That wholesome athlete you adore so much? Let the buyer beware

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If I told you that a highly respected pro football player who has been honored for his charitable work in Chicago treats reporters like dirt and female reporters even worse, you’d probably be surprised.

But it’s true, and you really shouldn’t be surprised. As we’ve learned – or not learned — over the years, what we see on TV and what we get in real life are two different things. The only difference this time is that our antihero has yet to be unmasked.

Not so, apparently, with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who was mentioned in a recent lawsuit against the University of Tennessee that claims he and other athletes at the school created “a hostile sexual environment’’ for women. Twenty years ago, a former trainer at Tennessee accused Manning of putting his naked genitals on her face as she examined his injured foot. He said at the time that he was mooning a teammate.

Manning has built a product-endorsement empire as much on his wholesome, engaging image as on his abilities as an NFL quarterback. People like him, and they buy whatever he is selling.

They did the same with Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, until the athletes’ images didn’t square with how they were living their lives.

Manning has not been charged with anything. But together with a report that links him to human growth hormone, it should at least give fans pause.

The best advice about trusting famous athletes is old advice: Let the buyer beware. In a society in which the athlete is king, it’s advice that rarely gets taken. You’d think we would have learned by now.

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