Jelani Scott | Sports Editor
After his historic win at Super Bowl 50 on February 7 to earn his second championship ring, quarterback Peyton Manning appeared to have one foot out of the door of the NFL as most thought he would ride off peacefully into the sunset. But Dr. Jamie Naughright, former Director of Health & Wellness for the Men’s Athletic Program at the University of Tennessee, has temporarily put that seemingly storybook ending on hold.
On February 13, New York Daily News reporter Shaun King published a recently released 74-page court document filed in 2003 in a February 2016 article, entitled “Peyton Manning’s squeaky-clean image was built on lies.”
The documents cast a negative shadow on the future Hall of Famer’s otherwise clean public image and brought to light a case everyone thought was gone.
To make matters worse, four days prior, six unnamed women filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, citing numerous “violations by the school, an adjudication process heinously biased against victims, and a pattern of sexual assault by male athletes,” according to an article on Deadspin.com. The article also highlights that the suit outlines that university and its leaders fostered “a toxic culture that enables sexual assault and allows its perpetrators go unpunished.”
The Tennessean reported that one of the 10 athletes cited in the lawsuit was Manning, who was a star QB for UT’s football team. The lawsuit cited the 20-year-old situation with Manning to provide a good example for the behavior the lawsuit is seeking to have penalized.
The incident that prompted Naughright, whose last name was Whited at the time, to file the suit on August 27, 1996 allegedly took place on February 29, 1996. Naughright alleges that Manning intentionally placed his lower extremities on her head while he sat on a trainer’s table as she was examining his foot for a stress fracture.
“I reported this to my supervisor, who referred to it as ‘merely a prank,’ and no action was taken in regard to this until after I formally complained. I have been on medical leave ever since this incident occurred,” said Naughright in her employment discrimination complaint.
It may seem like the incident with Manning was a random occurrence but that is not the case. In 1989, the then 20-year-old Naughright was transferred to the men’s athletic programs, becoming one of the first women to work in the program, after interning for a year with the women.
For three years, she was subjected to verbal harassment from her boss, associate trainer Mike Rollo and other staff members.
In spite of this, Naughright persevered and even successfully instituted policies prohibiting offensive language and eventually trained students on how to be professional.
In the fall of 1994, during Manning’s freshman year, he and Naughright got involved in a situation so damaging that his counsel requested it be sealed and censored from the permanent record. This encounter would set the tone for the relationship between the two moving forward.
The university investigated the 1996 case and concluded that she was not discriminated against and was not subjected to any unwelcome sexual interaction that created a hostile work environment. It was also determined that the act committed by Manning was directed at a teammate as a “mooning” prank and “not sexual in nature or directed at Ms. Whited; and therefore was not sexual harassment”.
King also wrote that Rollo created the story that painted the picture of Manning mooning fellow-student athlete Malcolm Saxon, who lost his eligibility as a result of the drama. In 2002, Saxon adamantly denied the story, however, in an affidavit.
King’s article also notes that Naughright was asked by two staff members, one of which was Rollo, if she would consider blaming the entire incident on another student-athlete, specifically a black one. She refused.
On August 13, 1997, Naughright signed a confidentiality agreement and reached a settlement with the school and “received $300,000 and several items of UT championship paraphernalia in exchange for accepting termination of her employment and maintaining confidentiality,” as cited in a February 2016 Sports Illustrated article.
In her remaining time at the university, King wrote, Manning, on two separate occasions, deliberately reenacted the assault on others to terrorize Naughright. He also allegedly called her a “b*tch” in front of other athletes after snatching a marker from her hand and throwing it across the room.
When she finally left, she vowed to put the Manning controversy behind her and was hired as an assistant professor and program director of the Athletic Education Training Program at Florida Southern College.
She was able to expertly serve there for more than three years but, in what was perhaps an effort to cover the tracks should anything ever be uncovered, the Mannings, Peyton and his father, ex-NFL QB Archie, decided to make their presence known in her life again. Upon returning from a trip with students, she was welcomed by a manilla envelope in her office that had “Dr. Vulgar Mouth Whited” printed on the front and contained a copy of the family’s book, “The Mannings” inside.
In it, the father and son, along with ghost writer John Underwood, slandered her name and ruined her strong perception in the program and, upon her supervisor reading the copy, she was once again let go.
This was the second time Naughright had her life and career impacted by the famous family for no reason and decided that she would sue all of the writers and the publishing company, HarperCollins, for defamation.
The Mannings sought to prove that Naughright was “trashy”, had poor character, spoke poorly and was promiscuous with black student-athletes during the trial. They felt it would strengthen their case that she was a liar and that Peyton did not do what she claimed.
Despite a strong case, full of testimonials from former student-athletes and people who worked close with Naughright who all said nothing but positive things about her, both parties settled on undisclosed terms in 2003.
In the wake of Manning’s HGH scandal, which is another story in itself, many have begun to question the sincerity of the promoting genius’ clean public image.
It remains to be seen what effect this has, if any, on Manning’s life as he prepares to possibly hang up his cleats.
One thing that is for sure, however, and that is that there is no doubt that the renewed interest in the case will spark debates from the barbershop to ESPN to UT’s campus, where Manning has made many donations.