Controversy might cause Manning to shelve retirement announcement

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All of those Indianapolis residents waiting for Peyton Manning to come back to the Circle City to retire as a Colt might have to wait a very long time.

Before new news about old news recently broke concerning Manning’s locker room behavior with a female trainer while a student at the University of Tennessee, it was widely speculated that Manning would retire following his second Super Bowl triumph.

There are more than a few folks who have been hoping, wishing and praying he will come back to Indy like his long-time center, Jeff Saturday, and retire after signing a one-day contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Manning played for the Colts for 13 years before galloping to Denver, where he played four seasons that culminated in the Super Bowl victory over Carolina earlier this month.

It was a reasonable expectation that in this off-season: a) Manning would retire; and b) He would be magnificently feted wherever he made the public announcement. He’d probably be celebrated here more than most places. Check out the TV ratings for this year’s Super Bowl to see how much Indianapolis loves Manning.

While the status of Manning’s relationship with Colts owner Jim Irsay is unclear after Irsay more of less gave Manning the boot four years ago, it’s certain Irsay understands how popular a move it would be to bring Manning back here to retire as a Colt with his ticket-, concession- and merchandise-buying fans.

That could only be trumped by installing Manning as the Colts general manager, in terms of the applause it would generate.

But there’s no way Manning now could make a retirement announcement without being bombarded with questions about his days at Tennessee and his actions toward Jamie Naughright, an athletic trainer with a doctoral degree.

Manning is mentioned in the lawsuit a group of women filed against the University of Tennessee last week in which they said the school violated Title IX regulations in the way it handled reports of sexual assaults by student-athletes.

One paragraph in the 64-page document includes a sexual harassment complaint made by Naughright in 1996 involving an incident that occurred in a training room while she was treating Manning. Naughright settled in 1997, but sued Manning for defamation in 2002 after he discussed the incident in a book. The lawsuit was settled in 2003.

Details from the incident, in which Manning allegedly exposed himself to Naughright at close range, surfaced in a New York Daily News story on Saturday about a recently unearthed court document.

A Manning retirement announcement would draw a local media corps that for now is probably stinging from being characterized by national pundits as soft on Manning. And it’s going to draw a national media contingent filled with people who either don’t care about Manning’s legacy or who would love nothing more than to sully it.

Any sort of Manning retirement announcement here or elsewhere now has the potential to devolve into a first-rate public relations fiasco that could stain his image—even more than it already is—for quite some time.

We all saw how the media and some NFL fans reacted when Cam Newton walked out on a post-Super Bowl interview. Can you imagine the reverb if Manning walks out on his own retirement announcement?

And somehow it seems the Manning-Naughright story has lent credence to the Al Jazeera report that Manning used human growth hormone in his recovery from neck surgery four-plus years ago. In some circles—and not just in New England—there’s a belief that the halo has been knocked from Manning’s head.

Television commentator and national radio talk show host Dan Patrick on Monday even suggested that Manning might be better off simply announcing his retirement via a written statement and slide quietly into the sunset—at least for now.

There’s no doubt that someone with Manning’s resources and the goodwill he’s built up over the last two decades playing football can ride out this storm—and probably a lot worse.

In time, especially if he keeps his mouth shut about Naughright, he’ll likely be able to become a GM, owner or whatever else he wants in football.

But a big, fancy retirement announcement wouldn’t be the best idea right now. Not even in the place where they love him the most.

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