The Peyton Manning incident with a trainer at the University of Tennessee in 1996 is getting attention. A lot of people were unaware of it, or it had faded into distant memory along with so many other stories. This weekend, I looked back at how it was covered in 1996 and 1997. At the time, it was referenced as a mooning incident, there were some articles written, and they largely focused on the settlement by the University of Tennessee.
Today, we’ll examine what was written in 2002 and 2003, when the story re-surfaced after Peyton Manning wrote a book providing his explanation of the incident, and Jamie Whited (by 2002 known as Jamie Naughright) sued Manning and others for defamation for statements he made in the book. I tried to include links to those where I could also find an online version (besides on Lexis–subscription based service).
Act II of the story first became public on May 30, 2002. From the Lakeland Ledger:
"LAKELAND — A former Florida Southern College assistant professor is suing Archie and Peyton Manning, claiming they made defamatory remarks against her in a book the father and son wrote.In the book entitled “Manning,” Peyton Manning said Jamie Ann Naughright had a “vulgar mouth” while she was director of health and wellness and associate football trainer at the University of Tennessee.“I thought she (Naughright) had a vulgar mouth, but I always tried to be nice,” Manning said in the book. The comments in the book, published in 2000, were about an incident in 1996 when Manning exposed his backside as Naughright bent over to examine his foot. Manning, who is now a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, said he intended to play the prank on another athlete.In 1997, Naughright received a $ 300,000 sexual harassment settlement with the University of Tennessee after she alleged students and staff made inappropriate sexual comments to her, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The Peyton Manning incident was one of 33 sexual harassment allegations she made against the university, the Sentinel reported.Her lawsuit filed Wednesday in Polk Circuit Court seeks damages of more than $ 15,000. In addition to the Mannings, Naughright is suing the publisher of the book, Harper Collins Publishers."
The next day, similar stories appeared in, among others, the Indianapolis Star, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle. That pretty much did it for over a year, so you can understand if most people were unaware. It is an interesting contrast to how this story would have gone in 2016. Manning was by that point an MVP candidate, a first overall pick, and had played in the NFL for four years. When the news of lawsuit came out it was in a limited number of publications, as blurb news items.
In a July 11, 2003 piece, the Lakeland Ledger provided updates, noting that depositions of Mannings, former head coach Philip Fulmer and AD Doug Dickey have taken place (with no details). No other publication reported similarly.
The next big update was on October 25, 2003, when the Indianapolis Star story cites several of the details. “Manning suit proceeds; former Tennessee trainer, suing QB for defamation, describes ‘mooning’ incident” (they republished the piece here):
"Jamie Ann Naughright, whose lawsuit came after publication of the book “Manning” in 2000, said that while she was examining Manning’s foot he pulled down his pants and placed his testicles and “naked butt and rectum” on her face. **** Last week’s filing, in Polk County, Fla., Circuit Court, includes a letter written by the supposed target of the “mooning,” cross country runner Malcolm Saxon. Saxon says in the letter, written to Manning last December, that he is not taking sides but is tired of the issue.“Bro, you have tons of class, but you have shown no mercy or grace to this lady who was on her knees seeing if you had a stress fracture. . . . She was minding her own business when your book came out,” Saxon’s letter said.“Peyton, the way I see it, at this point you are going to take a hit either way, if you settle out of court or if it goes to court. You might as well maintain some dignity and admit to what happened. . . . Your celebrity doesn’t mean that you can treat folks this way. . . . Do the right thing here!!” “Crude, maybe, but harmless,” he writes. “But as luck would have it, this particular trainer had been accumulating a list of complaints against the university that she intended to take action on — alleged sexist acts that, when her lawyer finally put it together, resulted in a lawsuit charging thirty-five counts of sexual harassment. In the end, the university settled with her for a good bit of money.”"
On that same day, an AP Local & State news wire story went out with similar details.
