In many ways, Peyton Manning's retirement press conference was a breath of fresh air. A time to celebrate what was perhaps the greatest NFL career by a single player, ever. Those celebratory notions had taken a backseat over the past month as the retiring Broncos quarterback had been raked over the coals after the resurfacing of sexual abuse allegations while he was at the University of Tennessee.
Still, that breath of fresh air was not completely isolated from the stench of that story, as Manning was asked about the allegations by USA Today's Lindsay Jones during his retirement press conference.
"Over the last few weeks, there's been a lot of talk about things that happened 20 years ago in your career or in your life," Jones asked (via Deadspin). "What can you say now about them?"
"First of all, this is a joyous day and nothing can [take away] from this day," Manning began. Then the direct denial everyone had been waiting for:
"I think it is sad that some people don't understand the truth and the facts. I did not do what has been alleged, and I am not interested in re-litigating something that happened when I was 19 years old."
Some have criticized Jones' decision to ask the question on a "joyous day,'" as Manning put it.
Let's examine that.
Why the question was a bad idea
Peyton Manning is retiring. There are smiles and tears and near-tears everywhere. The stories that were being told, his descriptions of the relationships he has with former teammates and coaches, the football anecdotes, the "little things," as Manning said - that was where the focus should have been. "God bless football," Manning concluded in his speech.
Jones' question was a rain cloud on Peyton's parade; a rowdy wedding crasher; a single in the 9th inning of a would-have-been no-hitter.
Asking Peyton about the mooning incident at his retirement ceremony was embarrassing.— Scotty Payne (@Skotty_Payne) March 7, 2016
Not the time nor place to do it.
A lot of people jumped on Jones on social media following the question criticizing the move, including at least one of Manning's teammates - the Broncos' Brandon Marshall, who retweeted Scotty's tweet above.
RIP my mentions.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) March 7, 2016
Then there's the legal angle - Manning has been sued for commenting on this case and violating the original NDA twice. For Jones to ask this question is inviting another lawsuit (more on this later).
Why the question was a good idea
First of all, despite many opportunities to do so, Manning has not commented on the resurfaced allegations (Sports Illustrated and others have been seeking comment for weeks). Jones claims she wanted to give Manning another opportunity to do so.
Manning deserved a chance to respond to what everyone has been saying about him for the last month. I had to ask.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) March 7, 2016
Don't apologize. It's called being a reporter. https://t.co/jMgXxQPhKu— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) March 7, 2016
I would initially argue that this made Jones' question inappropriate; Manning had the chance he "deserved" in more direct, appropriate settings. That argument is nullified by the fact that Manning actually responded. Part of being a reporter is trying to get the subject of your coverage comfortable enough to be open and honest. Jones saw this as an opportunity where Manning might be willing to defend his legacy and took the chance.
Furthermore, as Deadspin argued, part of a retirement press conference should be taking inventory of a player's entire legacy, for better or worse. "The timing was perfect, I think," Barry Petchesky writes. "(R)etirement is about taking stock of legacies, and Manning's legacy has of late turned out to be complicated. The question couldn't have been more appropriate."
Finally, perhaps Jones' question was worded in sufficiently vague fashion to avoid further litigation. Maybe. Hopefully. (Hey, I'm a Peyton fan).
What do you think?
I'll side with the media on this one; we all wanted to hear Peyton address his accusers and set the story straight. The nature of his response came as no surprise, and whether or not you believe the "he" or the "she" in this he-said-she-said will be up to your own research and beliefs. But Manning got the opportunity to directly deny the allegations and seemed to do so with some zeal.
"Like Forrest Gump said," quoted Manning, "‘That's all I have to say about that.'"