You may think you know Peyton Manning, but you never ever will

Saturday's social media storm surrounding an old story reminded us that an athlete's image is easily changed -- both positively and negatively.

Jack Dempsey/AP

You know Peyton Manning the player and Peyton Manning the pitchman.

You don’t know Peyton Manning the person — and you never will.

This is the reality of the relationship between fans and pro athletes.

This is what Manning has reminded us.

Actually, it was the New York Daily News that provided the refresher. The tabloid published a lengthy report Saturday shredding Manning for a sexual assault claim made against him in February 1996 and the ugliness toward the victim that followed. It was old news to those who had closely followed Manning dating to his quarterbacking days at the University of Tennessee, where the vulgar incident involving a female athletic trainer allegedly occurred.

Old news to those in NFL circles familiar with how Manning and his father Archie later settled a defamation lawsuit after allegedly smearing the woman’s character and violating a confidentiality agreement from the original $300,000 settlement she made with UT.

PEY-OFF HISTORY

Old news to those who read this pre-Super Bowl 50 story detailing what was later piggy-backed on by the Daily News, which has more mainstream juice in the world’s largest media market.

But in this case, old news was bad news for Manning. Enough people had never heard about what happened that Manning suffered a more crushing blow Saturday than ever delivered by a pass rusher during 18 NFL seasons.

It’s also one from which his reputation might not be getting back up.

The buzz is no longer about Manning’s football legacy and where he ranks among the greatest quarterbacks as he contemplates a likely retirement from the Denver Broncos with two Lombardi Trophies in tow.

Instead, Manning is set to ride off in the sunset tainted by these revelations as well as a strongly denied Al-Jazeera report claiming he used human growth hormone, a drug banned by the NFL, to accelerate his recovery from 2011 neck surgeries.

For some, the positive image Manning has worked to cultivate both on and off the field is forever gone. The Papa John’s and chicken parm will never taste as good.

Manning’s defenders will swear he simply made a bad error in judgment with a childish prank. Manning was mooning a friend, not allegedly trying to stick his rectum and testicles in the woman’s face as claimed while she was treating his foot injury.

All this begs the question: Who is the real Peyton Manning anyway?

Are the benevolent things that Manning has done — among them donating a reported $50 million to an Indianapolis children’s hospital subsequently named in his honor and winning the three most prestigious “Man of the Year” honors given to NFL players for community and charity service (Walter Payton, Byron “Whizzer” White and Bart Starr awards) among them — simply for show?

How much vindictiveness is bubbling at the surface when, according to the Daily News, court testimony exposed Manning as having impugned the trainer’s character to his father with lies describing her as “trashy” with a “toilet mouth,” along with committing the apparent sin of having “been out with a bunch of black guys"/

Were the teammates who swear by him, including some who are “black guys,” being bamboozled all this time? Does the same go for the reporters who largely fawn over him and the fans who believed in Manning and what he stood for so much that he became the most trusted NFL face among advertisers?

We will never get those answers. Nor should we expect them because there really is no way to know for sure without direct ties to him.

The only thing certain is that the Manning narrative has changed — and it isn’t for the better.