In 1996, the summer before Peyton Manning’s junior season at the University of Tennessee, with his Vols a national championship contender, associate trainer Jamie Whited—later Jamie Naughright, after her divorce—filed an employment discrimination complaint. In that complaint, filed with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she listed 27 specific examples of sexual harassment and discrimination she claimed to have experienced while working for Tennessee’s athletics department.
Athletes, she said, called her breasts “midgets.” One athlete called the women at the sexual assault crisis center center “white ‘male hating’ females.” And her concerns about violence by athletes toward women were “played down by my supervisors, and an effort was made to shield the student athletes.”
It was accusation No. 27 that lives on, though. An unnamed athlete, later identified as Peyton Manning, “pulled his pants down and exposed himself to me, as I was bent over examining his foot after asking me several questions.”
“Despite the above referenced complaints,” her filing said, “no effective remedial action has been taken by coaches, or other supervisor personnel. Instead complaints of sexual harassment are treated as jokes and efforts are made to protect the student athletes, and cover-up the complaint.”
Naughright settled with Tennessee. The investigative report on her allegations, compiled by Tennessee’s Office of Diversity Resources and Educational Resources (DRES) repeatedly finds that she was “not subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct,” and that “many of the individual allegations involved conduct that was not sexual in nature.” Her accusation against Manning seemed destined to become another incident written off as a young man’s foolishness.
Her claims and the investigative findings read differently, though, in the context of a wide-reaching Title IX lawsuit recently filed against the University of Tennessee, which describes Tennessee as having cultivated a “deliberate indifference to known sexual assaults so as to create a hostile sexual environment.” So, too, does her long legal history with Manning, recently brought back to public attention by the Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman and by the New York Daily News’s Shaun King publishing a 74-page “facts of the case” from Naughright’s 2002 defamation suit against Manning. That document outlines, from the perspective of her lawyers, a claim that the Manning family and Tennessee essentially covered up a case of sexual assault to protect the star quarterback.
The public record on this legal history is for various reasons incomplete and in part difficult to access, covering an employment-discrimination complaint and two separate civil lawsuits. What is available shows that to Naughright, what happened with Manning wasn’t an isolated incident, though it has understandably gotten the bulk of the attention. Instead, it was a final tipping point after what she described as two years of putting up with behavior that ranged from crude nicknames to sexual innuendo to discussions about her breasts, all of which seemed to cause very little, if any, concern for the men running the department.
At the time, Tennessee officials would say this was all one big misunderstanding. Of course, it always seems to be.
27 examples of harassment
Jamie Naughright’s initial 1996 complaint listed 27 examples of harassment and discrimination, a number that eventually grew to 33. A trainer with the university since 1989, Naughright’s complaint covers her time there from 1994 to 1996 and mostly, though not exclusively, focuses on her dealings with football players and higher-ups within the football department, including then-coach Phillip Fulmer and then-head athletic trainer Mike Rollo. What follows are images from her complaint, followed by findings from the DRES report. (For the sake of clarity, I’m going to refer to her as Naughright, though some documents will use her married name at the time.)
In her complaint, Naughright didn’t name athletes, instead using XXXXXX. The DRES report first publicly emerged as an exhibit in a federal case and appears to be missing at least one page near the end, as well as any cover page.
In the summary, Naughright added that Fulmer “was hitting on me while I was working on his foot.” Fulmer denied the allegations.
Dick O’Brien, who ran special teams for the Vols at the time of the alleged incident but had since moved on, was contacted at his new school. He confirmed that Naughright told him about the Fulmer comment, but could not “positively say why she told him about it.” O’Brien said it was during a time when there were “a lot of things going on in her life (brother and father were sick) ... he does not know if she was upset over the statement or other things happening in her life.”
He added that Fulmer “probably did not mean it” the way Naughright took it.
John Stucky, the Vols’ strength and conditioning coach, said he only discussed the squats in the context of strengthening legs, and the analysis would find that “there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that the comments by Coach Stucky were sexual in nature.” Fulmer and director of football operations Gary Wyant said they hadn’t heard such comments about Naughright’s breasts or heard from her complaining about it. Naughright refused to identify the athletes involved.
