National Football League
In what world does Taylor Swift not belong at the Super Bowl?
National Football League

In what world does Taylor Swift not belong at the Super Bowl?

Published Feb. 1, 2024 9:45 a.m. ET

If you caught their exchange on the field after the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC Championship Game last Sunday, Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift likely made you feel something.

They hugged and kissed. Later, he told her he loved her and she seemed to tell him she'd "never been so proud. Ever."

Before writing this column, I honestly had not spent much time thinking about Kelce and Swift. It felt like the classic no-nuance argument where everyone had a hot take. 

I thought: Why not just let them fall in love? 


But when I saw their embrace, the wholesomeness warmed me.

I do know, however, that some cringed at the sight. Some even hated seeing it — it made them angry. 

Taylor Swift, in particular, seemed to make them angry.

Maybe you were just exasperated (which, of course, is a type of emotional movement). You rolled your eyes and reduced this relationship to expert marketing — a union of the American Pop Music Industrial Complex and Big Bad American Football. I'm not going to personally waste time considering the transactionality of their relationship. (It is, of course, there — with Apex Marketing Group estimating the relationship has brought more than $300 million in revenue to the Chiefs.) 

Instead, I'm going to trust my eyes, which see two people who feel strongly for each other. And it felt like — well, like the ending for one of Swift's songs that she and Kelce are heading to the Super Bowl. It makes perfect sense.

Taylor Swift has always made sense at the center of an NFL field. She has always made sense at the Super Bowl.

It's Americana, squared. It's the story of us.

There is no more sensible combination of things than Swift and football.

We're talking ketchup and mustard. Rum and Coke. Turkey and stuffing. Cowboy boots and muddy cornfields. Snap buttons and denim shirts. The Swoosh and sneakers. Jim and Beam.

Some things are just better together.

There's some question about whether she can make it back in time from her Tokyo concert the night before the Super Bowl. But it seems unlikely she would miss the game. Not this game.

The two entities — Swift and the NFL — already have a lot in common, and so do their fan bases. Swifties possess a level of manic obsession that NFL fans should relate to. And on Super Bowl Sunday, Chiefs fans and Swifites will never have more in common. Swifties know exactly what it's like paying exorbitant sums of money, often using the secondary market, to acquire tickets to the greatest show they'll ever attend. Yes, a Swift concert is the Super Bowl for Swifties. There's plenty of common ground.

Sport has long intersected with other elements of our culture. There's no stopping it.

There's an elephant (or donkey) in the room: the matter of politics. Kelce is a spokesperson for Bud Light, the COVID-19 vaccine and, by most accounts, is liberal. Swift has stated socially progressive views, and conservatives have recently voiced a concern that she's considering endorsing President Joe Biden in the upcoming election. Maybe even at the Super Bowl. Swift has drawn criticism from conservative commentators over the past week.

Now, it's not like she has somehow used the NFL's platform to leverage political power. But some NFL fans are upset at how much time TV broadcasts spend showing her and talking about her when she's at Chiefs games.

It's an unfounded argument, however. 

She appeared for just 32 seconds during the AFC Championship Game broadcast, including a promo for the Grammy Awards. (You know, the music awards where Swift seems to win every time she cuts an album, not unlike Kelce and Patrick Mahomes at the Super Bowl.) That's standard broadcast operating procedure, because the game itself takes up only 18 minutes of the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast. 

Celebrities often get screen time when they have a link to a team or network, as FOX Sports' Colin Cowherd noted during a powerful segment on Tuesday's episode of "The Herd." Matthew McConaughey, Eminem, Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee are linked with different sports teams, and they receive little to no criticism for their airtime.

Colin Cowherd: Taylor Swift haters need to shake it off

From a historical perspective, it's no surprise that there has been pushback against Swift. Within the NFL, there has always been sexism against high-profile women who date NFL players. Look at what Gisele Bündchen endured during her marriage to Tom Brady. Look at what Jessica Simpson endured during her relationship with Tony Romo. Even Brittany Mahomes, a celebrity only through her longstanding relationship with the Chiefs quarterback, faces a substantial amount of hate.

