Peyton Manning's 2003 defamation lawsuit resurfaces: Things to know

Peyton Manning finds himself under the media microscope yet again. (USATSI)
Peyton Manning finds himself under the media microscope once more. (USATSI)

Is the squeaky-clean image of Peyton Manning, the one wearing dad jeans and hawking Buicks and Papa John's, the real Peyton Manning?

Or has the face of the NFL for nearly two decades gotten a pass from the media? These are questions being asked by Shaun King, a New York Daily News columnist, whose paper on Saturday published a story rehashing the events surrounding a defamation suit against Manning by a former University of Tennessee trainer who alleges Manning sexually harrassed her in 1996. 

In King's opinion, Manning's squeaky-clean image was built on lies, given what's in 74 pages of court documents that USA Today received in 2003 but never released while publishing its own report.

The trainer, Jamie Ann Naughright, said in a deposition that while examining Manning, he placed his "naked butt and rectum" on her face.

Manning, 19 at the time and the Volunteers' star quarterback, then "smirked" and "laughed" about it.

Manning's account differed in the 2000 book written by him and his father Archie. It contends that the quarterback dropped his pants and mooned another player in the training room while thinking that Naughright, who is female, "wasn't where she would see." That player, Malcolm Saxon, later signed a sworn affidavit saying he was never mooned by Manning.

Naughright would contend that Manning mocked her in front of his teammates and her coworkers. She later left the university as part of a financial settlement in 1997 and was later hired by Florida Southern College, but the document alleges she saw her career "suffer immensely" after the release of Manning's book. 

So what does King contend in his column? Essentially, the real Peyton Manning isn't the squeaky-clean quarterback who has been pitching you everything from pizzas to Buicks to credit cards to insurance during his storied NFL career. 

"This document says, in essence, that it's all a facade, an act, a well-designed for-profit creation, maintained and manicured at all cost," King writes. "For me, it was like reading proof that the first Apollo moon landing was really a fictional tale filmed in a Hollywood studio designed to dupe us all. That flag, planted in the moon, seemingly blowing in the wind, was a ruse after all. Maybe B.o.B. was right on this one fact."

King goes on: "Titled 'Facts of the Case,' and submitted to the court by the plaintiff's lawyers, the document ... is simultaneously shocking, disgusting, painful, and infuriating. It offers us the living, breathing human names and faces of the individuals the American sports machine is willing to mow down in the name of profit and fame."

But are the "Facts of the Case" really the "Facts of the Case?" ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio, who was an attorney long before he covered the NFL, explained the nuances of what this 74-page document is -- and isn't.

"The 74-page document is a piece of advocacy," Florio explained. "The 74-page document is something that was written by the lawyers representing Jamie Ann Naughright in her defamation case against the Mannings. The 74-page document is, necessarily, one-sided.

"The 74-page document is not objective. The 74-page document is not supposed to be objective. The 74-page document is not a court order or any other decision made by a neutral party. And, ultimately, the 74-page document is incomplete without comparing it to the corresponding 'Facts of the Case' document submitted by the defendants in the case."

Several paragraphs later, Florio reiterates that "the entirety of the 74-page document published by the New York Daily News was prepared by the lawyers for Naughright in connection with an effort to win her lawsuit against Peyton and Archie Manning."

You can read the facts of the case here.

Among the most alarming allegations:

  • Dr. Naughright, the first female to become an associate trainer at the University of Tennessee, alleges she dealt with sexism and lesbian slurs among athletic department personnel, including one trainer, Mike Rollo, who called her a derogatory term.
  • There was a previous incident between Manning and Naughright, in the fall of 1994, "which will not only explain the genesis for Peyton Manning's dislike for Dr. Naughright, but will be relevant to understanding the 1996 incident."
  • The document details the alleged incident that occurred on Feb. 29, 1996, per Naughright's testimony:

Q. Let me be very clear there. It was not just his behind, his rear end, that was on your face, but his genitalia was on your face?

A. That's correct. It was the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles and the area between the testicles. And all that was on my face when I pushed him up and off. And it was like this and I pushed him to get leverage, I took my head out to push him up and off.

Q. And what, if anything, did Mr. Manning -- withdrawn. Did you say anything or scream or screech as you felt this on the top of your head?

A. I pushed him off me and said, "You're an ass."

Q. Did you yell or scream or anything like that?

A. When he turned around and looked at me with the anger in his eyes that I saw, I did not want to get confrontational with him. I could see that anger and when I looked at Mr. Saxon he was just shocked. He had his mouth wide open and he was in shock. In disbelief.

  • After the alleged incident, the document states that Rollo helped Manning create a story that Manning had mooned fellow player Malcolm Saxon.
  • After Naughright reported the incident within hours, she was told not to call the police by university officials. When Naughright took a leave of absence after the incident, officials asked her to pin the incident on an African-American athlete.
  • Saxon refuted Manning's version in an affidavit. 

The most important question is the most difficult to answer. So who's telling the truth? SI.com legal analyst Michael McCann poses this question, and then provides an answer that won't satisfy most people.

"The accusations and denials were made under oath and thus under penalty of perjury," McCann wrote Saturday. "It would seem that someone is lying, but we likely won’t ever find out who that might be. ... [N]o records have surfaced indicating that he was ever investigated by law enforcement for either incident. While star college athletes have been known to receive favorable treatment by law enforcement, that alone does not prove Manning’s guilt."

Could there be a new investigation into what Manning did or didn't do based on this 74-page document? No. The statutes of limitation in Tennessee have expired, and Naughright has already settled a defamation lawsuit with Manning over the 1996 incident. McCann adds that "the NFL will not investigate a story that it was likely aware of and the key facts of which took place prior to Manning starting his NFL career in 1998."

About that settlement -- doesn't that prove that Manning is guilty? No. Celebrities settle lawsuits all the time, and not because they are guilty but because they want to avoid all that accompanies a lawsuit -- the media scrutiny, the bad publicity and the possibility of pretrial discovery. As McCann succinctly puts it, "the 1996 incident will remain a disturbing mystery and we should not assume we know what occurred."

Why release this information now? That's a question only King can answer, and he alludes to the reason in his story.

"[Manning] has reaped tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals based on a fraudulent mystique he's cultivated as a good guy, an upstanding citizen, the ideal professional athlete. This [74-page] document alone puts the lie to all this."

Manning is also one of the biggest names in the country's biggest sport. He's a target for that very reason. For much of his 18 NFL seasons he has been the poster boy of all that's great about the game. But in recent months, he has been the target of HGH allegations, and now the Internet is abuzz about a 13-year-old defamation lawsuit.

A week ago, Manning won Super Bowl 50. And it seems more certain than ever that he'll retire, if for no other reason to escape the scrutiny he managed to avoid for virtually his entire NFL career.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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