You’re a hard worker, you’ve risen to the top of your field, won countless awards and yet outside perceptions can differ wildly depending on whether you are “liked” – especially when rumors begin to surface.

Case in point is the two different tales of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Respectively, they entered the 2015 and 2016 Super Bowls with a scandal lurking in their immediate backgrounds. One received heavy media coverage about his alleged actions that immediately became fodder for every show, interview and opinion piece leading up to (and beyond) the big game. The other went through about one and half news cycles and the story has mostly drifted away for the moment, even though it is unresolved.

Mr. Brady, hoping to enjoy glory in the wake of last year’s Super Bowl win, instead was hounded by charges that he was part of a complicated scheme to deflate footballs to obtain a competitive advantage. Many predicted that his championship would appear with an “asterisk” because of the allegations. Mind you, he was accused of taking this massive risk despite winning every recognition, bowl and accolade and considered one of the top quarterbacks of his generation. Prior to this, he didn’t have any noteworthy blemishes on his record.

Just the hint that Brady was potentially involved in something unsavory had media outlets, not to mention fans of most of the other 31 NFL teams, salivating at the thought that the quarterback was about to go down in a 1920’s Black Sox blaze of glory. In essence, he was assumed to be guilty by many because, hey, he’s Tom Brady of the Patriots!

Oh wait, he’s eventually found not guilty? Well, he must have found some way to scramble out of yet another bind because, hey, he’s Tom Brady of the Patriots.

Then there’s Peyton Manning, playing in what many feel might be the last year of his golden career. Like Brady, he’s also won every award, bowl and accolade and considered one of the top quarterbacks of his generation. He’s likable, folksy and the NFL’s most marketable player according to Forbes (Brady came in 7th on the 2015 list).

Manning’s name came under fire when the almost-defunct Al-Jazeera America network reported that he, along with other notable athletes, had received performance enhancing drugs. Manning flatly denied it and said he was “disgusted” and “sickened” by the allegations. Though the media covered the story initially, most felt that Manning was being falsely accused, especially since the so- called informer recanted his story immediately and said he had lied on purpose to the Al-Jazeera source. NFL broadcasters followed suit and refused to even reference the allegations on-air in the next game that Manning played, calling it a “non-story” – despite the fact that other athletes facing similar accusations were always a “story” until proven otherwise.

These observations are not meant to instigate a Brady vs. Manning/fan battle as they both have had impeccable careers; instead, it is intriguing to objectively look at the dueling scenarios and ask, why the two standards? How much do perception and reputation impact whether you are given the benefit of the doubt? If the rumors start, how will you be initially viewed by your peers and community?  

Based on the above, it’s anybody’s game.