BY OWEN SANBORN
Lumbering through a sea of heads— teammates, media reporters, opposing players and coaches alike— Peyton Manning’s attention breaks left. As a viewer, your first instinct is to assume that he is beginning the process of embracing a teammate or coach to soak in the unmatched euphoric high of a Super Bowl victory. The broadcast camera stays hooked on Manning for a few seconds before an electric orange figure crashes the screen from the right side.
It’s Papa John. America’s favorite (only) pizza-making personality. The two lock in for a respectful bro handshake before executing a cheek kiss that could be labeled as awkward at best.
Why is Papa John on the field immediately as the clock hits zero and why is Manning allowing him to be the first person he celebrates perhaps his final victory with? There is a simple answer to that question when you analyze everything about Manning’s career both on and off the field: It was a calculated move.
Whether Manning is under center checking a quick slant to a halfback stretch to the right or humming his way to our hearts while downing a chicken parmesan sandwich, the basis of his career has been predicated on calculation. Manning has hosted Saturday Night Live with resounding appraise and been a part of countless commercials to enhance his brand as America’s “aww shucks” sweetheart quarterback. And it has worked. People cannot get enough of The Sheriff and neither can sponsors.
But what does a person — an athlete specifically — who generally has had an answer for everything throughout his career do when he is not ahead of his opponent? Well, we may soon find out.
A thorn from Manning’s past has recently resurfaced, putting his “golden boy” status on a brief hiatus. Shaun King of the NY Daily News practically broke Twitter last week when he wrote a story that reported on an ugly sexual assault case involving Manning and Dr. Jamie Naughright, whom was working within the University of Tennessee Athletic department at the time.
Manning has not been charged with anything as of yet, but there are sworn statements and other kinds of evidence piling up against his claims of refuting sexual assault. The thing that gets me about this whole situation is that the amount of effort that was put in to cover-up this story is alarming. King’s article goes as far to suggest that the University of Tennessee attempted to pin the blame on other players of a different race with lesser influence. Yikes.
It is difficult to harp further on Manning’s case due to the mere confusion and “he said, she said” nature that it has presented thus far. In other cases, such as the domestic violence incident involving Ray Rice and Janay Palmer, the video evidence delivered a more concrete conclusion.
Yet in the case of Rice, rumblings of an attempted cover-up were long rumored throughout the story’s time within the news cycle. Roger Goodell had seen the tape months before it had came out publicly and still only felt the proper punishment was to use his executive power to suspend Rice for two games as a favor to the Baltimore Ravens organization which was owned by one his confidants.
Fans love sports because it is the ultimate portrayal of black and white. You either win or you lose. There are no gray areas. As for everything that takes place behind the scenes in sports… There are nothing but gray areas.
Agents paying college players. NCAA violations involving recruiting. Duping performance-enhancing drug tests. Covering up the severity of crimes as gruesome as sexual assault or domestic abuse in order to protect a “brand’s equity” and propel an organization, university or league to prosperity through winning or critical acclaim.
Elite athletes hold the key to unlocking the most lucrative of green pastures. Positions of power will always gravitate towards those who can provide the highest return and time again we see that sometimes an athlete’s ability to help a team win subsides any other detail. In the instance of Manning and the University of Tennessee, allegedly facilitating a sexual assault case away from a headline student-athlete was deemed to be the proper solution over upholding the moral sanctity of being an esteemed institution and reprimanding their star. The lures of athletic excellence through the medium of college sport’s most profitable sport were too appealing.
Again, it is difficult to predict what will become of this whole Manning situation over the next few weeks, months or even years. I am going to take a shot in the dark and predict that some kind of settlement will be reached once again and the media will move on to some other story with a pitchfork in hand. In other words: it will be forgotten and we will move on.