The NFL's official bio on X is an homage to a Taylor Swift song. The league's Instagram bio points out that the Kansas City Chiefs are a perfect 2-0 in games the singer has attended. Those contest have come against the truly pathetic Chicago Bears at Arrowhead and the plucky but limited New York Jets across the river from the place Swift famously welcomed people and assured the city had been waiting for them.
Swift's newish but intensely covered budding relationship with All-Pro tight end and podcaster Travis Kelce is the platonic ideal of when sports and pop culture merge. It's pure Americana and if given the afternoon to get baked, a person would be able to come up with a 5,000-word thinkpiece about her new era of bringing back the monoculture because, at a time where society is impossibly fractured, this thing — though very stupid and trivial — has brought divergent factions to back to a common conversation.
But honestly, who has the time and lax management oversight for that type of thing? Instead, let's consider the copious amount of otherwise sane individuals chastising the league and accusing them of malfeasance and impropriety with the single most cursed phrase in the English language.
The implication is that the NFL, a $12 billion industry, is somehow fixing games in the defending Super Bowl champions' favor because one of their star players is dating a very famous person. And make no mistake, that would be so badass if it were true. Especially if it was openly corrupt and obvious. Yet sadly, to the detriment of clickable content, it is not.
The Chiefs murdered the Bears because they are the Bears. The Chiefs beat the Jets because they are a far superior team and built a 17-0 lead. Yes, there were some questionable calls — most namely the Sauce Gardner holding penalty on 3rd-and-20 mentioned above. There was also Patrick Mahomes showcasing why the Lombardi Trophy will have to be pried from his sweaty, warm hands with absurd scrambles and general heroic actions.
Now to be sure, there are plenty of, cough, bad looks to be looked at. NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcast was the sort of teeth-gritting star-bleeping bonanza usually reserved for the Super Bowl and casual viewers. Swift was Poochie and we were all damned to gaze upon Poochie even as more pivotal, interesting characters did stuff on a football field. Middle-aged men are falling all over themselves to look cool and hip and as though they give half a damn about anything that isn't scoring the next scoop or the best way to read a cover-2.
There are specious stories about Swift becoming an economy that can buoy the bottom lines of ticket sales, merchandise, advertising revenue and the NFL as a whole. And while she'd undoubtably drawn interest and ratings, at a certain point a consumer begins to lose the plot a little bit. Thankfully everything can be distilled down to the very simple equation of Taylor Swift = Money = Eyeballs and we can all agree that capitalism is grand and no, actually, saying a person is a brand isn't soul-crushing at all. At least that makes sense.
The conspiracy theories necessary to lay the foundation for a bad look are more difficult to parse. The NFL wants the Chiefs to be good? Well, Andy Reid has had that covered for some time now. The NFL wants the Chiefs in the Super Bowl to get a bigger rating and larger spectacle? Given truth serum, perhaps someone in that Park Avenue office might agree. But again, this is Week 4 that just wrapped up. A ticky-tack penalty has not influenced the AFC Championship game in Kansas City's favor just yet. Plus the league would have to be confident that this blossoming flower of love will last until mid-Februrary. One of the crazier ideas floating around is that if the Chiefs do make the Big Game then Swift could supplant Usher as the halftime entertainment, ignoring that Swift is one of the precious few artists too big for the Super Bowl (and that she has a show in Tokyo the day before).
So with all of this: an admission. The Kelce-Swift is not all that compelling to me. Karma dictates that one should never root against love so all the best to them on their endeavor. Seeing individuals and entities collectively lose their shit as though they've never seen a famous person before is a tad unnerving.
However, if you think if putting on some sort of ombudsman cape and preaching out some sort of higher standard is going to change anything or stem the tide of this publicity flood, then you're insane. Many of the people pushing the envelope and adding fuel to the fire feel the exact same way but know that business is business. They're making a calculated decision to play their roles and willing participants in the three-ring circus and to ride the momentum to profitability.
And that's okay. If the neighborhood's least fun dad wants to cosplay as a Swiftie and US Weekly corespondent, then more power to them. They've made the calculation that the internal shame is worth it. I can guarantee that no one is going to care about your ethical stand or bananas conspiratorial theory as the content churns and new storylines develop.
So go ahead. Take comfort in worrying about your mortgage or that receding hairline or however the hell they're teaching these fourth-graders to do math homework now. Figure out how involved you want to get involved in this whole spectacle and pay no mind to those who tell you it's too much or too little. Just try not to turn into full-on Pepe Silvia mode two weeks in. Because you're just not gonna make it with that pace.