Why I’m ‘Nitpicking’ Over Peyton Manning’s Sexual Assault Case

I’ve always been a big, unfair Peyton Manning hater.

During the Super Bowl this year, my boyfriend and his friends got on my case about it.

“How can you hate Peyton Manning when Cam Newton is such an arrogant prick?” I got that question more than once.

I always answered the same way in the past when people asked why I disliked Peyton Manning so much. To me, no one is that Boy-Scout squeaky clean; he seemed too nice, too media trained, and too disingenuous to me over the years. I like Tom Brady, Richard Sherman, Rob Gronkowski, and Cam Newton: you know exactly what they are, good or bad. They aren’t putting on a face for the public – the people who wear masks for the cameras, to me, are always the nastiest underneath. I just didn’t trust Manning.

Of course, it turns out that I had every right to feel that way. His golden exterior has been quickly stripped away to reveal a very, very ugly interior in the wake of his most recent Super Bowl win; a long-forgotten case of highly deplorable sexual harassment (bordering on assault, depending on whose side you believe) from Manning back in college was brought up by the press as a rebuttal for those who demonized Newton following his championship loss.

Fans around the internet have been quick to jump to Manning’s defense.

“It happened 20 years ago… who cares?” says one commenter on an article by the Miami Herald’s Linda Robertson.

Another, just a few comments down: “…awww, what’s wrong? Your 20-year old story not taking the focus off the loser known as Cam Newton? LOL, your ‘super’ black quarterback…”

It would be bad enough if it was just the fans. The internet is home to some of the world’s worst trolls; the racists, the mysoginists, and the grown-up bullies of the world flock to hide behind a keyboard and spew vile words on the rest of the world.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, though, seems to have a scarily similar mindset to the trolls of the world:

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Look. I’ll be the first one to say that, out of context, I get that quote. I really do.

I studied pre-law Public Relations in college, but my friends and I got in trouble every now and again. I knew a couple honors students who had to get taken away by ambulance for alcohol poisoning; it would be nice, I’m sure, for them to forget that. I distinctly remember a shoplifting incident that resulted in an ACD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) and one of my friends – now in law school – had to re-take a class one summer because their entire block got caught cheating on a final exam. Nitpicking someone’s character based on a college mistake takes a large chunk of society and condemns them before they’re fully developed and mature. I get that.

There is a giant divide, though, between condemning someone for youthful mistakes and condemning them for a sexual assault that was covered up so meticulously.

The most ironic part of it all, of course, isn’t that Arians suggests we shouldn’t be ‘nitpicked for what we did in college’. No, far from it.

The most ironic part, in my eyes, is that we still condemn Newton to this day for his own college mistake – one that, unlike Manning, wasn’t covered up and kept under wraps by famous parents and expensive lawyers.

Back in 2008, Newton was arrested on felony charges of burglary, larceny, and obstruction of justice for stealing another student’s laptop. He was subsequently suspended from the team, ended up going to Blinn Junior College in Texas, and ultimately ended up with the Auburn Tigers.

Questions about Newton’s character are brought up for everything, including this – yet Arians wants us to stop ‘nitpicking’ Peyton Manning’s sexual assault – and yes, putting your genitalia in someone’s face without their permission while they’re trying to do their job is sexual assault – of a female trainer while in college.

Other athletes – generally white athletes who grew up with the ‘old boy’s club’ mentality, although not limited to that one sect of the population – find Newton’s dancing to be abrasive and obnoxious. When Newton graciously congratulated Manning after the Super Bowl, that was ignored – instead, all that was focused on was ‘finally’ seeing that showboating black quarterback brought down, and what a poor sport he was when he walked out of the post-game presser. It’s expected of him, because he’s a flashy thug. Right?

Yet, we don’t condemn Peyton Manning for an act that isn’t a college mistake, it’s a hugely character-lacking act that demeans the woman he assaulted and asserts power he had no right to assert. Forget his arguments that women shouldn’t be allowed in the ‘sacred’ locker rooms, which further segregates women and prevents their success in a huge money-making business (pro and amateur sports). Forget even that his father, Archie Manning, has made racist and sexist comments in the past trying to justify the cover-up of the sexual assault. Forget that he lied about the incident, claiming he just ‘mooned’ another athlete in the training room – one who later wrote him a letter, saying that he needed to be honest and admit that what he had done was vulgar and far from just mooning the other athlete in the room.

No, just focus on the fact that I spent most of my life distrusting Peyton Manning for an intangible air of ugliness around him; I didn’t know there was validation for the distrust until this year because it was so well concealed. Yet, I’ve known since he hit the NFL that Cam Newton was arrested for stealing another student’s laptop.

Society has demonized Cam Newton, who stole a laptop, more than a man accused of sexual assault. That’s reason to nitpick.

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