Ex-Tenn. football player's presence in Manning incident in dispute

ByT.J. Quinn ESPN logo
Thursday, March 3, 2016

A former University of Tennessee football player came forward this week to say he witnessed an incident between Peyton Manning and a female trainer 20 years ago, but his presence is not corroborated in hundreds of court documents reviewed by Outside the Lines or by another teammate who has long been identified as having been in the training room.

In a 2002 defamation lawsuit, Tennessee trainer Jamie Naughright accused Manning of pressing his bare buttocks and genitals against her face while she examined his ankle in a training room in 1996. Manning described in the incident in 1996 and again in the 2002 lawsuit as a "mooning," and said he did not make contact.

In a story published Wednesday, Greg Johnson, Manning's teammate and roommate in college, gave Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback an account that largely backed Manning's version of events. Johnson spoke to MMQB "after being put in touch with The MMQB through Manning's representatives," the story said.

But another teammate of Manning's, former football player Kevin Horne, identified in several court documents as having been in the training room during the incident, told Outside the Lines that Johnson's presence was news to him.

"I never saw him," said Horne, who has never spoken publicly about the incident. "I saw that story and I'm like, 'Greg Johnson?' I like Greg, but, sorry, I don't remember that."

Horne was identified by both Manning and Naughright in court documents as having been in the training room Feb. 29, 1996, when the incident took place. Horne said he told a UT investigator in 1996 that he was facing a different direction when Manning removed his pants, so he could not characterize what exactly happened, but said that Naughright did not seem upset afterwards.

"I didn't think it was a story 20 years ago," he told Outside the Lines. "I can't believe it's one now."

Johnson, reached by Outside the Lines on Thursday, said he understands why someone might be skeptical of his recollections, especially with no other evidence to support them.

"Of course. That's natural," he said. "And all I can do is say, 'Hey, I was there, this is what I saw,' and go on.

"And I'm not saying that what they remember is wrong or anything, I'm just telling you what I remember."

In addition to describing the incident as a "mooning," Manning has also said that he initially was unaware that Naughright had witnessed what he had done, saying the action was intended for another athlete, Malcolm Saxon. Naughright did not say in a 1996 statement that Manning had made contact with her, but she reported the incident less than three hours later as a "sexual assault" in a call to a Knoxville Sexual Assault Crisis Center hotline.

Johnson's description of the event generally supports the "mooning" version of the story. Manning spokesman Ari Fleischer and Naughright also did not return messages.

In lengthy depositions as part of a court case, Manning and Naughright both testified that Horne was in the training room, but neither mentioned Johnson. Naughright and Manning also said that an unnamed male cheerleader had been in the training room but left before the incident. Horne confirmed that account Wednesday.

The only other witness ever mentioned in media reports prior to Wednesday was Saxon, then a cross-country runner, whose version largely supported Naughright's. Saxon did not say whether Manning made contact with Naughright but said in a sworn affidavit that he and Naughright were both shocked by what Manning did, and he sent Manning a letter in 2002 telling him to "come clean." Saxon also did not mention seeing Johnson in any of his statements. Saxon declined to comment when reached Wednesday.

And while Manning and Horne's accounts differ in crucial aspects from Naughright and Saxon's, all four versions are at odds with part of Johnson's narrative.

"I don't want to refute that at all. But I was there, and I absolutely saw what happened," Johnson told Outside the Lines. "And if those other guys can remember who was in there and who wasn't 20 years ago, they've got better memories than I do."

In the MMQB article, Johnson is quoted as saying he walked in while Naughright was examining Manning's foot. In his version, Saxon was not yet in the room.

"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," he told MMQB. "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." But Manning, Naughright and Saxon all testified that the three had been speaking at length before the incident. Horne concurred in his interview with Outside the Lines. In Manning's deposition, Manning said he and Saxon had been in the room before Naughright.

Johnson's statement that Naughright called Manning an "ass" meshes with the Naughright and Saxon accounts. Both Manning and Horne said they did not hear her say anything.

According to court documents, Horne was facing away from Manning and Naughright while receiving treatment on his hamstring. Had Johnson walked in, Horne told Outside the Lines, he would have seen him.

"I was facing the door, but I could also see the whole training room," he said.

Horne was not called as a witness by either Manning or Naughright after she sued Manning in 2002.

Horne says he did, however, give a sworn statement during the University of Tennessee investigation into Naughright's sexual harassment complaint against the university in 1996. Horne told investigators he did not see the incident itself, but that Naughright bid farewell to Manning when he left the training room that night and did not appear to be distraught.

Naughright filed a libel and defamation lawsuit in 2002 after Manning and his father, Archie, published a book that included Peyton Manning's account of the incident and referred to Naughright as having "a vulgar mouth."

Wednesday's MMQB article also said a woman who identified herself as Naughright left a message on the voicemail of Manning's mother, Olivia, before the Super Bowl last month, and that in the message, "the woman uses coarse and offensive language, some of it sexual in nature, to describe members of the Manning family and threatens to 'release all these documents' related to Manning."

Naughright also filed a federal lawsuit against Manning in 2005, saying he had violated a nondisclosure agreement by discussing the incident with ESPN in a "SportsCentury" documentary in 2003. The lawsuit was dismissed due to lack of evidence. A review of Manning's raw interview tapes, however, shows that Manning was never asked and never spoke about the incident, although his brother, Eli, discussed it in the same documentary.