Lawsuit Alleges Culture of Harassment at University of Tennessee


A lawsuit filed by six former female students against the University of Tennessee alleges that a "hostile sexual environment" was created by the athletics department at the school going back to the 1990's, including an incident involving NFL star Peyton Manning from 1996.

The lawsuit alleges that Manning sexually assaulted a female athletic trainer during his time as an undergraduate at the school. The incident was first reported in 2003, but received attention recently after a New York Daily news story about the event and the trainer's ensuring lawsuit was widely-publicized on social media.

Filed last week, the UT lawsuit claims that while he was a UT football player, Manning placed his naked genitals on the female trainer's face while she was examining him. Manning has denied any wrongdoing, saying that he had been playing a prank on a fellow athlete by "mooning" him. However, the trainer, Dr. Jamie Naughright, later filed a lawsuit against Manning in 2002 after finding out he had described her as "vulgar mouthed" in his autobiography, "Manning: A Father, His Sons and a Football Legacy," reports Anita Wadhwani for IndyStar. That case was settled out of court in 2003.

In a separate lawsuit filed by six former female students, listed only as "Jane Does," Manning is one of 10 former players being accused of sexual assault or another similar form of misconduct in an effort to prove the athletics department at the school has a history of such behavior, arguing that it "deliberately created (and creates) a hostile discriminatory sexual environment for female students" and "acted with deliberate indifference in response to incidents of sexual assault."

According to the lawsuit, Jamie Naughright, then Jamie Whited, who was the first female trainer in the school's history, reported the incident involving Manning to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville in 1996, saying that he had "sat on her face" while she was looking at an injury. The incident had been settled in 1997 with a condition that Whited leave her position at the school.

The lawsuit says that Tim Rogers, the former vice chancellor for student life, stepped down in 2013 "in protest over the violation of Title IX and the UT administration's and athletic department's deliberate indifference to the clear and present danger of sexual assaults by UT athletes."

The focus of the lawsuit, however, is on five other more recent incidents of sexual assault that occurred at the school — in particular, an incident involving former UT basketball player Yemi Makanjuola, who was found to be in violation of the student conduct code when he sexually assaulted a freshman. Makanjuola has denied all allegations.

An unnamed UT football player was also cited in the suit, as was an unnamed non-athlete accused of sexual assault after a party where UT football players served alcohol to a young woman. Former UT football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, who are currently involved in separate trials on aggravated rape charges, are also cited.

Peyton Manning became a football player in the NFL in 1998, becoming one of its biggest stars. He has won Super Bowls with both the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, including in 2016 to cap off what is expected to have been his final year playing the sport.

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