Super Bowl Sunday can bring up a whole slew of emotions for people across the sports and nonsports spectrum. Decades of marketing have turned it into a de facto American holiday that everyone is supposed to care about. So even if you don’t care about football, you feel pressured to attend, like when you go to a New Year’s Eve party when you’d rather order Chinese takeout and stay home.
Fortunately, this year’s Super Bowl has plenty of cultural and political reasons for you nonsports fans to pay attention, giving you a reason to root for a team even if you don’t care about the game itself.
Here are the top four nonsports reasons to root for a team in the Super Bowl:
1. Cam Newton, Making History
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can make a hater out of all of us. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner, the first African-American quarterback to win an NFL MVP (back in ’03, they forced Steve McNair to share the award with Peyton Manning) and one of the most successful quarterbacks in the history of the Carolina Panthers franchise. With that history already in his lap, Newton will be the fourth consecutive African-American quarterback to play in a Super Bowl, something that has never happened in NFL history. (Thanks, President Obama!)
More politically, Newton should be a favorite of any left-leaning Super Bowl viewer. He’s come out in favor of gay marriage and has strongly stated that he would welcome any openly gay player to the Carolina Panthers. He invited the family of one of the Charleston, S.C., mass-shooting victims to be his special guests at the Carolina Panthers’ final game last season. The man even got some of his teammates together to help push someone’s car that broke down on the side of the road.
Lastly, Newton has been the catalyst for more white tears in sports than Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, LeBron James and Richard Sherman combined. Newton’s confidence, marketable good looks and penchant for turning the “dab” into a new national dance has the crusty old racists in the NFL longing for the good ol’ days when all the quarterbacks were white and occasionally had questionable pasts. If you’re looking for someone to root for during a Black History Month Super Bowl, you can’t do much better than Cam Newton, who has shown that you don’t have to smooth the edges off blackness to be a successful QB in the NFL.
2. Peyton Manning, Pitch God for the GOP
While there’s no comparison between the dance moves of Peyton Manning and Newton’s, that doesn’t mean the Broncos’ quarterback isn’t worth rooting for. The NFL has had two golden boy quarterbacks over the last 20 years: the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady and Manning, who has five NFL MVPs, has appeared in three Super Bowls (lost two of them) and is the world’s biggest pitchman, selling everything from DirecTV to Papa John’s to Ritz crackers.
Politically, Manning is the guy you want to root for if you’re a conservative. He has come out as aggressively ambivalent on gay players in the NFL but has actively given to Republican candidates across the country who oppose lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. Manning is very selective about who he gives money to; he supported former Sens. Fred Thompson and Richard Lugar, who spent their entire careers trying to kill affirmative action, and Manning also came out in favor of Mitt Romney in 2012.
Manning is a devout Christian and states that his faith drives every part of his life, including football, something that conservative football fans and nonfans alike can get behind. He’s also done a tremendous amount of work for his native New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.
3. The Carolina Panthers and the Ownership of Evil
If you wanted to root against any team ownership in the Super Bowl this Sunday, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson seems like an easy pick.
Richardson is listed as the third-most-powerful owner in the NFL and a member of the NFL’s contract-negotiating committee. While for years the Carolina Panthers were a pretty sorry team, posting losing records year after year, Richardson had no problem trying to bully the city of Charlotte, N.C., into paying for a new stadium to line his pockets.
Richardson was one of the main NFL owners behind the lockout in 2011 when he argued that owners had to “take back their league” from the players, even though, by all accounts, the lockout was nothing but a greedy money grab by owners.
He also seems to have some bizarre, racialized feelings about which players on his team are allowed to get tattoos. And Richardson notoriously tried to defend and keep domestic-abuser Greg Hardy on his team until public sentiment got too big to ignore. But I guess if there’s one decent thing he’s done, it’s that he gave money to the families of the slain Charleston 9 in South Carolina, but that was probably Newton’s idea.
4. The Denver Broncos’ Right-Leaning Bowlens
The vast majority of owners in the NFL are conservative Republicans (the Seahawks, Steelers and Giants being some of the few outliers), so it’s no surprise that the Bowlen family, which owns the Broncos, leans right.
Team owner Pat Bowlen and his family spend their philanthropic efforts on conservative causes, and they have been less than supportive of the legalization of marijuana in the state of Colorado. Bowlen has been known to make the occasional off-color racial joke, but that’s almost par for the course when it comes to old NFL owners. His son, on the other hand, refers to himself as “the Blood of the City” of Denver and uses his father’s Alzheimer’s condition as a justification for domestic violence.
If that wasn’t enough to tip your rooting interest, remember, if you’re a conservative, the rest of the Broncos organization might be right for you. Former NFL quarterback and Broncos Executive Vice President of Operations John Elway stated in 2014 that he was a Republican because he “didn’t believe in safety nets,” and one of his car dealerships in California was sued for racial discrimination.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.