This Sunday, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will take the field, in his fourth Super Bowl, to face the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. Newton, a black quarterback, has been the subject of endless dissection by sportswriters, who have complained about his on-field celebrations and subjected him to a litany of stupid questions about his blackness. We wondered: what if the sports media wrote about Manning's whiteness the same way?
This Sunday's Super Bowl will be a stern test for Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who will not only face the Panthers, but also have to contend with the ever-present shadow of the white quarterbacks who’ve successfully led their teams to Super Bowl glory.
As we close in on the NFL's 50th showcase event, it's worth considering the burden of carrying the legacy of white success at the quarterback position. Only 28 white quarterbacks have managed to win the Super Bowl. The official list (excluding Peyton and his biological brother Eli, who is also white) includes Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Ken Stabler, Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Jim McMahon, Phil Simms, Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway (perhaps the most celebrated white quarterback in the league’s history), Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Joe Flacco.
Manning, with his intelligence, keen decision-making ability, work ethic, attention to detail, lack of mobility, and creamy skin, may be the perfect embodiment of this white tradition.
Peyton Manning has always been prepared for the burden of whiteness. It’s probably why he made the decision to tailor his game as a traditional pocket passer, rather than to push himself to join the world of athletic, instinctual, natural athletes like Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and Akili Smith. It’s a decision that looks to have paid off well for the white Broncos quarterback.
But carrying on this white quarterbacking legacy is no cakewalk. Instead of being asked by reporters about his on-field play, Manning often instead fields questions about his pleated khakis and golf shirts, and his obsession with “Coffee House” radio, an XM Sirius station dedicated to smooth acoustic rock. He has taken criticism for celebrating touchdowns with “the sprinkler,” a dance trend popular among suburban whites, in which the dancer imitates the water-spraying garden implement.
That kind of criticism would be enough to break weaker men, but thankfully for Manning, he grew up part of a wholesome white family in New Orleans, and was raised by Archie Manning, a white quarterback who spent a long time in the NFL hopelessly trying to meet the standard of whiteness that his two sons would achieve.
Peyton Manning’s relationship with his whiteness might offer lessons for other white quarterbacks looking to make it in a league where personal drama can often dominate the conversation. And it’s an example for every young white kid on a Pee-Wee football team, looking to the NFL for role models.
Black quarterbacks, free of the burden borne by their white colleagues, have glossed over issues of race. (Manning’s opposing quarterback, Cam Newton, recently stated in response to a series of questions about being a black quarterback, "I don't even want to touch on the topic of black quarterback, because I think this game is bigger than black, white or even green.”)
But Newton’s handling of the question betrays everything that civil rights leaders like Manning have had to endure. It was almost as if Newton doesn’t fully appreciate the hardship of hearing fans discuss how Manning's awkward dancing and celebrating is going to destroy a generation of children; as if he doesn’t see that perhaps Manning doesn't want to be an anointed spokesman for an entire race.
So this Sunday, as millions of white families sit in front of their TV eating unseasoned chicken, bombarded by questions from friends about how they, as white people, feel about Peyton Manning’s whiteness, it’s worth sparing a few prayers for Manning and his family for what they’ve had to endure. It’s an immense weight, but the statistics are on his side. After all, white quarterbacks have won 47 out of 49 Super Bowls.
Miriti Murungi is a Senior Digital Producer/Social Media Editor for Fusion. He is possibly responsible for the nonsensical ramblings at @NutmegRadio. Also dabbles in yacht rock and used to wear a tie. *tips hat*