Again, historically, pushback and outright hate are nothing new in sports. We saw the backlash and amplification of racism when some athletes began to take a knee during the national anthem to start a conversation about police brutality. The players' peaceful protests led to criticism from NFL fans, including from former President Donald Trump

When athletes use their platform to discuss politics, race, gender, sexuality and even vaccine status, they are often told to "stick to sports." And the conservative community is not above taking aim at progressive athletes. We have also seen the liberal community criticize Aaron Rodgers for his politics, but that's largely because those politics stem from disinformation and the rejection of mainstream science. (There's a lot to unpack with Rodgers. And this story isn't about him.)

As so many have pointed out, it's odd that conservatives are so upset with a romance between a pop music star and an NFL star. As I've mentioned, it's a story seemingly as American as they come. Still, the sheer sight of Taylor Swift at an NFL game is upsetting to some.

Nick Wright breaks down the ongoing Taylor Swift hate

And I think it's because of her power.

You've heard about it before — but Swift's fans caused an earthquake. She really is a transcendent icon. Last September, she posted an Instagram story with a link to to encourage her followers to register to vote, and the website registered 35,000 new voters that day with a 1,226% jump in participation in the hour after the post.

She brings female influence and empowerment to a space that has struggled with it. The league, after all, had not employed a female official or coach until 2015. The NFL is making progress, with a 141% increase since 2020. There are now 223 women working full-time in coaching or football operations. 

It's similar to when athletes forced the NFL to reckon with systemic racism within the league, and now a historic nine minority head coaches are in place for 2024. Though the league's players are predominantly people of color (71% in 2021), the coaches and general managers have been predominantly white.

Taylor Swift's relationship with the NFL is what Greta Gerwig is to the "Barbie" universe. Both have encouraged discussion about patriarchy and misogyny in places where those discussions were most challenging. "Barbie," the movie, was a Trojan horse of female empowerment — a story about patriarchy. Many didn't see that coming from a movie about the doll that has come to symbolize the unfair beauty standards established by patriarchy.

Like the "Barbie" movie, Taylor Swift is inspiring change in the NFL, which for years, had been a place for men not to interact with women — if they so chose. 

Women have always been a key part of the NFL audience, accounting for 46% of viewership in 2022. But Swift seems to have brought even more women to the game, with women reportedly accounting for 50% of NFL fans in 2023.

It's an opportunity for the NFL. It's an opportunity for its fans.

This is a chance for fathers to have more in common with their daughters. This is a chance for whole families to connect over more than just the commercials and the halftime show on Super Bowl Sunday. Even more than that, this is a chance for the NFL — and its fans — to have some of the challenging conversations they've been putting off. 

And, by the way, Travis and his brother, Jason Kelce, the Philadelphia Eagles center, are already having some of these conversations on their podcast "New Heights." Here's an example — a story about why Jason ended up wearing shorts to a red-carpet event.

"I was gonna have jeans on, but Kylie was late," Jason said, referring to his wife. "I just came straight from football. Kylie was going to bring the jeans. Kylie was late." 

"Why didn't Jason bring jeans for Jason?" Travis asked, mocking his big brother.

"Because I was at football," Jason said with Travis cracking up and facepalming. "And I needed the jeans for after football. And I'm not going to wear jeans all day — that's just not fun. OK, I'm realizing now that I can't blame Kylie for this."

"She was too busy putting jeans on the three girls," Travis said, referring to Jason and Kylie's three daughters.

"Yeah, she was too busy getting the entire family situated with the babysitter and then getting herself ready and making sure her parents were with her," Jason said.

Travis was calling out Jason in real time. It's already happening, whether you like it or not.

The NFL has long been a safe space for "lonely men," as Cowherd put it. It has also been a space safe from progressive viewpoints. And Swift's presence once again threatens that bizarre ecosystem. 

That's not her problem. She may be part of a broader solution.

So, yes, Taylor Swift is perfect for the Super Bowl. There are no grounds for the argument that her presence is "cringe-worthy" or "a distraction." Her star power is more than welcome — at every level.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.


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