Monday, March 7, 2016

A fair question and the right answer at Peyton Manning's retirement press conference

We interrupt this retirement press conference for a question about something that happened 20 years ago ...

From what I gather, a lot of people are upset that a reporter, Lindsay Jones of USA Today, asked Peyton Manning about an incident in the training room when he was a junior at the University of Tennessee in February 1996. How dare she, they say, suggesting this was neither the time nor the place for such a question.

Sorry, but it was precisely the right time and the right place. Thanks to a race-baiting column in the New York Daily News a month ago, it was the elephant in the room. Somebody had to ask about it.

Whether intended or not, Jones' question allowed Manning to address a subject he had previously avoided. The reporter actually did him a favor.

"It is sad that some people don't understand the truth and the facts," Manning said. "I did not do what has been alleged. And I am not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19 years old."

There you have it: a denial. It's on the record. Monday's account coincides with the testimony Manning gave in a deposition on March 12, 2003. It's right there on pages 188-189 on Part II of a two-day deposition in a defamation lawsuit brought by former training Jamie Naughright after publication of an otherwise forgettable book.

You know the story so I won't rehash it in great detail here. Naughright alleged Manning placed his genitals and rectum on her forehead while she was examining his foot in the training room. Manning contended he was merely -- and briefly -- mooning another athlete, Malcolm Saxon, and nothing was directed at Naughright.

Initially, Naughright stated that Manning "pulled his pants down and exposed himself to me as I was bent over examining his foot after asking me several personal questions." That was one of 27 incidents listed by Naughright in an employment discrimination complaint filed on Aug. 27, 1996. UT ultimately settled the matter for $300,000.

And that's where things should have ended. But Manning, via ghost writer John Underwood, referred to Naughright as having a "vulgar mouth" in the book. Naughright sued for defamation.

Documents related to that lawsuit were the basis for the column by Shaun King in the Daily News that resurrected the story. As I've written before, The Tennessean and other media outlets covered the stories of the training-room incident and the defamation suit. I've got hundreds of pages of depositions and other court filings to prove how deeply it was examined.

The fact that somebody with a national audience became aware of the allegations in the days following Super Bowl 50 does not diminish the fact that it is old news.

Right here, let me say something about Jamie Naughright. Some in the media with agendas of their own have gone out of their way to discredit her. Indeed, she appears to have been guilty of some rather uneven behavior in recent years. But at the time she filed the defamation lawsuit and prior to its settlement, I considered her a very credible person.

In those days, I spent a lot of time talking to her on the phone. In fact, a colleague and I were preparing to go to Florida to meet with her and then cover the court case when we learned it had been settled for an undisclosed sum.

On Monday, at the press conference where Manning announced he was retiring from football after an 18-year NFL career, the incident and its aftermath were revisiting. He addressed it.

Maybe now we can move on. I bet Peyton Manning already has.

Reach David Climer on Twitter @DavidClimer.