Carmen Tegano, an associate athletics director, and David Blackburn denied making the statements.
Tegano’s name, incidentally, would come up again a few years later during a 1999 investigation into academic cheating at Tennessee. Documents obtained by ESPN showed there had been concerns about tutors writing papers and doing classwork “for at least five football players.” At the time, ESPN reported that “all of the incriminating memos were either sent or copied to Tegano or [tutor program head] Gerry Dickey, who reported to Tegano.” English teacher Robin Wright said Tegano told her “not to put any incidents of academic abuse in writing.”
Last year, a fluffy Tennessee press release quoted Manning saying Tegano was one of two people who “personify what it means to be a Vol for life.”
Fulmer said that the specific comment made by an athlete was “seriously rebutted” by the staff, facilitators, and many of the athletes.
The summary adds that Naughright was in charge of a community service project that several athletes helped with, and at the end a “large amount of money” was missing. When Naughright accused six athletes of having something to do with it, one “verbally assaulted” her and “threw money at her.” She told Mike Rollo, the Vols’ head trainer, who told her to report it to the dean of students.
Rollo interviewed the athletes and Fulmer took disciplinary action against one. There were six parts to his discipline, which included “not being allowed to participate in community service projects orchestrated by Ms. Whited.” The summary concluded that “Ms. Whited might have mitigated the situation had she handled it differently,” while finding that the conduct was not sexual or gender-based.
The summary found that “the actions of the athlete are not unexpected of this age group, and do not constitute sexual harassment of Ms. Whited.”
Naughright later provided a copy of the quote: “She doesn’t respect how things are done here. Men should be head of all things.”
Rollo confirmed the new computer. He said he got the Barbie doll after it was put on his computer as a joke and then he put it on Naughright’s. He said he didn’t remember “the specifics of the cartoon in question.” He said he thought the quote referred to a Far Side cartoon not that different from a few already posted in her office. None seemed as offensive, he said, as the one on her bulletin board that “featured Lorena Bobbitt’s ‘hot dog stand.’”
Gus Manning (no relation), a longtime Volunteer who had been around athletics since he was hired by the very first athletic director in 1951, said he did show the tickets to Naughright and remembered that she “laughed and did not appear offended.” Last year, Gate 16 at Neyland Stadium was named after Gus Manning, with the help of Peyton.
In the report, she expands on this by saying that a member of the training staff “made comments about seeing Ms. Whited leaving players’ rooms late at night and implied that she was ‘getting them ready for the big game’ by having sex with them.” Rollo said he didn’t “recall any language or comments such as those alleged.” The training staff member also denied making the comment.
The Tennessee DRES report, which doesn’t have a listed author on the copy filed in court, concludes by finding that Naughright was not discriminated against and was not subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct. It points to her promotions as proof that what was happening was not interfering with her work; rather, there were “isolated instances of problematic behavior.” And many of the allegations “involved conduct that any employee would find working with a population of young college students, especially in an area that involves personal physical contact.
It at one point suggests that Naughright “sent mixed messages,” although the details of those mixed messages are cut off in the court copy.
There were two more allegegations that, as the details unfurled throughout the DRES investigation and later lawsuits, stand out as the most telling and emblematic of the culture Naughright described. Those—the one involving Manning, the other involving crude nicknames for Naughright—are worth examining on their own.
Naughright later said in the DRES report that after she complained about being called “Bumper” in 1992, she was moved from football to smaller sports. A name plate with “Bumper” also had been placed under her picture in one building.
In the report, the nickname isn’t given much investigation. What’s there comes to about a page, although that’s more than most allegations got. Fulmer confirmed that people, though not himself, called her “Bumper.” Rollo said it went back to 1989, and “was widely interpreted as as a reference to Ms. Whited’s large chest size.” After Naughright complained, the staff was told to stop. The name plate was taken down “within 60 days.”
As for being taken off football, Rollo said he didn’t believe she was ever taken off of football during any period.
