Gene Collier: The Peyton Manning legend continues to unravel
February 21, 2016 12:00 AM
Jordan Strauss/Associated Press
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and their father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Now that the media mud and the internet crud are flying around Peyton Manning, now that we’re ready to see exactly how much sticks to his meticulously crafted golden boy image and to analyze it with the clumsy journalistic forensics we always bring to these occasions, the scramble for self-identifying vantage points is on.
The record-smashing quarterback has never had a love-him-or-hate-him dynamic fueling his fame. Trump he ain’t.
The vast majority of NFL consumers, the sports audience in general, and the ostensibly cynical media, have long harbored a high comfort level with the Manning image — hyper-achieving children’s-hospital-building aw-shucks-ing Southern gentleman and scion of a ball-throwing royal family.
Yeah, that felt right.
But there has always been a faithless core of skeptics, not so much of Peyton but rather Peyton’s image, and those folks have had a very big week.
Barely a month removed from implications that his recovery from neck surgery might have been facilitated by HGH, Manning was named last weekend in a suit brought against the University of Tennessee, alleging that the football program fostered a “hostile sexual environment.” Ten athletes were accused in 12 separate incidents, most of them fresh, but some going back 20 years.
Again, America shrugged, mostly because bad stuff about Peyton Manning doesn’t get past its mental firewall, but also because as football programs all over America and at every level are over-testosterized toward similar pathologies, the notion that the star quarterback on an SEC campus in the mid-90s might have exposed himself, or worse, to a female athletic trainer shocks no one.
But the 74 pages of court documents someone sent anonymously to the New York Daily News certainly invite a re-examination of our positions, particularly taken together with the albeit discredited Al Jazeera America documentary that delivered the HGH assertions, but mostly because the silence from Manning is deafening.
Few are saying so, but if the quarterback maintains an interest in his so-called legacy, he’s very near the point where he’ll have to take some remedial action if he hopes to avoid the purgatory where Lance Armstrong lives. Armstrong might say it’s essentially hell.
From my own vantage point, I regarded Manning respectfully, if with a standard reflexive cynicism that was pretty benign, the kind where you don’t believe for a minute that he drives around in a mid-sized Buick, for example. But after the HGH story, which, again, got delivered in a badly made documentary discredited by its main informant before it even saw the light of day, the testimony of the skeptics echoed for me.
In something like 9,000 words I wrote from the Super Bowl over a week in California, virtually none were about the man who would become the first quarterback ever to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises. Until I called him a dead-armed quarterback for Monday editions after Super Bowl 50, I ignored almost entirely the week’s main character.
It’s an odd feeling, but two weeks later, I’m relieved that I did.
If Manning had nothing to hide on HGH, why would his handler in the matter, none other than the uber-slick former George W. Bush media conduit Ari Fleischer, dispatch two emissaries to the home of Charlie Sly’s parents?
Sly was the star witness of the documentary, the guy who stated that in his time at an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic, HGH was shipped to Manning’s wife, to Steelers linebacker James Harrison, and two baseball players Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman.
It’s interesting that after that visit by two men in black trench coats and turtlenecks, Sly disavowed everything in the documentary. It’s very interesting that, because Al Jazeera had filmed Sly surreptitiously, he didn’t even know what he was disavowing, only that he had better darn well do it. And it’s terribly interesting that while Sly later described his two visitors as very professional, those two men scared his sister badly enough that she called 911. In that call, the existence of which was first revealed by the Washington Post, the caller says the two men presented themselves as law enforcement officers but could not produce any identification.
It’s entirely possible that Manning is prevented from commenting on the Tennessee matter because of legal settlements reached with the female trainer, Jamie Naughright, the woman New York Daily News writer Shaun King described as having her reputation ruined by Manning and his father Archie in a subsequent book.
This week, a women’s group called WeAreUltraViolet.org called on Papa John’s and Nationwide Insurance to drop Manning as a sponsor (nothing on Buick, evidently), and again, America shrugged.
But there’s a certain mean-spiritedness at work here, the perception of which should be a matter of urgent concern for the people who have spent the past 20 years into making Manning into the nation’s gold-standard football brand, most of all Peyton.
Perhaps they and the Super Bowl-winning quarterback feel the media is either unwilling or incapable of re-calibrating their hallowed image.
Really? After Armstrong, Paterno, McGwire, Bonds, et al.?
If Peyton feels he has made no mistakes in any of this, that would be a bad place to start.
Gene Collier: email@example.com and Twitter @genecollier.
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