With Enemies Like These, Does Peyton Manning Need Friends?

Peyton Manning did not get to pick his enemies. But if he did, he couldn’t have imagined a more pathetic bunch than his real-life antagonists.

In December, Al Jazeera America relied on a dubious source to connect Peyton Manning to use of human-growth hormone. The documentary, The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping, touted “extraordinary claims that raise questions whether an American sporting hero, Peyton Manning, is linked to performance-enhancing drugs.”

Claims raising questions about links, huh?

Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl since the December broadcast that slimed him. Al Jazeera America announced a shuttering of its flailing cable-news channel.

Hell hath no fury like the media scorned. In the wake of the PED claims, numerous outlets cover a two-decade-old allegation about a young Manning exposing himself to a female trainer as though it were breaking news. The allegation surely casts the product pitchman humming “chicken parm you taste so good” and chanting “cut that meat” in a different light than the one in which we normally see him bask. It’s not exactly Jared from Subway or Cliff Huxtable-level allegations, but putting one’s rear-end over another human being’s face—even if for a laugh rather than for sexual gratification—ranks as immature at best and criminal at worst. But it’s also yesterday’s news, which makes 1996 Peyton Manning in today’s headlines more than a bit strange.

Peyton Manning ended a 19-year NFL career, in which he rewrote the record books in almost every meaningful statistical category at the quarterback position, by winning a Super Bowl. When you go out on top, people reach to drag you down. It’s the new American Way.

Shaun King, the only black man in America with two Caucasians on his birth certificate, bizarrely but predictably attempts to make the alleged sexual humiliation of a white trainer by a white college quarterback a racial issue. “Peyton Manning continues to benefit from his reputation not only as a superstar quarterback, but also an individual of high moral character,” writes King, the senior justice writer (what does that mean?) for the New York Daily News. “In fact, he has reaped tens of millions of dollars in endorsement deals based on a fraudulent mystique he’s cultivated as a good guy, an upstanding citizen, the ideal professional athlete.”

While on the subject of frauds, King continues, a la Steve Martin in The Jerk, to tout himself as an African American—and one brutally victimized by a hate-crime attack that no one seems to remember save for King. We’ve seen this movie before, and in it C. Thomas Howell made a more believable black man than Shaun King. At least Vanilla Ice used his nom de rap as a racial disclaimer of sorts when he performed his racial imitation. Word to your mutha.

Howard Bryant, no stranger to abuse accusations himself, similarly puts a racial spin on an alleged assault involving two whites. “In the black community,” Howard Bryant writes at ESPN, “the public has concluded the conspiracy is, yes, that the price of protecting Manning is sacrificing [Cam] Newton: Because the airwaves won’t cover one, it must be filled by castigating the other.”

Five years ago, cops cuffed Howard Bryant for domestic assault, battery on a police officer, and resisting arrest. Perhaps the statute of media limitations makes discussion of Bryant’s meltdown at a Western Massachusetts pizza house in 2011 uncouth at this point. But if five years should mute discussion among decent people of the misdeeds—which resulted in probation that expunged the charges from his permanent record—of a then-42-year-old Howard Bryant, then maybe a 20-year-old story involving a guy not old enough to buy beer and never even charged with a crime over it shouldn’t lead on ESPN.

People who live by the ad hominem die by it. The truth of any of the allegations against Peyton Manning does not detract from his accomplishments as a quarterback just as the truth of any of the allegations against Al Jazeera, King, and Bryant does not detract from their charges. But it’s telling that so many men with the muck rakes using the implement to take down others above the muck require so little investigation to encounter grimy tales about them. Dirty people don’t mind getting in the dirt.

It’s possible Manning draped his testicles over the face of a female trainer (I’ve seen worse in locker rooms) and that he used his wife as a beard to cover his receipt of performance-enhancing drugs (Isn’t that what Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens did?). We don’t know. We just know that the people shouting these allegations the loudest have reason to remain the quietest.


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