Give Eli Manning credit. People often make fun of him for his "aw shucks" personality. If you look up the definition of aw shucks, it is type of behavior that is characterized by appearing or sounding shy, socially awkward or unsophisticated.
He might be the alpha male personality in the Giants locker room or on the field, but does not appear that way to the public. He hardly ever says anything that grabs a negative headline, aside from maybe his criticism of Odell Beckham Jr.’s behavior this past season. Last week we saw a different Eli Manning. He was defiant and combative because his integrity was being questioned like it never has been for. We often question the player that Manning is, but we never questioned the man that he is.
He has two Super Bowl victories with epic franchise-defining wins against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. We have over the years gotten into the never-ending conversation of just how good Eli Manning is as a signal caller after he made comments on a local radio show that he considered himself in the same class of quarterback as Tom Brady. Remember, you know you can’t spell “elite without Eli!”
That is not the debate for today or for this column. Manning’s place in NFL history will be debated about when his career comes to an end. Away from the field, Eli has done great work during his 13 years with the Giants. At the NFL honors ceremony in early February, Manning, along with the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald were named the co-winners of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The award recognizes NFL players for excellence on and off the field. As well as Manning has represented the Giants on the field, he has done off the field as well.
So when Eli Manning comes out as staunchly as he did this past week to defend himself that he knowingly provided fake game-used memorabilia to Steiner Sports for sale, it means something. A civil racketeering lawsuit is ongoing and Manning turned over an email between himself and an equipment manager asking for two helmets that could “pass as being game used.” When that email surfaced in the local papers, people were ready to throw the book at Eli Manning. He was being painted as a liar and a criminal for being complicit in a fraudulent criminal scheme. Not so fast.
Manning met with reporters last week and defended himself and did not come across as man that is guilty of fraud. He told a group of reporters that, “I’ve done nothing wrong, and I have nothing to hide. I’ve tried to do everything with class and be a stand-up citizen. That’s what I have done, and that’s being attacked right now. I’m just more angry than anything having to deal with this and knowing that I did nothing wrong and still being attacked.”
Manning deserves the benefit of the doubt. In our country, we are innocent until proven guilty. For everything that Manning has done on and off the field for the Giants, don’t we owe Manning the time before we throw him under the bus and call him a "liar"? I get that in today’s day and age we are more and more skeptical of athletes away from the field or court of play. But for a player like Manning, who has done nothing up until this point for us to question his integrity, we need to afford him the time he has earned and deserves. If he is guilty, then Manning deserves everything that comes his way and his reputation will be ruined forever. But to paint him a liar at this point without knowing everything involving the case is dangerous and lazy. Manning said last week that the email was taken “out of context.” Let’s ultimately see if he is correct.
Manning added last week, “I will say that I’ve never done what I’ve been accused of doing. I have no reason, nor have I ever had any reason, to do anything of that nature. I’ve done nothing wrong, and I have nothing to hide. And I know that when this is all done, everybody will see it the same way.”
If he is honest and forthright and ultimately clears his name of any wrongdoing in this case, will those that called him a liar then apologize for what they said? They should, but don’t hold your breath.
The truth is important and it will either set you free or convict you. Manning says he can’t discuss the case but insists he did nothing wrong. He has earned the time for all the facts of the case to come out before we judge him. I think we owe him that much.