Column: Peyton Manning’s fall from grace

It seems as though we are having to do this a lot more lately, turn our backs on our once-beloved idols. Scandal after scandal, arrest after arrest, accusation after accusation, the titans of the sports world continue to fall back down to Earth, proving they are mortal, after all.

This past week, the unthinkable happened. One of the seemingly nicest players in all the NFL, a guy who never got into trouble and always maintained a reputation of being a professional, saw his whole life come crashing down.
As the week wore on, multiple reports surfaced of allegations of sexual assault against Peyton Manning while he was attending the University of Tennessee.

You read that right. Peyton. Manning.

I, for one, was floored by these allegations. I could not believe it, and, at first, I refused to believe it. Simply put, I was shocked.
The lid was really blown off the cookie jar when the 1996 case was unearthed just days after the Super Bowl. From there, things went from bad to worse for Manning.

As more information continues to come out, we have learned not only are there allegations of assault, but also damning allegations of a massive cover-up attempt by the university; methods that included asking the alleged victim, Dr. Jamie Naughright to blame the incident on a black student, rather than have Manning take the fall.

Manning’s former teammate Malcolm Saxton also fell prey to the alleged cover-up. When Mike Rollo, the university’s associate athletic trainer at the time, told Saxton to say Manning mooned him, Saxton refused. The result, as Saxton claims in a letter written to Manning some time after the incident, was that he lost his eligibility and his redshirt was never granted.

Years after the ’96 incident went away, Manning, with the help of his father Archie, penned a tell-all book, slamming the former Tennessee trainer, painting her to be the bad guy in the situation.

The book ruined Naughtright’s career, as she was let go from her position at Florida Southern College. She tried fighting back, suing the Manning duo for the book. Eventually, the two sides settled out of court, but the damage had already been done. Everything Manning has said about that day and Naughtright has been disproved time and time again. How Manning was able to dodge it this long is a mystery to me.

Many of you reading this do not know me, but if you did, you would know I am highly critical of the NFL for its domestic violence policies and the way its athletes treat women. If you followed me on Twitter, you would see the numerous tweets of me slamming NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for being too soft on the issues of abuse against women. If you knew me, you would know that I publicly denounce any athlete who has committed these offenses, which is why this is such a hard pill to swallow for me.

Growing up, Peyton Manning was my idol. I had his jersey, I watched him on TV, the whole nine yards. Heck, I even had his FatHead on my wall. I looked up to him and respected him. He was the consummate pro. At least, he appeared to be, on the outside.

As a journalist, I have to be fair, so I will wait to fully pass judgment until more information comes out, but I also have to be balanced. And, sadly, that means letting go of my childhood idol, as tough as that may be.

As he potentially rides off into the sunset, on top of the world after winning his second Lombardi trophy, I will forever remember good ‘ole number 18.

For all the wrong reasons.

Jake Griffith can be contacted at [email protected].