Even in a world where there are so many more media prosecutors than defense attorneys, just because there simply aren't enough page views in it for defense attorneys, there is no defending what Peyton Manning allegedly did in front of a female athletic trainer named Jamie Naughright in a training room at the University of Tennessee 20 years ago. At the very least, it was a crime against manners and civility, if not the crime of the century it's suddenly become.
Later, Manning made things worse for himself when he went out of his way to address the incident in a book. Now he's in the barrel, not just for the original incident, but the act of trying to explain it away in that book as well. He has brought a lot of this on himself, whether you believe his version of what happened that day, or hers.
We're reminded constantly that we don't really know our sports stars, even if they've been around as long as Peyton has. We don't know Naughright, either.
Manning always maintained he was simply mooning a teammate, not putting his genitals in Naughright's face, which is her accusation. A then-teammate said Manning's version was not accurate. I know, I know, suddenly you feel as if people in outer space know what he says about this case, and what she says. But what we know for sure is that Manning wouldn't let this go, even after Naughright received a $300,000 settlement from Tennessee, even after she left Tennessee and moved on to Florida Southern. So he said things about her to the writer who helped pen "Manning" for him, and Naughright came after the quarterback again.
Now here we are, all this time later. We're not only supposed to prosecute Manning all over again, but do something a jury never got a chance to do, which means convict him. There's this sudden notion that the media should be prosecuted right along with him, because Manning wasn't burned at the stake when news of what happened in that training room first came to light, and when Naughright came after Manning again after his book came out. Forget that no one has any idea how social media might have driven a story like this at the time, if all of this had happened in a world where tweets become tsunamis, in 140 characters or fewer.
But no one cares about that, even with the way social media is driving the narrative on Manning now, or how differently we look at any kind of sexual harassment -- or worse -- in sports because of what happened with Ray Rice. We -- us, the media -- are accused of giving Manning a free pass. And if we gave him a free pass then, you hear that it would be practically criminal of us to give him a free pass now, as if this one stupid incident 20 years ago has turned Manning into Bill Cosby.
We -- us, the media, everybody in the club -- apparently got together and decided not to gang up on Manning 15 years ago. But we're sure supposed to gang up on him now, the way we ganged up on poor Cam Newton after he pouted his way through his postgame interview at the Super Bowl.
Oh, sure. Suddenly, how we feel about Newton keeps finding its way into analysis of what happened between Manning and Naughright when Manning was attending the college at which she was working. And, oh by the way, if Peyton acted that way with her, he must have used the HGH that The Guyer Institute sent his wife. This is how you become as easy a target as Cam turned out to be for Von Miller in Santa Clara.
If you're keeping score at home: Manning is being re-prosecuted for what Naughright says he did to her in '96, and also for what he said about her in his book. The media is being prosecuted for not throwing the book at Manning when we all had the chance. Cam? He's in the clear, not because his postgame behavior changed, but because sometimes there's only enough righteous indignation to go around.
Obviously, one snippy postgame news conference isn't comparable to what is said to have happened in that training room at Tennessee, and that's true whether you believe Naughright's version or Manning's. But who in the world said we had to compare them? I once thought Peyton was out of line after he lost a Super Bowl to the Saints, not because he walked off the field as soon as the game was over, but because he made it sound as if the interception that lost the game for the Colts was somehow Reggie Wayne's fault and not his.
If I'd been even more outraged than I was about what I perceived as finger-pointing from Peyton after that Super Bowl, would I have then gotten a permission slip at Cam's Super Bowl to think he acted like a spoiled brat when it was over?
Heroes and villains. Good guys and bad guys in sports, not much in between. Black and white, in all ways. Manning goes over on the bad pile now until further notice. He had a good, long run in the good pile, but now we're supposed to think that it was all a big lie, that he wasn't who we thought he was, as if he's the first sports star to let us down this way. Cam? He goes back and jumps on top of the good pile (the way he didn't jump on that loose ball in the fourth quarter against the Broncos) -- not because of good behavior, but because of this cockeyed notion that he ever belonged in the same conversation with Manning in the first place.
At times like this you start to worry that the way we try these cases in sports is all a hot pile, just not always of enlightened thought.