An ugly incident from Peyton Manning’s past is back in the news thanks to a federal lawsuit and media reports. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

A 1996 sexual assault allegation against Peyton Manning by a female trainer at the University of Tennessee that has recently returned to the news has prompted speculation about an earlier incident — which Manning’s lawyers have worked to keep out of the public eye — that may have initiated the iconic quarterback’s hostility toward the trainer.

A review of court records connected with a lengthy legal dispute between Manning and former Tennessee trainer Jamie Naughright shows a possible explanation for the acrimony: She may have accused him of cheating in a class.

The 1996 incident — which Manning called a mooning and the former trainer called a sexual assault — never resulted in a criminal charge, but it gained renewed attention this month, when it was referenced in a federal lawsuit filed against Tennessee alleging a “hostile sexual environment” in the school’s athletic department toward women. Then, on Feb. 13, the New York Daily News published a story based on a court document that details Naughright’s side of a years-long saga between her and Manning.

At the core of the dispute is what happened inside a Tennessee athletic training room on Feb. 29, 1996, when the 27-year-old trainer examined the foot of the 19-year-old star quarterback. Naughright’s version: Manning pulled down his shorts and placed his naked buttocks and genitals on her face. Manning’s version: He mooned a classmate in Naughright’s presence.

In a 2000 book entitled “Manning,” co-written by Peyton, his father Archie Manning and the writer John Underwood, the Mannings revisited the incident and described Naughright as “vulgar-mouthed.” After the book came out, Naughright sued the Mannings, Underwood and the publisher for defamation.

The court document the Daily News released last weekend came from this defamation case. The document describes Naughright’s version of the 1996 incident, and then her depiction of an ensuing cover-up orchestrated by Tennessee athletics officials — some of whom had sexually harassed her, she said. The court document calls the 1996 encounter “The Second Manning Incident.”

The first, Naughright’s lawyers wrote, happened in the fall of 1994, and is detailed in a sealed section that follows the heading “Peyton Manning’s Motive & Malice.”

“In the fall of 1994, an incident occurred involving Peyton Manning which will not only explain the genesis for Peyton Manning’s dislike for Dr. Naughright, but will be relevant to understanding the 1996 incident,” Naughright’s lawyers wrote. The next three-and-a-half pages are blank.

Manning’s lawyers asked for all references to the 1994 event to be redacted from any court document that eventually would become public record. Naughright’s lawyers agreed. Among thousands of pages of court documents in Polk County, Fla., related to the 2002 defamation case, dozens of pages of depositions are missing chunks of testimony under “REDACTED” stamps.

There is one discussion of a 1994 incident that escaped redaction, though. It came during a deposition of former Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey, taken in Knoxville, Tenn., on Oct. 16, 2002.

Here is the exchange between Naughright’s lawyer, Bob Puterbaugh, and Dickey.

Q: “Were you aware that in 1994 Dr. Naughright was a guest lecturer in a course taught by Carmen Tegano?”
A: “No.”

Q: “Do you recall it ever being reported by Carmen Tegano, or anyone else, that Dr. Naughright had spoken to Carmen Tegano about the possibility of Peyton Manning having committed academic fraud in that course?”
A: “No.”

On March 11, 2003, Peyton Manning was deposed in New Orleans. In the transcript of his testimony — still kept in Polk County court records, and available online — 79 pages are missing. The transcript jumps from page 242 to page 321. A Polk County courts spokeswoman said this week that those pages were never filed with the court, and the only complete transcript copies left would be kept by a lawyer or party to the case.

When the Manning transcript resumes on page 321, Manning denies “ever being in a class with her.” And at the very end of that transcript, there is a handwritten page detailing typos the court reporter had to go back to correct. The reporter made several corrections on the missing pages of Manning’s testimony, including the words “points” and “tests.”

In the fall of 1994, Manning was an 18-year-old freshman at Tennessee. Naughright was then a 26-year-old trainer, doctoral student and a guest-lecturer in a course taught by longtime Tennessee associate athletic director Carmen Tegano.

In Tegano’s deposition, several sections are also redacted. He does confirm Naughright lectured for one course he taught, and he also discusses later deciding he no longer wanted Naughright to participate in his class. Tegano told Naughright’s lawyer he couldn’t remember why he decided to end his teaching relationship with her.

In his testimony, Tegano spoke glowingly of Manning, whom he called “one of the two finest student athletes to ever attend the University of Tennessee.” Tegano’s admiration for Manning was not a new development. In 1997, when Manning was a senior, Tegano was interviewed by a newspaper about Tennessee’s star quarterback.

“Peyton has the brains of a lawyer, the heart of a warrior and the soul of a gentleman,” Tegano said.

Tegano did not think as highly of Naughright, whom he testified he usually avoided around campus. When asked why, Tegano said: “Because I didn’t want her energy in my Karma circle.”

Tegano still works at Tennessee as an associate athletics director. Reached by phone this week, he said he does not remember Naughright ever accusing Manning of cheating academically.

“It’s 20 years ago, and it’s hard to remember all this,” Tegano said.

He added, however, that he remembered the specific class in which the cheating allegation would have happened.

“It was a one-hour pass/fail class that was required of all athletes, and under no circumstances did Peyton Manning cheat. The class was based on attendance … It was an orientation class,” Tegano said. “Do you think he needed to cheat in a pass/fail class? … We’re talking about a man who graduated with one of the highest grade-point averages in his class.”

(Manning graduated from Tennessee in three years with a degree in speech communications with a 3.61 GPA, according to a university news release.)

In 1999, Tegano, who oversaw the tutoring of Tennessee athletes, was named in an ESPN story about Tennessee athletics officials ignoring reports of tutors doing schoolwork for football players. An English professor supported the allegations, but investigations by the school, the Southeastern Conference, and the NCAA found no infractions.

In 2001, Tennessee moved the tutoring program from the the athletic department to the university provost office, away from Tegano’s management.

“I was told … it was in the best interest of the university for the provost office to manage the academic support program,” Tegano said when the topic came up in his deposition.

In 2015, Manning donated $3 million to Tennessee in honor of Tegano and another longtime athletic employee. As a result of the donation, a new dining hall on campus will be named after Tegano.

Much like the uncertainty surrounding Naughright’s sexual assault allegation against Manning, the truth of the 1994 incident between the trainer and the quarterback may never come out. After Manning and Naughright settled the 2002 defamation case, all documents that had been filed under seal or redacted were returned to the lawyers and their clients. Because the courts don’t have the original, complete transcripts of anything that was redacted, a spokeswoman said, no court order can unseal them.

Manning, now 39, is mulling retirement after his second Super Bowl win. His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, declined to comment for this story. Naughright, now 47, lives in Florida. She hasn’t spoken publicly since this latest spate of news coverage, and did not reply to a request to comment.