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New witness emerges in 20-year-old Peyton Manning incident

Gary Kubiak, Peyton Manning

AP

Two days after the 20th anniversary of an incident involving Peyton Manning and former University of Tennessee trainer Jamie Naughright, a new witness has emerged.

Greg Johnson, Peyton Manning’s former roommate at Tennessee and a Volunteers football teammate, tells Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com that Johnson witnessed the incident, which Manning consistently has defended as a mooning intended for someone else and which Naughright has described as Manning exposing himself in multiple settings and as a sexual assault in others.

Previously, it was believed that only one other person witnessed whatever happened on February 29, 1996 between Manning and Naughright: Former University of Tennessee distance runner Malcolm Saxon. Johnson has now, after more than two decades, provided his version of the events.

“Saxon walks in, and Peyton was the kind of guy who had to be friendly with everyone; he wanted to include everyone, from his teammates to the cross country guy,” Johnson told Klemko. “He says hey to Saxon and pulls down the back of his shorts, and I saw one butt cheek, and then he pulled his pants up. And Jamie said something like, ‘Aw, you’re an ass.’ Then I left. Thought nothing of it.”

The version doesn’t completely mesh with Manning’s; Peyton has said that the mooning was prompted by some sort of a wisecrack made by Saxon about Manning’s then-girlfriend, now wife. Also, Naughright and Saxon, not Manning, have said that Naughright called Peyton an “ass.”

After more than 20 years, mild variations and omissions aren’t shocking. What is shocking is that it took so long for an eyewitness who lived with Manning to come forward.

Klemko explains that Johnson, who wasn’t involved in the 2002-03 litigation between Naughright and Manning because Johnson was serving overseas in the military, was “put in touch with The MMQB through Manning’s representatives.” That naturally makes it feel less organic and spontaneous than carefully engineered, especially given the legal-and-P.R. machinery that was unleashed by Manning and his representatives in connection with December’s report from Al Jazeera that Manning’s wife received HGH intended for Manning. In that case, the Washington Post uncovered evidence that suggests intimidation of Charlie Sly aimed at discrediting the report. In this case, those inclined to believe the version that was told by Naughright and that was confirmed (albeit incompletely) by Saxon will seize upon the circumstances to justify suspicion of Greg Johnson’s 7,306-day-old version of the events.

The article from Klemko also contains plenty of discrediting of Naughright, via reference to her habit of filing lawsuits (which others have noted since the 1996 incident gained unprecedented notoriety on February 13), her reputation as told by people who knew and worked with her, and a contention that someone claiming to be Naughright had called the home of Archie and Olivia Manning the week before Super Bowl 50, threatening to “release all these documents” in a recorded message that featured “coarse and offensive language, some of it sexual in nature.”

The new report is hardly definitive on what did or didn’t happen in the training room more than two decades ago. Instead, it simply evens the dispute at two people claiming it was a mere mooning intended for Malcolm Saxon and two others claiming it wasn’t. It also dredges up once again a controversy that had re-died a natural death, inviting another round of red state/blue state bickering between those who have starkly different positions about what Manning did or didn’t do that day.

With no truly objective, neutral witness able to provide a clear and detailed version of the events, this one will never be resolved with any sort of clarity. And that’s the only true clarity anyone will ever have on this matter.