Just when it appears that no new developments are coming in the 20-year-old incident involving Peyton Manning, another new development emerges. Today’s comes from ESPN, which quietly has become the leading source in recent days of new information about the incident — much of it casting a negative light on Manning.
ESPN’s Outside The Lines (a/k/a “it’s separate from ESPN’s army of NFL reporters so don’t hold it against any of them”) reports that Jamie Naughright called a sexual assault crisis center on the day of the incident, February 29, 1996.
The document shows one of five boxes checked for describing the incident: “Adult sexual assault.” The document doesn’t name Manning, but refers generally to a “very well known public figure.” Notes taken by the person receiving the call from Naughright wrote the following: “I can’t believe this . . . . I told my boss tonite. . . . sense there will be a coverup. . . . head coach letting them get away [with] everything. . . . tonite — was witnessed by another team member. . . . Lady Vol raped a year ago [and] recent rape covered up. . . . [Mike] Rollo told her tonite repeatedly, ‘I don’t think is best handled by the press or police.’ . . . Caller did not want to discuss details of assault over the phone — feared for her job, worried and feared for her life.”
In a formal complaint of sexual harassment filed six months later, Naughright said that Manning (who was unnamed in that document, too) “exposed himself” during the incident, without alleging contact or describing the incident as a “sexual assault.”
PFT has now obtained all three volumes of Naughight’s deposition testimony from her 2002 defamation lawsuit against Peyton Manning and others. Here’s how she explained the situation under oath: “Well, we were in a room like this and then like all the sudden like a shadow it started to get dark on the flooring. Just like this light. I started to see darkness underneath it him [sic]. A change in light. . . . At the time, I really didn’t understand why it was getting dark. Then, I felt something hit the top of my head and I heard laughter. . . . I started to rotate my head and thats’ when Mr. Manning’s naked butt and rectum was on my face. . . .”
She later explained that it was more than the “naked butt and rectum” on her face; “It was the gluteus maximum, the rectum, the testicles, the area in between the testicles,” Naughright testified. “And all that was on my face when I pushed him up and off.”
Naughright testified that she pushed Manning away and called Manning an “ass” but didn’t yell or scream because “[w]hen he turned around and looked at me with that anger in his eyes that I saw, I did not want to get confrontational with him.” She also said he had “anger and he smirked and he laughed,” and that Malcolm Saxon (who witnessed the incident but was never questioned under oath) was “shocked” by what he saw.
Skeptics of Naughright’s version will continue to point out that at one point she called it a sexual assault, at one point she said Manning simply exposed himself, and then under oath she painted a graphic (and if true very troubling) picture of Manning dropping his rear end onto her face. Manning’s story, while consistent, is at the far opposite end of the spectrum, with a claim that he was mooning Saxon and Naughright inadvertently saw it.
Both Naughright and Manning had reasons to cling to their version of the events. For Naughright, two different legal claims were fueled by the allegation; for Manning, nothing positive ever would have come from admitting he did what she claims he did.
Maybe the differences in Naughright’s various explanations flow from the fairly unique nature of the conduct about which she complained. Despite curious circumstances relating to their content and creation, the affidavit executed and letter written by Saxon six years later tend to corroborate Naughright more than Manning. The failure of Manning’s lawyers to take Saxon’s deposition becomes even more puzzling in light of the appearance that his testimony breaks the tie in Naughright’s favor.
Then there’s this: PFT has learned that Naughright’s lawyers scheduled, on July 15, 2003, a deposition of Saxon for December 15, 2003. On December 3, 2003 (roughly a month after a judge ruled that the case would proceed to trial), Naughright’s lawyers canceled the deposition.
It’s unclear why Manning’s lawyers didn’t promptly attempt to get Saxon under oath in advance of trial, or why they didn’t previously file a cross-notice of deposition, which arguably would have prevented Naughright’s lawyers from canceling the deposition unilaterally. It ultimately didn’t matter, because the case settled at mediation three weeks after Saxon’s deposition was canceled.
Without Saxon’s testimony, it’s impossible to fully resolve the dispute between Naughright’s version and Manning’s version. There’s enough from the testimony and the circumstances, however, to permit a reasonable person to conclude that Manning did something far more than moon Saxon.
Which means that we’ve finally reached the point where there’s enough evidence to allow educated opinions to be made about what did and didn’t happen, even though we’ll never know what happened with the kind of clarity that would have existed if Saxon had spoken.
There’s a chance he still will. Although Saxon has declined recent media requests, he’s the only one of the trio not bound by the confidentiality provisions of the settlement agreement between Naughright and Manning.