Then, it was silent nationally for another 10 days. On November November 4, 2003, USA Today ran its piece with the judge’s ruling on the request for dismissal:
"Court documents raise questions about Manning’s veracity. In denying Manning’s request for dismissal, Polk County Circuit Judge Harvey A. Kornstein wrote, in part: “Even if the plaintiff is a public figure, the evidence of record contains sufficient evidence to satisfy the court that a genuine issue of material fact exists that would allow a jury to find, by clear and convincing evidence, the existence of actual malice of the part of the defendants. . . .“Specifically, there is evidence of record, substantial enough to suggest that the defendants knew that the passages in question were false, or acted in reckless disregard of their falsity. There is evidence of record to suggest that there were obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of Peyton Manning’s account of the incident in question. The court further finds that there is sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendants entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the passages in this case.” *** In a deposition cited in the filing, Rollo was asked if Naughright had ever referred to the incident as mooning. “No, unfortunately, I think that tagging is with me,” Rollo answered. The next question: “In other words, you were the first person to characterize it as a mooning, is that correct?” “Unfortunately.” **** In court documents, Naughright’s lawyer wrote that after the incident with Manning, Manning taunted her by re-enacting his conduct on two occasions. The document also said that Manning called her a “bitch” during a drug test, when he snatched a pen, which he was supposed to use to sign and date the specimen, and threw it across the room."
On November 4, 2003, a state and local AP Wire report went out with many of the same details. The next day, similar blurbs appeared within Roundup or other segments like this in a handful of papers I could find in an online archived search.
On that same day in 2003, USA Today also wrote a story about “Manning’s image could take hit in suit.”
On November 5, 2003, USA Today notes that Gatorade says it will not have an impact on their endorsement deals with Peyton Manning. (Here’s a similar story in the Las Vegas Sun with comments from Gatorade).
On November 6, 2003, ESPN ran “Archie: Defamation Lawsuit Should be Dismissed“, which is the first ESPN online reference I can find, and is a keyword nightmare for search purposes since it doesn’t use the Manning name in headline. In the body of that, it notes:
"Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning believes his son Peyton has been punished enough for a mistake he made seven years ago and that a defamation lawsuit should have been dismissed. In an interview with The Associated Press, the elder Manning said his son regrets dropping his pants in front of a University of Tennessee trainer and tried to apologize to her. “He felt it was his mistake, he tried to apologize and he was remorseful,” Archie Manning said Tuesday night. “He got punished and he took his punishment.” *** Archie Manning said he was dismayed that the “feel-good” book is now the subject of legal action. “Obviously, my wife and I and our family hurt for Peyton at a time like this,” he said. “We’re sad for him, especially since an incident from seven years ago seems to have gotten so twisted.”"
I also found a November 6, 2003 CNN Report that covered it briefly. Here’s the transcript:
"STEVE OVERMYER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Manning name is revered in the annals of football fame, but the sparkling image of the Mannings may soon be tarnished.Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, along with his father, Archie, himself a former NFL signal caller, face a defamation suit over a written account of an incident that took place before Peyton’s junior season at Tennessee seven years ago. Jamie Ann Naughright, a former assistant trainer, claims that once, while she was examining Peyton for pain in one of his feet, Manning dropped his pants and proceeded to sit on her face and head.In August of 1998, the trainer agreed to leave Tennessee as part of a settlement related to this incident. End of story, right? Wrong. Now the matter has resurfaced and by the Mannings’ own hand. In their co-authored book “Manning: A Father, His Sons and a Football Legacy,” Peyton’s account of the incident differs from Naughright’s. His version is that the episode was crude, but harmless.She claims, however, the book casts her in an unflattering light and has cost her her job and her reputation. Selected by the Colts as the top overall pick in is the 1998 NFL draft, about the only hit Peyton Manning has faced to date is from opposing defensive linemen. Now Manning’s wallet and, more importantly, his squeaky-clean image, are in danger of taking an bigger hit.For CNN Sports, I’m Steve Overmyer."
On November 6, 2003, Christine Brennan wrote “Do you really know your sports hero?” which is the only piece that might be considered an opinion or think-piece on the topic that I could find.
"So you’re a sports fan, and you want to believe, and for quite a few years, you’ve had many wonderful thoughts about Peyton Manning. They’re still there, but now, something else is there, too. You thought you knew the guy. Turns out you’re still learning."