A fuller account of the nickname, though, comes up in the 2003 facts of the case document published by the NYDN. In the document, Naughright says that Rollo dubbed her “Bumper”—as in short for “Cunt Bumper”—because she used to work with the Lady Vols and “that’s what lesbians did according to him. They didn’t have penises where they could penetrate. He just said they bumped together as in the physical activity.”
A summary of a Tennessee interview with Rollo says that former head trainer Tim Kerin and the rest of the staff “had a hand in the development of the nickname,” which Rollo shortened to “Bumper.”
At times they would use “Bumper” in the context of her breasts being large and at other times they would use “Bumper” to allege that she was promiscuous, as in “Bumper-Pumper,” a not-so-subtle reference to pumping as in f—-ing. And sometimes they would still relate “Bumper” back to the Lady Vols as a reference to lesbian athletes or coaches.
She alleges that most of the staff called her that until she complained in 1992.
“Exposed himself to me”
In the summary, Naughright said that this student—the name is redacted, but it’s Peyton Manning—asked her several questions, like who she “hung out with” and what she did on weekends, which she thought were inappropriate. She was working on Manning’s foot “when she looked up to see his exposed rear end.” She pushed him and said, “You’re an ass.”
According to the summary, Manning told Rollo that this bit of “mooning” had been meant for someone else, who had said something about his girlfriend. Further, he said Naughright had no reaction to it. Another person, whose name is redacted, corroborated Manning’s version of events.
Manning tried to contact Whited by phone and by going to her office but “was unsuccessful.” He was punished, including 6 a.m. runs for two weeks and two weeks without eating at the training table. On March 14, Manning sent a registered letter to Whited apologizing for the “misunderstanding.”
The DRES report called it “another example of horseplay that cannot be prevented.”
This, at least, is what happened according to that report. But as with the story behind the nickname “Bumper,” a different version of events gets presented years later in the facts of the case document, in which there are two Manning incidents. (Why this changed isn’t clear from the public record. At this point, the case had switched from federal court, which provides ready electronic access to records and documents, to Polk County court, which was, as of our publication time, working on getting the Manning files available. The facts of the case document published by the NYDN doesn’t discuss the DRES report; neither did newspaper articles from the time.)
One incident is from 1994, and is completely redacted. The second is the “mooning.” Here is an excerpt from Naughright’s deposition about what happened in the locker room:
Q. Let me be very clear there. It was not just his behind, his rear end, that was on your face, but his genitalia was in your face?
A. That’s correct. It was the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles, and the area in between the testicles. And all of that was on my face when I pushed him up and off. And it was like this and as I pushed him up to get leverage, I took my head out to push him up and off.
... I pushed him off of me and I said, “You’re an ass.”
Within hours, Naughright said, she reported the incident to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville. Rollo found out what happened, saw that she seemed truly upset and bothered by what had happened, and asked her not to call the police. He also tried to “fix it,” the facts of the case document says, by helping Manning come up with the story that he actually had been trying to moon teammate Malcolm Saxon and that what had happened was an accident.
At first, Manning denied anything had happened at all, according to the document. During his deposition, Rollo took the responsibility for it being referred to as “mooning.”
“I have been the person who has been prescribed to a number of terms,” he said, “whether it’s mooning or Bumper or different things. And I just have a habit of getting myself into those situations, in terms of being the source of terms.”
Once Rollo came up with the idea that it was mooning intended for Malcolm Saxon, the narrative goes, “Manning adopted that term with a vengeance.” Meanwhile, Naughright would say in a deposition that she was asked to blame her leave of absence on another player, not Manning, exposing himself to her, and that twice afterward she saw Manning drop his pants and sit on another person’s face. Another time, she said, he called her a bitch.
The 2003 document also includes a letter from Saxon to Manning, saying, “I stuck to the truth, and I lost my eligibility for it.”
In his deposition, Fulmer denied ever talking to Saxon about this subject.
