By Jack Yungblut, For The Miami Student
When I saw an article linking one of my favorite athletes to a sexual assault in The New York Daily News on Feb. 13, I couldn't believe my eyes.
Again and again, I read the top of the page: "Peyton Manning's squeaky-clean image was built on lies, as detailed in explosive court documents showing ugly smear campaign against his alleged sex assault victim."
This can't be the Peyton Manning I know.
For many players, a Super Bowl ring is the crowning achievement in their careers.
Not for Peyton.
He has much more than two Super Bowl rings in his possession: NFL records for most career passing yards and touchdown passes, 14 Pro Bowls, five AP NFL Most Valuable Player awards and the 2013 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year title.
Though Manning's second Super Bowl victory may have solidified him as the greatest quarterback of all time, he is much more than a quarterback.
Peyton Manning is an icon.
Thanks to Peyton, some think "Omaha" is a football term, not a city in Nebraska.
He's appeared in commercials for MasterCard, Papa Johns and Nationwide, to name just a few. In 2008, he went down in Saturday Night Live history when he appeared in a sketch portraying himself in a fictional United Way advertisement.
The SNL version of Peyton Manning was a scumbag, but his nice-guy image is what has made him so beloved in American culture. Real life Peyton Manning is a good ol' boy with a goofy smile, a warm sense of humor and a heart seemingly made of gold.
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He's the founder of "The Peyback Foundation," a charity that helps disadvantaged kids. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged his hometown of New Orleans, he was quick to volunteer. The man even has a children's hospital named after him.
But then there's the article accusing Manning of sexual assault.
It details court documents supplied by the plaintiff in a case from 2003. According to those documents, Manning allegedly committed a vulgar act on a University of
Tennessee athletic trainer in 1996. After the assault, Manning and those close to him allegedly spent years attempting to cover up the incident.
If the sexual assault isn't already heinous enough, each section of the supposed cover-up is even more shocking.
Though they are merely allegations at this point, I can't help but wonder if Peyton Manning is going to be the next athlete to let me down.
As a sports fan, I am used to disappointment. My hometown Cincinnati Bengals haven't won a playoff game in my lifetime and managed to leave me speechless on the Brick Street Bar patio as I watched their most recent postseason failure unfold before my eyes.
However, there is something different about being let down by athletes themselves - and not by failure on the field, but failure off of it.
I can forgive Pacman Jones for his personal foul at the end of the Bengals-Steelers game. Even many Boston fans forgive Bill Buckner for his famous blunder. An error in a game lets me down as a fan, but an act like the one of which Peyton Manning is accused lets down the kid in me.
It took me a while to admit to myself that Tiger Woods cheated on his wife. When I did, it disappointed the part of me that remembers sitting with my dad when I was young, watching Woods sink his now-famous shot from the edge of the 16th green at the 2005 Masters.
That incredible break and legendary fist-pump will be forever marked with an asterisk in my mind.
Is this the future for Peyton Manning?
First and foremost, I hope the truth comes out.
I will gladly allow Peyton Manning to let me down if that means justice being served.
A part of me, though, hopes this is just like his recent steroid scandal and is quickly revealed to be a farce.
I don't want to feel regret every time I say "Chicken parm you taste so good" to the tune of the Nationwide jingle.
I don't want the hundreds of pinpoint passes to Marvin Harrison to be tainted by asterisks.
I don't want the Saturday Night Live version of Peyton Manning to no longer be a spoof. I truly hope it's not an accurate portrayal of a pompous jerk.
I don't want another one of my childhood heroes to let me down.