The Problem with Peyton's Sexual Assault Story

The NY Daily News recently recycled an old story that dates back 20 years: on February 29, 1996, Peyton Manning sexually assaulted Dr. Jamie Naughright when he was a 20-year-old quarterback at the University of Tennessee. According to Naughright, as she went to examine his foot, Manning placed his naked testicles and rectum directly on her face and his penis on top of her head.

That led to a story that would be reported numerous times over the years. On February 2, 2016, the Daily Beast wrote about it. Before that, a number of other outlets reported the story with varying degrees of detail, including the Inquisitr and Florida Times-Union, as well as the USA Today and ESPN a number of times. None of these gained much in the way of traction until the NY Daily News ran its story this past weekend.

The NY Daily News report is somewhat misleading for the uninitiated. The article presents the events as fact rather than what they are, namely, allegations. The story relies upon a document entitled Facts of the Case. However, it should be noted that this document was drafted by Naughright’s lawyers and at its core represents strategic legal writing designed to present one side of the story. By extension, the NY Daily News story is one-sided (as well as a bit muddled).

As is generally the case, it’s a bit more complicated than that. In a sworn statement made by Naughright in 1996 after the incident, she indicated that Manning exposed himself but there was no mention of physical contact:

“He pulled his pants down and exposed himself to me, as I was bent over examining his foot after asking me personal questions. 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.”

Fast forward to 2002, Naughright sued Manning for defamation after he described her as having a “vulgar mouth” in his book entitled Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy. In that lawsuit, Naughright alleged that an egregious act well beyond mooning took place, but that act is not identified. In 2003, and as part of that same lawsuit, the specific allegation of unwanted physical contact was raised in the previously noted Facts of the Case, namely that Manning placed his genitals on Naughright.

So the events of that day are unclear. It is of course possible that Naughright’s account as set out in the Facts of the Case did indeed occur. However, since the civil case was settled and criminal charges were never pursued against Manning, they remain merely allegations.

Let’s be clear about one thing: something did occur. In his book, Manning admitted that the incident was “crude maybe, but harmless”. The extent of the wrong, however, remains an open question. And given that the case settled long ago and the criminal statute of limitations bars any type of investigation, we will not see any type of formal legal finding as to the events of that day.

Manning v. Naughright: A Litigation History

There is a litigation history between Naughright and Manning. As mentioned, she sued Manning for defamation in 2002 and the case settled two years later. As well, she sued Manning once again in 2005 when she alleged he was in breach of a settlement agreement by virtue of publicly sharing information about the incident. Manning fired back with a counter claim (or suing her right back), alleging that she breached the settlement agreement when she contacted Mike Freeman of the Florida Times-Union to write a story about the incident. So while the incident occurred back in 1996, the sides have remained litigation foes for some time.

Manning Settled: Sign of Guilt?

Some have opined that Manning settling the 2002 lawsuit amounts to an admission of guilt. It should be noted, however, that settlement is quite common in litigation. Parties want to move on with their lives and avoid the cost, stress, uncertainty and distraction of litigation. When settling a case, we will often include a provision in the settlement agreement that the defendant does not admit to any of the allegations. Overall, settlement is generally encouraged and should not be seen as an admission of guilt. Rather, it’s par for the course in litigation.

Ultimately, one side of the story was presented. As a result, questions remain as to what transpired on February 29, 1996.

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