That was pretty much the end of it, after a three-day burst. On November 9, 2003, the NY Daily News (the same publication that posted the Manning story on Saturday) had this brief blurb in a Sunday game column:
"Distracted by a defamation lawsuit regarding a book that recounts his college days at Tennessee, Manning should be happy to get back on the football field. The 7-1 Colts go for a sweep of the three Florida teams and Manning is 4-0 against the Jaguars with a career 111.9 passer rating and 10 TDs."
On December 24, 2003, the Lakeland Ledger came out with story “Manning ‘Mooning’ lawsuit concluded.” You’ll note the date on that story. No one can accuse the Mannings of not being media savvy, and the news dump at slow holiday times when no one is paying attention is not just an invention of the social media era.
"LAKELAND — A woman who identified herself as the mother of Jamie Ann Naughright, the woman who sued Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his father, said on Tuesday night that the lawsuit was over.Speaking from Naughright’s home in North Lakeland, the woman said, “All I can say is that it has been concluded.”When asked if the lawsuit had been settled, the woman said that she could not comment.“I can’t even talk about it (the lawsuit) with relatives,” said the woman. The woman said that Naughright was inside the home but would not be able to comment about the lawsuit."
On Christmas Day, ESPN ran its online story of the case being resolved under the headline “Lawsuit settled; terms confidential“. Reference to the Mannings appears nowhere in that headline.
On December 26, 2003, it was reported in the Indianapolis Star, brief reference to the settlement was made in an “around the league” segment at the Chicago Tribune. An AP Local & State wire report also went out as follows:
"A defamation lawsuit filed against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning by a former female trainer at the University of Tennessee has been resolved, but neither side is disclosing details.“The case has been concluded,” Archie Manning, Peyton’s father, told The Indianapolis Star through a family spokesman. Archie Manning would not elaborate, citing confidentiality terms of the resolution. Team officials declined to comment on the matter Thursday, and Peyton Manning was not available for questions at practice."
On December 26th, some papers also ran segments like this reporting on the settlement.
After December 26th, there was no discussion in major publications, and articles referencing Manning focused on his MVP season and upcoming playoffs.
The only other opinion pieces I could find both appeared in the Roanoke Times, written by Dr. Reginald Shareef.
On January 11, 2004, Shareef wrote:
"Neither Manning nor his father “get it.” In a November interview, Archie Manning said that his son regrets dropping his pants in front of Naughright and that he has already been punished. Yet, Peyton Manning has never publicly acknowledged sitting naked on the trainer’s head or writing false statements about her that resulted in a job loss. Moreover, the taxpayers of Tennessee paid the sexual harassment damages to Naughright, not the Manning family. His only punishment has come from the defamation settlement (whatever that is)."
On January 18, 2004, Dr. Reginald Shareef wrote this as well:
"The media promotes certain white athletes as well. Peyton Manning is one of the NFL’s most sparkling images. Most football fans were not aware of the defamation suit he recently settled (discussed in last week’s column, “Smart QB, Dumb Jock”) against a woman he has harassed for years. Neither the lawsuit, nor his actions that triggered the defamation legal action, had been highly publicized in the media. The settlement of the suit makes it “go away” and allows the media to maintain the “Perfect” Peyton image, especially among the NFL’s female fans. "
That concluded any reference to the lawsuit or settlement, or the details, and I strongly suspect a local opinion piece in the Roanoke Times wasn’t widely consumed.
Was it covered in 2003? Well, things have certainly changed and so one’s perspective on that depends on the standards to which that coverage is held. It was written about, and for a three-day stretch in early November of 2003, it was covered most prominently by USA Today (disclosure: our parent company). There weren’t a lot of columns spilling ink talking about Manning, and it was mostly straight news reporting. After that, the news of the settlement was largely buried during Christmas of 2003. I was a fairly engaged fan in 2003–29 years old, frequented football websites and message boards, but did not live in Indianapolis and wasn’t a Colts fan–and I didn’t hear of the story of the lawsuit until a few years ago.
By 2016 standards, it didn’t get much coverage. There was little criticism, discussion or critique of Manning, with the main thing beyond news of the testimony being Gatorade standing by their man. The lawsuit and news about it comprised a small minority of the stories written about Manning during that year.
It was covered. It wasn’t covered like it would have been now.