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It may turn out that Peyton Manning not only sold pizza and insurance and cars but also sold America a bill of goods.

Shocker.

Uh, yeah, this possibility was actually in play all along, regardless of whether long-suppressed allegations about sexual misconduct by Manning are true.

That is not to declare Manning a bad guy, just to say that we don’t know whether he is or not. This is so obvious, I can’t believe I feel compelled to make a column out of it. But, fact is, there are a lot of smart (and not-so-smart) people convinced that Manning is the guy driving the Buick, eating Papa John’s and humming the Nationwide jingle.

So maybe a part of the legacy of one of the all-time great NFL quarterbacks will be contributing to a lesson fans should have learned long ago:

We don’t know these guys, so we shouldn’t exalt them to something they might not be. Or for that matter, we shouldn't denigrate them to something they might not be.

You don’t truly know the people across the street. So you certainly don’t know Manning.

And if we don’t know America’s squeakiest cleanest pitchman, we don’t know Cam Newton or Jameis Winston or Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers or Marshawn Lynch.

Yeah, that’s right. I included Rivers, a guy I believe is among the most honorable men I’ve ever known, in a list of NFL stars that large portions of the media and public have condemned to some extent.

Truth is, you don’t know Manning is someone you’d actually want to hang out with any more than you know Newton isn’t a man you’d want your son growing up to be like. One of them may not be a jerk, he might just play one on TV. Which one? So few, if anyone, really know.

We all have embarrassing moments: Who among us would not be at least a little embarrassed if every detail of his/her life were known by everyone else? Like, if not only who you were at the office but who you were at home was broadcast on television every minute of every day, including every Friday night from age 18 to whenever age at which you were fast asleep before eight o’clock.

Ouch. Wince.

Who among us wouldn’t be a lot embarrassed? Life is a long time involving a lot of moments to mess up.

This is neither excusing nor reproving boorish behavior by professional athletes. This is simply pointing out that they are people, capable of boorish behavior.

I’ve gotten to know a fair amount of professional athletes over the past 25 years, and I’ve come to this general conclusion: They’re best thought of as men who are awesome at what they do – and probably worthy of nothing more than that utmost respect.

Yes, I know a few guys well enough to hold them up as role models for a life well-lived. I know a few well enough to consider them able role models only for what determination can accomplish. Others, I know well enough to want to keep them away from my wife and children.

My youngest son met Rivers many years ago, and I later pointed out to the boy all the things Rivers did in their interaction and that he does in life that make him someone to emulate. I have also over the years had numerous conversations with my sons to make them aware of different athletes’ humanity and that even Rivers is someone who could end up having to apologize for something someday.

(This doesn’t only apply to athletes. There isn’t a single friend I have whose peccadilloes would surprise me. If that isn’t true for you, you haven’t lived long enough or you haven’t been paying attention.)

Applying that knowledge wrought by experience keeps me from idealizing people. Call it cynical; I’ll live in the real world, where I am lifted up by great achievement but aware at all times I could be let down by abhorrent behavior.

I wish we could be/should be shocked when a man so greatly admired is accused of something heinous.

The allegations: This is not meant to convict or condemn Manning for what is alleged in a long-suppressed lawsuit dating to his time at the University of Tennessee. According to a suit filed in 1996, Manning “forcefully maneuvered” a few of his private parts “directly” around the face of a woman athletic trainer as she examined his foot injury.

In a book published in 2000, by the way, Manning acknowledged his actions were “inappropriate.” Without getting too specific, he claimed it was a prank intended for a teammate gone awry.

Whatever. This is not about what he did or didn’t do. That is important. But it’s not the purpose here.

This is about him – and every other person walking the planet – being capable of doing these things, or worse.

If you watched television even five or six times over the past several years, there is a good chance you’ve seen Manning in a commercial five or six times.

He did a couple for DirectTV as a part of their “Don’t Be Like This Me” campaign. The ads are hilarious. The message extrapolated from them is sobering.

That is, we have no idea which me Manning or any other athlete or celebrity or person actually is.

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