“Not an admission of liability”
Naughright and her then-husband settled their EEOC with Tennessee on Aug. 13, 1997. The university agreed to pay them $300,000 plus the value of her accrued annual leave and any money owed for previous work. The university also agreed to provide her with a 1996 Citrus Bowl watch, a Pigskin Classic watch, a 1996 Citrus Bowl jersey, an SEC championship ring for the 1996 indoor track team, a 1991 NCAA track championship ring, and a 1991 senior undergraduate ring she could pick from the Josten’s catalogue “with a value not to exceed $500.”
She resigned from Tennessee effective June 30, 1998. Naughright, her husband, and their lawyers agreed to not comment on what happened. The university agreed to release the following statement:
By mutual agreement, Jamie Whited and the University have settled all claims arising out of Dr. Whited’s employment with the University. Dr. Whited has resigned her employment with The University of Tennessee effective June 30, 1998, and she will be on educational leave without pay until that date. In return, the University has paid Dr. Whited $300,000.00. This payment is not an admission of liability by the University or any other party and is a compromise of a disputed claim.
Per the settlement, her resignation was set to become effective a little more than two months after Manning had been taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. by the Indianapolis Colts. Naughright moved on to a new job at Florida Southern College, got a divorce, and by her account had moved on to a successful career as a professor and program director. Manning was on his way to becoming one of the most beloved athletes in Indiana history and one of the great NFL quarterbacks of all time. What happened at Tennessee faded away, with both parties bound to never discuss it again.
“Common sense tells you why”
In 2000, HarperCollins published Manning: A Father, His Sons and a Football Legacy, credited to Peyton Manning, his father Archie Manning, and ghostwriter John Underwood. Here’s the section from the book where Manning wrote about what happened in the locker room that day, as transcribed in Naughright’s lawsuit. In 2002, she sued both Mannings, Peyton and Archie, as well as their publisher, for damages in excess of $15,000 resulting from this passage in the book that accuses Naughright of being “vulgar.”
Naughright’s legal team disputes this version of the events at the University of Virginia, which was hosting an NCAA conference to which four Tennessee athletes were invited. A section from Manning’s 2003 deposition has him elaborating that he was referring to her saying, in his version, “These motherfuckers are yours. Get them off my fucking hands for a little while.” The same document, though, cites several other people from Tennessee who were there and the fact that “none of these attendees has supported Peyton Manning’s version of events.” One specifically said that Naughright never used the term “motherfuckers.” Another former player said he didn’t recall her using it. That’s on top of testimony to the effect of there was no reason for Manning to take the athletes off her hands because the athletes were older than him and had their own room.
Next, Manning discusses what happened in the locker room.
According to her lawsuit, in May 2001 an envelope arrived at her workplace, Florida Southern College, addressed to “Dr. Vulgar Mouth Whited.” Inside were excerpts from the book.
... it became common knowledge on campus that Dr. Naughright was the athletic trainer referred to by the Defendants in Manning. Thereafter, Dr. Naughright was treated differently by both students and colleagues and her employment situation at Florida Southern College became untenable, which ultimately resulted in her leaving the employment of Florida Southern College. Dr. Naughright’s loss of her position at Florida Southern College was a direct result of the false and damaging statements made in Manning.
By the end of the same year, she would later say in the facts of the case document, her evaluations went from using words like “outstanding” and “work ethic is beyond reproach” to “ego-centric,” “defensive,” and “manipulative.” The letter became a turning point for her, she claimed, triggering a fall from grace that “in such a short period of time can only be logically attributed to one thing, the book Manning.”
Manning’s lawyers fired back a month later with their response—a motion to dismiss—saying in their filing that Naughright was “upset that her past has caught up with her.” It said the passage in the book was “substantially true” and that any differences between the two were “so insignificant” (such as using the term lawsuit instead of complaint) as to not be worthy of serious consideration.
As for the sentence “I thought she had a vulgar mouth,” the Manning lawyers write that “it is an expression of opinion or, in the alternative, is not susceptible of a defamatory meaning.”
Writing for Sports Illustrated over the weekend, Michael McCann said that Manning’s lawyers at first seemed “confident” that they could win, and that might be why they didn’t quickly settle.
They probably believed that while her account of the events was clearly worse than what Manning detailed in the book, it was not so different as to warrant a finding of defamation, which requires, among other things, that the statements be false in a legally significant way. This may help to explain why Manning did not apparently offer Naughright the kind of settlement terms that might have resolved the litigation.
McCann theorizes that what changed the tenor was Naughright’s later claim that Manning put his naked butt and rectum “on her face.” Her initial filing hadn’t gone into clear details about what Manning allegedly did; it was, rather, focused on her contention that it was much worse than what he described, calling it “of such an egregious nature as to be beyond the pale ... such a gross, crude, and indecent nature that it would have offended even the most callous individual.”
By November 2002, Polk County Circuit Judge Harvey A. Kornstein felt the lawsuit could continue, USA Today reported. The judge wrote that there was enough evidence “to suggest that the defendants knew that the passages in question were false, or acted in reckless disregard of their falsity.”
There is evidence of record to suggest that there were obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of Peyton Manning’s account of the incident in question. The court further finds that there is sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendants entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the passages in this case.
What precisely happened next, though, is hard to tell because late 2002 is when the federal records stop. The case was sent back to Polk County, Florida. What has become public from those files is the facts of the case document the Daily News acquired. Drafted by Naughright’s lawyers, it was prepared in opposition to a a motion from the defendants asking for summary judgment, but it shines a harsh light on the Mannings in general. For example, there’s this exchange between Archie Manning and ghostwriter John Underwood.
Naughright settled with Manning in December of 2003; the terms were never disclosed. Her mother told a Lakeland Ledger reporter afterward that “I can’t even talk about it (the lawsuit) with relatives.”
Naughright sued Manning a second time, in 2005, in response to this clip from a December 2004 SportsCentury package on Manning. In an amended complaint, Naughright said: “statements that were made in derogation of the agreement between the parties were either made directly by MANNING, authorized by him, condoned by him, and were presented in a setting in which he fully cooperated.” In a later filing, she called it“an attack by innuendo.”
Manning responded by saying that it was actually Naughright who had violated their agreement by contacting Mike Freeman, then at the Florida Times-Union, for his Jan. 16, 2005, column “Manning still battling college foe.” Manning’s counterclaim doesn’t get any more specific than than that; Naughright later responded that she hadn’t known about the ESPN program until she heard about it from people, including Freeman, and said she told Freeman “no comment.”
This case stayed in federal court, where it eventually was closed, possibly via a settlement. Many of those documents remain under seal.
The thread ends in 2005, but it’s taken on a new life now—probably because the case was never resolved, and because there’s never been any unambiguous finding of fact about what happened here. Even before the Daily News and Daily Beast articles, the Manning investigation was remembered, often coming up as a question: Hey, why did everyone forget about this? After all, many facts of what happened aren’t disputed: there’s the Bumper nickname, the inappropriate comments, the athlete pouring water to wet a woman’s a T-shirt, and some part of Manning’s butt getting in Naughright’s face. It amounts, in any reading, to a staff member being serially harassed at a major athletic program.
This story is in its way in a line with many others: the ones about police officers giving special treatment to players, or rape at a player recruitment party, or an athletic department turning a blind eye to child abuse. These are cases not just where wrong was done, but where an institution became complicit in it, where the imperative to win became every bit as corrupting and corrosive as the most strident critics of college sports would have it.
One line of thinking is that if Naughright’s complaint were filed today, this would be a major scandal; I’m not so sure. It’s easy to blame the technology back then, the way these stories were covered then, the time that’s gone by. It’s harder to think that forgetting is part of what makes watching something like the Super Bowl so much easier, and rooting for a favorite team or player more enjoyable.
Will anyone remember this when Peyton Manning puts on his gold Hall of Fame jacket? Naughright will. A certain sort of sarcastic sportswriter will. It will definitely get more mention than it would have 20 years ago. But there still will be a Hall of Fame jacket—well-deserved, going by what happened on the field—and there will still be that opening speaker imploring all those in the Canton crowd to remember what a standup, moral man Peyton Manning is, and what a fine exemplar of the Tennessee Volunteers he turned out to be.
Image via Getty