I don't know if Naughright's version of events is the truth, or simply only part of it. The documents alluded to by King came from her attorneys, who were preparing a defamation suit against the Mannings. But it's pretty clear something happened, and Naughright regarded it as vile enough to risk professional ruin by filing a complaint. And the Mannings' version has been refuted by enough people to at the very least give any fair-minded person pause.

Past acts remain live. How much easier for Peyton Manning had he recognized this, if Naughright's version of events lies closer to the truth. How much easier to simply 'fess up to being a stupid college kid, and to take the hit to an image that was already being buffed to a mirrored sheen.

The image would have survived, given the man's immense good works in the years since. And we wouldn't be talking about this today, 20 years later.

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