Panthers quarterback Cam Newton deserved to take heat for being sullen with media and cutting short his news conference following his loss in the Super Bowl. Hardly anyone likes a sore loser.
But it’s not a topic that deserved the week-long hand wringing that followed by the sports media entertainment complex. And I’m wondering why self-important critics who chastise the petulant quarterback are giving Peyton Manning a pass for new revelations about a sexual assault allegation against him from 1996.
Yes, the accusations against Manning are old but there’s a fresh lawsuit filed with Manning’s name in it. There are newly revealed details about what a former University of Tennessee trainer characterized as a sexual assault by Manning. The noise machine regularly obsesses over issues with less relevance.
A group of women filed a lawsuit in federal court last week alleging that Tennessee violated Title IX regulations and created a “hostile sexual environment.” The lawsuit references allegations by the former trainer, Jamie Naughright, that Manning placed his naked genitals on her face while she examined him when he played for the Vols.
Manning denied that he made contact with Naughright, instead saying he was “mooning” a teammate, and the two parties settled a lawsuit against Manning in 1997. But over the weekend the New York Daily News reported on details of a 2002 defamation lawsuit against Manning in which the former teammate, Malcolm Saxon, wrote that Manning wasn’t mooning him.
The court filing by Naughright’s lawyers only gives her side of the story. Sports Illustrated obtained additional court documents in which Manning’s lawyers cast doubt on her version of the incident.
But I think the most compelling revelation is Saxon’s letter to Manning refuting the supposed mooning. Manning’s explanation was the story line that emerged at the time of Naughright’s initial allegation. It’s the angle that endured for anyone who cared to remember the incident at all as Manning became one of the most popular players in football.
Now the story is in the news again because of the Title IX lawsuit and the new revelations by the Daily News. Yet it seems people care even less about the story this time around. I think one reason for the silence is that talking too much about it ruins the settled media narrative of good guy Manning riding off into the sunset with his second Super Bowl victory.
The public also doesn’t seem to want the Manning-as-potential-villain story line. The allegations cause cognitive dissonance for people who see him as the aw-shucks corporate pitchman. They also raise the combustible issue of athletes and sexual violence, which means negative reactions follow the same tired beats: it happened long ago, nobody knows what really happened, Naughright was looking for a payday, etc.
Fans have more of an appetite for stories critical of Newton, regarding a topic much less serious. Again, Newton has only himself to blame. Some crusty old hacks were eager to give the hip-hop quarterback his comeuppance. He gave them an opening, and they took it.
They have no similar appetite for the Manning story. The new revelations won’t inspire commentators to opine on the terrible things Naughright alleges Manning did. The serious issue of athletes and sexual assault will continue to take a backseat to fake outrage and arguments about trivial topics.
There is a legal settlement between Naughright and the Manning. There is no statute of limitations on public indignation about such things. But there wasn’t outrage back then, and there won’t be now.
There are more important things to discuss, such as that time Newton wasn’t sufficiently contrite with media.
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