Why The Manning Story Still Matters

More than 20 years ago Peyton Manning committed to the University of Tennessee. The son of football icon Archie Manning, his commitment was welcomed with fanfare and excitement. Less than two weeks ago, Manning won Super Bowl 50 as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Accolades rained down as the sure fire Hall of Famer appears set to ride off in a blaze of glory.

This past week, Shaun King, a writer for the New York Daily News and a controversial activist, reminded everyone that there is more to the Manning story than the football player and that he had been accused of committing some rather despicable acts when he was a Tennessee Volunteer and a young quarterback playing for the Indianapolis Colts.

This came on the heels of King attempting to defend Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton from some criticisms, some racially charged, regarding his celebrations during the 2015 season and his seeming unwillingness to appear post Super Bowl to discuss the Panthers loss.

Predictably, the football world was divided in its reaction to the New York Daily Times report. What got somewhat lost in the ensuing kerfuffle is that Manning’s Tennessee days were already the subject of a Title IX lawsuit filed mere days before King’s article hit the internet. This lawsuit alleges the University of Tennessee engaged in a pattern of conduct leading to a sexually hostile environment for women and that its handing of sexual assault allegations favored its athletes. The full lawsuit can be found here.

In addition to the accolades, Manning has made millions in his lucrative career not just from playing but from endorsements. He is the kind of guy men dream about being and some women dream about romantically. Manning supporters may not like it but the story is pertinent and relevant and deserves to be told, yes even if you have heard it before.

Those who worship Manning or perhaps feel that the story is old news have blasted the rehashing of what they consider to be a childhood “prank.” Some chose to attack King and his controversial past. Some choose to attack Manning’s accuser, Jamie Naughwright, with what they view as inconsistencies in her story and with things she has posted, and since deleted, on social media. Its a tired but well worn path used by those who don’t like it when their heroes get accused of things that make them look bad.

Victim blaming has long been used to silence women so that they do not come forward with reports of rape, harassment or assault particularly against high profile men. It has been very successful too. Rape culture is a real issue in our world and it is not just isolated to the United States. According to the Women’s Center at Marshall University, this is rape culture:

What is the “Rape Culture?”

Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

Rape Culture affects every woman.  The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape.  This cycle of fear is the legacy of Rape Culture.

Examples of Rape Culture:

  • Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
  • Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Inflating false rape report statistics
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
  • Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape

What we see written in some quarters about Manning and his accuser provide a great example of rape culture. Scrutinizing the victim’s every word for inconsistencies in order to challenge her version of events. This scrutiny isn’t new and problems with this sometimes occur even with those who are familiar with and supportive of victims because of how we are conditioned to view these things. For great insight into one such case, read this incredible article by December 16, 2015 entitled An Unbelievable Story of Rape.

In it a young woman was attacked and raped via knife point but when she reported it both police as well as Peggy, her foster mother, her story was disbelieved. The young woman, called Marie in the story, had a troubled history and her demeanor, as well as some details, left the investigating officers and Peggy leery of the story. She recanted and was charged with a crime to which she plead guilty. It was later learned that Marie had in fact been raped by a serial rapist who took photographs of his victims and who had taken photographs of Marie. It is heartbreaking.

In the Manning story, you have the typical components of a he said she said situation. That an incident occurred is not in dispute and the University ultimately settled with her because of a laundry list of discriminatory conduct alleged by Naughright. Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz has a very lengthy look at the contentious litigation that has ensued between Manning and his alleged victim since then that has resulted in several settlements.

Sports serves as a microcosm of our society. Rape, assault and violence against women has never been isolated to sports. As the Ray Rice incident taught so many, but sadly not all, is that how we look and view these acts says a whole lot about us. How we talk about them is far more important yet.

Victims in rape, sexual assault or intimate partner abuse don’t respond in typical “victim behavior.” Such behavior is a myth and there are many ways we can work to counteract this mythical belief. The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women has developed a brochure to assist the court system and those involved in these matters which is very beneficial to understanding how to bust this myth.

Why the Manning story matters so much is not just because of what it tells us about ourselves and our hero worship or worship of sports, but because it must be viewed in the larger microscope of what is happening across college campuses in America.

The Department of Justice just released a study that suggests 1 in every 4 female college student has been the subject of an assault that is sexual in nature. There are currently over 124 academic institutions that are under federal investigation for alleged mishandling of rape allegations. Those are staggering numbers.

In one high profile case arising out of the Jameis Winston rape allegation, Florida State was forced to pay a record settlement to the alleged victim, Erica Kinsman, for its botched handling of her rape complaint against the Heisman winning quarterback. That sum, $950,000, was the largest settlement ever for a Title IX complaint.

Baylor University, a private school in Waco, Texas, is under fire as well for its handling of rape allegations concerning a star athlete on its campus who then went on to rape four more women. While Baylor isn’t under federal investigation as of yet, the school has taken some steps to clear up its bad name. This excellent Outside the Lines report by ESPN’s Paula Lavigne details some of those issues, the response, and the work yet left to be done.

Which leads me back to Manning and Tennessee which is one of the universities currently under investigation for alleged Title IX violations. While Manning is not a party to that lawsuit, he is mentioned in it as part of the pattern and history of Tennessee’s alleged mishandling of assault, rape and harassment and of special treatment given to its athletes who are the subject of these complaints.

The allegations in the lawsuit are ugly and if true should be concerning to anyone associated with the University. It should be doubly concerning to any parent wanting to send children there to be educated, particularly young women who might be vulnerable. The University’s alleged handling of matter, as well as Manning’s own behavior, should be discussed in light of how we should look at these things and how we can go about responding to them better.

Rather than focus on eradicating such behavior and discussing ways we can work together to make our institutions of higher education better places for our young people, the coverage of the situation has instead followed rather familiar but still disgusting patterns. Attempts to discredit Manning’s accuser and label her a liar are just one. While predictable, it is still no less heinous.

Another pattern has been to label the renewed coverage as yawn worthy and a topic already covered and finished. Yet, as a cursory look at social media tells us, a large number of people were unaware that it had occurred. There are many reasons for this and some relate to age. For others it is simply the localized nature which was concentrated primarily within the state of Tennessee. This isn’t to say it didn’t get reported nationally and you can certainly question the accuracy of the reporting, much like you can currently.

How we talk about things matters. It matters because it shows us how we view our past, and it establishes patterns that will form our future. Our young children are our future and we cannot let these numbers continue to be at a grossly high level. Educating people about our past is always probative and helpful. Discussing these things in a respectful manner not only honors the victims that have paved the way for a better understanding it also provides a safer haven for current victims to come forward.

As philosopher George Santayana famously said in The Life of Reason, 1905:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

In the case of violence against women it seems our despicable past still condemns us all. What could we learn from a retelling of the Manning situation? Nothing more basic and human than how we might do better.

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