(Reuters) - Peyton Manning's reputation as the National Football League's most bankable player took a hit when he was among 10 athletes cited in a lawsuit filed by six former female students against the University of Tennessee.
The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday and first reported by The Tennessean, claims that the university violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.
Title IX is a federal statute that bans discrimination along gender lines at schools that receive federal funding.
The suit cited nearly a dozen instances dating back to the mid-1990s of former student athletes accused of sexual assault, including star quarterback Manning who won his second Super Bowl title earlier this month, with the Denver Broncos.
Neither Manning's agent nor the Broncos were immediately available for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that in 1996, when Manning was quarterback for the Volunteers at the University of Tennessee (UT), he placed his naked genitals on the face of a female athletic trainer while she was examining him for an injury.
Manning, who was never the subject of a police investigation into the incident, has denied the allegations and said that he was instead "mooning" a team mate.
The trainer, Dr. Jamie Naughright, later sued Manning after he described her in a book as being "vulgar mouthed".
Malcolm Saxon, the player alleged by Manning to have been the target of the "mooning", refuted Manning's account in documents filed on Naughright's behalf in the case.
Naughright's lawsuit against Manning was settled in 1997 with the agreement that she leave the university.
WIDE MEDIA EXPOSURE
The allegation that Manning sexually assaulted a female athletics trainer while in college was first reported in 2003, but gained wide exposure in social media networks on Saturday when it was described in detail in a New York Daily News column.
The filing of the lawsuit comes at a time when Manning, a future Hall of Fame quarterback who is a 14-time Pro Bowl selection, is being investigated by the league over allegations that he had human growth hormone sent to his house.
Those allegations surfaced in December in an Al-Jazeera report that said Manning's wife had received deliveries of HGH, which is banned by the NFL, while he was recovering from neck surgery during his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning, 39, has denied the allegations, which have since been recanted by the key source of the report.
Meanwhile, Manning continues to consider whether he will retire from the game after he helped steer the Broncos to a 24-10 Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers a week ago.
Manning, who revolutionized the position while winning a record five NFL most valuable player awards, said he wanted some time to reflect after playing in what many expect to be the final game of his storied career.
For most of his 18-year career, Manning has been a marketing dream for the NFL and also one of the United States' most popular athletes.
Chosen by the Indianapolis Colts with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, he projects a folksy charm with a disarming southern drawl that helps mask an off-the-charts football IQ and a fiery competitiveness.
Manning, who can be seen on television pitching everything from Papa John's Pizza to Nationwide Insurance, ranked number 32 on the Forbes 2015 list of highest paid athletes, making nearly as much in endorsements ($12 million) as salary ($15 million).
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine)