OPINION | Taylor Swift’s NFL presence a high-octane boost for American right-wing grievance machine | CBC Sports

You know who doesn’t want in on the Taylor Swift Mania threatening to engulf all of sports media between now and the Super Bowl? U.S.-based sports books, which announced on Wednesday that they wouldn’t take wagers on whether Swift would appear at the game, scheduled for next Sunday in Las Vegas.

The pop megastar’s romance with Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce has generated headlines the entire NFL season, and she’s a regular presence in a luxury box at Kansas City games, watching with Kelce’s family and friends. But the day before K.C. faces the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, Swift is slated to perform in Tokyo.

Swift, we have learned, is extremely powerful. She can boost jersey sales, juice viewership of an already popular league, and make mainstream media outlets think she invented Swag Surfin, all by herself. But even Taylor Swift can’t shrink the distance between the Tokyo Dome and Allegiant Stadium, so her presence on game day isn’t guaranteed.

Normally that mix of profile and uncertainty turns an occurrence into gambling inventory, but this time American bookies have decided they don’t want this action. Abject mismatches get this kind of treatment, and so do sports events with predetermined outcomes, like pro wrestling matches and fixed fights.

Among commentators who mix sports and politics on the American right, the public romance between Swift and Kelce is an example of the latter — one more crooked competition set up by someone looking to dupe the unsuspecting public. To hear some folks tell it, Swift, Kelce and Kansas City at the Super Bowl is as scripted as John Cena defeating the Rock.

I won’t detail the conspiracy theories too deeply here, because I’m reluctant to give them air, but since her emergence as an NFL fan, Swift has been portrayed by conservative U.S. commentators as a distraction, a saboteuse, and an undercover government agent dispatched to brainwash football fans.

Taylor Swift’s romance with Travis Kelce has led to a variety of unfounded accusations from U.S. conservative commentators. (Reed Hoffmann/The Associated Press)

None of those accusations are true. All of them are sexist. But the right-wing media grievance machine needs fuel, and the spectre of Taylor Swift around the single biggest day on the sports calendar is a high-octane boost. Between now and Super Bowl Sunday, expect that engine to fire on every far-fetched cylinder.

Skewering U.S. conservatives isn’t in my job description, but a column that includes sports media analysis necessarily involves dissecting half-baked, bad-faith, ham-fisted sports takes. A critical mass of that type of commentary comes from Fox News and the knockoffs, but I can’t control the source. I just explore the issues.

With Swift, some complaints come from politically agnostic football fans who think K.C. broadcasts devote too much time to her.

Fact check Pt. 1:

We all watch the game with second screens. When the camera cuts to Swift, scroll through your phone until it’s safe to look at the TV again.

Fact check Pt 2:

Swift isn’t costing you any game action. This is gridiron football, where plays last six seconds, and much of the rest is what track coach Tony Holler calls “televised loitering.” Add up all the Swift visuals from the AFC Championship game and it totals 44 seconds. She costs us nothing.

Unfounded media criticism

Correction. Swift appears to have cost some commentators their common sense, and a great deal of personal peace.

On Dec. 25, up stepped Clay Travis, a notorious hot-take artist who had targeted Swift earlier in the season, to declare that Swift was the Delilah to Kelce’s Sampson.

“[Kansas City is] not a good football team and Travis Kelce looks like he should retire,” Travis posted to Twitter. “The double worthless Pfizer shots may have caught up with him. Either that or Taylor Swift is [Kansas City’s] Yoko Ono. Maybe both.”

Granted, Kelce posted only 984 receiving yards this regular season, his lowest total since 2015. But last week he torched the Baltimore Ravens normally airtight defence for 11 receptions and 116 yards, even though Swift cheered him on in person. And if she were a drain on the entire team, how did they manage to win twice on the road and qualify for the Super Bowl?

Either she’s harmless or this whole competition is rigged.

Or the third option, theorized by social media personality and self-described “Alpha Male” Nick Adams — she’s after Travis Kelce’s $70,000 US Super Bowl bonus.

“For those wondering why Taylor Swift is dating Travis Kelce: are things beginning to make sense now?”


A woman among a large crowd in the stands at a football game holds up a sign that says is Taylor here.
Swift’s attendance at various Kansas City games has become a topic of conversation among fans and media alike. (Jason Hanna/Getty Images)

The 34-year-old Swift is worth a reported $1.1 billion. For the median Canadian in the 35-44 age bracket, the figure is $234,400. To the average Canadian, $70,000 is an impressive payday. To Swift, adjusted for net worth, it’s roughly 15 bucks. A pleasant surprise if you find it in the pocket of some pants you were about to launder, but not enough to make you fake a love affair. If you love somebody for $15, you love that person, period.

The latest wave of anti-Swift criticism pivots on politics. She voted for Joe Biden in 2020, and urged her fans to do the same. And some pundits want her to keep her politics away from this sports event, as if Donald Trump doesn’t appear at UFC cards. Or as if Ron DeSantis doesn’t cloak himself in baseball. And as if failed Republican primary candidate Vivek Ramaswamy didn’t all but cup his hands for trickle-down popularity as he trailed Jake Paul to the ring for Paul’s most recent bout.

Swift hasn’t endorsed any presidential candidate yet, but conservative commentators seem terrified that she’ll use the Super Bowl spotlight to strengthen current president Joe Biden’s campaign. A co-sign from Swift is powerful. Biden already knows.

But so does the NFL. Nearly 25 million viewers tuned in when the Kansas City mollywhopped the Chicago Bears, with Swift in attendance. Afterward, retailers reported a 400 per cent spike in Kelce jersey sales.

Taylor Swift is food for business. You don’t need to be a Swiftie to admit it. You just need to know how to add and subtract. So if you’re actively opposed to her presence in the NFL’s orbit, you’re also against the league cultivating new fans and making more money.

That’s your prerogative, and it’s fair. You could make a strong argument that seemingly unrelated developments — from sportswashing to gambling addiction to the NFL’s racially slanted concussion settlement payouts — all stem from the sport’s industry’s relentless pursuit of fatter profit margins. It’s just a puzzling stand to take when, the rest of the time, you’re a pro-business cheerleader eager to see the rich grow richer.

Still, some folks tie themselves in ideological knots just so they can stay on Taylor Swift’s bad side. Puzzling, but not a huge surprise.

The sports books tried to warn us.

Often, when it comes to Taylor Swift, all bets are off.

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