In the NFL, Manning has been one of the types of players that make the league look good. On the field, he may be an aggressive and focused player but he’s also a good sport who rarely loses his cool. Off the field, he’s soft-spoken and mild-mannered, a poster child for the clean-cut All-American image that any sports team would happily put into the public spotlight and any sponsor would be comfortable with in a TV commercial.
But now, as the Denver Broncos quarterback ponders retirement at the top of his professional game, an old story is surfacing about about a younger Peyton, a 20-year-old quarterback at the University of Tennessee who dropped his pants and pushed his genitals into the face of a female trainer who was examining his foot in a training room. He would later say that he was mooning another athlete — but the incident led to a settlement that kept the story quiet. After all, he was a star quarterback on the rise and his school or family didn’t want to see his image tarnished.
In 2003, years before Twitter or Facebook would help stories spread across the Internet quickly, the incident surfaced again after Manning mentioned it in his and his father’s autobiography. USA Today picked up the details and published a story about it back then – but the story didn’t really gain any traction with any other news outlets.
Now, just days after the Super Bowl, the incident came to light again when the New York Daily News published a story that declared that Manning’s “squeaky clean image was built on lies.” Granted, that’s a little sensationalistic – but you would think that, with a headline like that, the national sports media would dig into the story and bring it to light. You would think that people across Twitter and Facebook would be sharing this story and chiming in the way they did with Tom Brady’s Deflategate scandal or Ray Rice’s infamous elevator video.
Instead, they’re talking about Donald Trump and leaving Peyton Manning alone.
Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith recently chimed in to blame the news media for intentionally turning a blind eye on Peyton’s sexual scandal story. The media was all over Deflategate, as well as the Ray Rice video story. But national media has been slow to come out with their own versions of the story, even though the court documents that offer details of the incident are readily available.
Personally, I’m torn about Peyton’s actions from 20 years ago, Part of me feels like the incident was an isolated one that involved poor judgement by a young athlete. Should we really be acting like judge and jury about an incident that occurred so long ago? Isn’t it better to move on and judge Peyton by the legacy he’s built during his NFL years?
In some ways, it feels hypocritical to give Peyton Manning a free pass for something that happened years ago when we as a society are unforgiving of a man like Bill Cosby, who is facing serious allegations about sexual assaults that occurred many years ago. I realize that the allegations against Cosby were far more serious and were not limited to a single incident or person. But what’s the threshold for holding someone responsible for something that happened many years ago? Is it OK to give Peyton a pass when we’re not willing to do that for others?
There’s no easy answer to this question but it feels like the news media is choosing to answer this question for us. By not reporting the story, by not digging deeper into the incident, by not putting Peyton on the hot seat to address it, the news media is telling the general public that this Peyton Manning scandal isn’t really that big of a deal.
I’d rather see the news media invest some resources into this story – just as it would with other scandals – and let the public determine its worthiness. If the story resonates with the public, then maybe it’s worth digging in deeper. If the public doesn’t care or otherwise respond to the story, then news editors – who hold the power to determine what people know about and what they don’t – will have an answer to that question.
Until the media does its job of reporting the news, the general public will never be able to make its own determination about whether Peyton’s squeaky clean image has been tarnished or whether an incident that occurred in the past should stay there.