Athletic immunity

Last week in this column, I took some jabs at Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. I called him a coward for his performance in Super Bowl 50 and blasted him for his postgame pout session with the media. I even took a cheap shot at Newton for the trouble he got himself into in college. We all had a good laugh. I did, anyway.

But since then, another story has been bubbling up surrounding the other quarterback from the Super Bowl.

By now, you’ve surely read at least a headline about the sexual harassment/discrimination/misconduct/assault scandal currently enveloping the University of Tennessee. If you haven’t, I encourage you to check it out. This story has more surprising wrinkles than a Bruce Arians offensive playbook, and I don’t have near enough space to cover it all here. At the heart of the scandal is a lawsuit filed recently by six unnamed women alleging the university was guilty of malfeasance in its handling of sexual misconduct reports between 2013 and 2015. If the story ended there, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.

Also mentioned in the lawsuit was an incident which took place at UT in 1996, in which a student athlete committed an alleged sexual assault against an athletic trainer in front of witnesses. The athlete involved? You guessed it: America’s favorite pizza-peddling hayseed, Peyton Manning.

I read about this story a long time ago, but not in as much detail as is now surfacing. When I first heard about the incident, it was presented as a childish “mooning,” and I dismissed it as such. But since the incident has re-surfaced, a number of court documents have been brought into public light which indicate something more serious happened that day.

Dr. Jamie Naughright, an athletic trainer at Tennessee during Peyton’s time there, claims the star signal-caller forced himself on her while she examined his foot for a stress fracture. In a sworn deposition, Naughright stated: “It was the gluteus maximus, the rectum, the testicles, and the area in between the testicles. And all of that was on my face … I pushed him off of me and I said, ‘You’re an ass.’”

Dr. Naughright’s not-so-loving blason to Manning’s southern hemisphere is giggle-inducing in its anatomical frankness, but it’s no laughing matter. The incident in question, while definitely not a rape, was absolutely not okay, and it’s indicative of a problem in our society much larger and more disgusting than Peyton Manning’s balls and b-hole.

The question that keeps running through my mind as I sift through the information surrounding this case and others like it is this: What makes the American male athlete so damned rapey? Perhaps just as importantly, why do we keep putting these sexual predators up on pedestals? It seems America is willing to easily forgive an aggressive pervert’s bad behavior as long as he can ball.

Think I’m just being glib? Check out Kobe Bryant’s current farewell tour around the NBA. Remember when Kobe was accused of raping that woman in Colorado and then settled the civil case out of court? Of course you don’t, because Mamba’s a legend. Fans in every city around the league are welcoming Bryant to town with palms and praise as though he were Jesus coming on an ass (consensually).

The list goes on.

For the last 18 months, Patrick Kane, the star forward for the hockey team you’ve all loved since 2010, has been embroiled in multiple investigations into an alleged rape that took place at Kane’s home. Facets of the investigation remain ongoing. Did that stop Kane from being voted as a captain for the NHL All-Star game this year? Of course it didn’t. He’s on his way to a 50-goal season. It’s the first time in 150 years that Chicagoans have given the benefit of the doubt to a right-winger.

Or how about Ben Roethlisberger? Accused of multiple sexual assaults, Roethlisberger settled out of court each time like Kobe, and the sandwich named after him was recently elected to the Hall of Fame at Peppi’s in Pittsburgh.

What do Peyton, Kobe, Kane and Big Ben all have in common? Rings, baby!

In our sports-sick society, winning championships has become the equivalent to purchasing indulgences or carbon offset credits. We do a deranged calculus in our minds and hearts, in which we balance the joy these athletes bring us, against the atrocities they’ve perpetrated on others.

Guess which one usually carries more weight?

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