Manning Accusations, Lawsuits Attack Tennessee Culture With All-Too-Familiar Stories

Outside the Lines discusses allegations that the University of Tennessee violated Title IX policies in dealing with sexual assaults by student-athletes.

Peyton Manning. For the past two weeks, his name has been in the headlines -- first for winning his second Super Bowl, then, over the weekend, as the subject of a New York Daily News story that details one account of the alleged sexual assault that happened in 1996, when Manning was the star quarterback at the University of Tennessee.

The "incident" has been covered in the media many times over the past 20 years. So, old news, right?

Not quite.

The Daily News story includes a 74-page "facts of the case" document that offers numerous new details of the alleged interaction between Manning and former Tennessee trainer Jamie Naughright. Although most people are focusing on the part of the story that includes Manning, some of the most revelatory pieces of the document have nothing at all to do with him.

In fact, he hadn't even arrived on campus yet.

If these details are accurate, they paint a picture of a misogynistic culture within the Tennessee athletic department -- a toxic and powerful blend of sexism and homophobia that, sadly, is not at all surprising. These details paint the picture of an environment prepped and ready for Manning, the son of a famous NFL quarterback, to, upon arrival, feel empowered to behave however he saw fit.

But the larger point is: Any woman who worked in big-time college athletics, especially in the 1980s and '90s, likely nodded their head while reading the details in this document.

Homophobia: check.

Sexism: check, check.

Of course, keep in mind: Naughright's lawyers wrote this document. The words are a summation of their version of the story, so it's inherently one-sided, and nothing can be assumed as fact, nor has it been proved in court.

When asked for comment, the Tennessee athletic department referred espnW to its original statement.

Still, consider the following: In the years since the time outlined in Naughright's document, the Tennessee athletic department has been hit with multiple lawsuits, including a pay discrimination suit from a trio of former female trainers, which UT recently settled, and the latest, a sweeping federal lawsuit filed by six women that claims that Tennessee, and specifically its athletic department, created a culture that enabled sexual assaults.

In other words, this specific 74-page document is not standing alone in detailing a Tennessee athletic department culture unfriendly to women.

And that culture is frightening.

In the early pages of the document, Naughright details her memory of how she was treated by her boss, associate trainer Mike Rollo, upon transferring to men's athletics after working with the Tennessee women's basketball team.

From Naughright's sworn testimony, on Page 6: "[Mike Rollo] called me C--t Bumper because I used to work at the Lady Vols and he felt that he referenced it to lesbian activity because that's what lesbians did according to him ... and when I went to complain about him calling me the word C--t Bumper, he said if you don't like it here, you can go back across the street to the Lady Lickers. So for a significant period of time it was only in reference to that as far as in the Lady Vols."

Naughright, who does not identify as a lesbian, explained how this "nickname" eventually evolved after she issued a formal complaint: Rollo started calling her "bumper."

This was in 1989. Manning wouldn't arrive until 1994.

But you know what did happen in 1989? Those same Lady Vols were winning the NCAA women's basketball championship, their second in three years. They would go on to win six more under legendary coach Pat Summitt, who created a program that demanded respect across the country.

Just not, apparently, across the street, where an associate trainer allegedly felt authorized to use words and phrases, which were obviously intended as homophobic slurs, about the program's female athletes and coaches. From Page 8 of the document: "In fact, 'bumper' as a reference to lesbian athletes and coaches in the Lady Vols, outlasted Dr. Naughright at the University of Tennessee. In what may have been the university's parting shot at Dr. Naughright, the University of Tennessee marketed the 1997-98 Lady Vols basketball team with the slogan, 'Raising Another Bumper Class.'"

That season's team also won the NCAA title, its third consecutive.

These stories are of course specific to Tennessee, but they could easily be from any number of athletic departments across the country.

The headlines this week are, and should be, about the alleged behavior of a famous quarterback. But another potential headline would be just as accurate:

Here's what it can be like to be a woman in big-time sports.

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