Because of Taylor Swift, I'm watching football again – Salon

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Until two Sundays ago, I hadn’t made a point to watch an NFL game in years. Aside from the Super Bowl and the games that were on in the background when I was visiting home, I had gone from a football obsessive to a sporadic viewer. But, the Chiefs were playing the Ravens — and Taylor Swift would be in attendance — and at this point, even my friends who had never watched football wanted to check it out, so we went to a beer hall and stood in the back corner.
I never wanted it to happen, but the NFL and I have a very fraught relationship. As a female football fan, it was often hard to find a place in the sport. When I looked on-screen, there were few women working (aside from the criminally underpaid cheerleaders, who let’s face it, were historically partly there to be objectified by the NFL’s rowdy male audience), and when I talked to my male peers about football, I was belittled or excluded. I wasn’t alone in experiencing this. When one reporter asked former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton a question in a post-game conference, instead of responding to her, he laughed and said, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”
As a female football fan, it was often hard to find a place in the sport.
Microaggressions aside, the NFL’s misogyny problem runs much deeper. Growing up, I discovered this organically. In middle school, when Googling a player like former Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman during halftime, in addition to where he went to college and his height, I learned that he was arrested for allegedly groping a woman at a bar (those charges were later dropped). Soon, everywhere I looked on the field, I could find a player accused of committing an act of violence against a woman, and then I could find a crowd of men cheering him on.
While most fans don’t know every player’s off-the-field history, for me, this only made the sport more alienating. A wide receiver like Tyreek Hill would make an incredible play, and it felt like I was the only person in the room who knew that he pleaded guilty to strangling his pregnant girlfriend (he was also later investigated for child abuse). I’d learn about cases like Jameis Winston and Matt Araiza whose rape accusations came before they even entered the league and wonder why these things didn’t stop a team from drafting them (Winston went on to assault an Uber driver once in the NFL as well; Araiza was recently dropped from the gang rape lawsuit against him). The message, while implicit, was clear: this wasn’t something that mattered to the NFL or most of its fans, not in a substantial way. Most recently, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was accused by 22 massage therapists of sexual harassment and assault (he has since settled all but two of the cases out of court). Though his legal battles kept him off the field for an entire season, the Browns still decided to offer him a five-year, $230 million contract — one of the largest in NFL history. 
In light of all this, it’s not surprising that Sundays got complicated for me until they altogether turned into days when I did my grocery shopping and other errands instead. As much as I loved the sport, I knew that I was closer to the women brutalized at the hands of NFL players than the athletes themselves, so I kept a mental list of names until there became too many. I could do a lot with my newfound free time, and my beloved Patriots had certainly ended their winning streak, so I didn’t miss it too much. 
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Then, Taylor Swift started dating Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and my favorite singer learned something I had known for years: “Football is awesome, it turns out,” she admitted in her TIME Person of the Year profile in December 2023. Suddenly, I was turning on the TV to catch a glimpse of Swift (sorry, men that are upset when she’s shown; some of us really enjoy it!) and I found myself enjoying the football being played in between shots of her yelling “Let’s f**king go!” and hugging Donna Kelce too. I remembered what it felt like to be in the stands cheering on your team. While I never quite lived the box lifestyle that Swift enjoys, sitting in the nosebleeds bundled up at Gillette Stadium with my family and participating in the chants and commotion of a game was enough for me.
Thanks to Taylor, I also am not alone anymore. By the time I made it to the bar to watch the AFC Championship, it was filled with women, many of whom were unabashedly sporting some of the NFL-Swift crossover merch like a sweatshirt with the NFL logo that says “Taylor’s Version.” The intimidating boys club that I remembered started to feel more and more like the blissful experiences that are Taylor Swift-themed nights I occasionally attend in New York (in honor of the Super Bowl, there are many planned for this Sunday). The sport felt fun again. I started texting my family about who would win a game. I yelled at the TV during stressful plays. I considered buying Chiefs gear, but their name is racist and ultimately I am still loyal to the Patriots.
She's also reminded me that, for better or worse, this is a sport I enjoy, and I have a right to enjoy it.
Online, I see Swifties explaining the rules to each other, designing merch and building their own community within the NFL. Many close to the league itself are welcoming Swifties with open arms. Commentators and former players like Colin Cowherd, Stephen A. Smith, Charles Barkley, J.J. Watt, Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe have all said that Swift’s connection to the NFL is a good thing for the sport and celebrated the fact that she’s bringing in new fans. Even Travis and Jason Kelce – Travis’ brother and Philadelphia Eagles center – take time out of their podcast to explain basic questions to Swifties in a segment they’ve kindly called “No Dumb Questions.” If two highly respected NFL players can explain football to young women without being patronizing, I hope more “dads, Brads and Chads” (as Taylor called them) are learning to do the same.
Though Swifties were excited to join in on Taylor’s Football Era, there is a lot of pushback from those outside her fanbase. Republicans are terrified that it will somehow cost them the election and NFL fans complain that she’s taking up too much airtime, something that was recently disproven. The NFL has always panned to celebrities in attendance, and it’s not surprising that they’d want to show one of the most famous people on the planet at their games, if only for 0.39% of the broadcast. But, Taylor’s image stands out because it’s an unlikely one of a woman enjoying football . . . and she’s bringing other women along. 
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With each game Swift attended, football fans found a way to attack. Bills fans burned a picture of her before a game, she was accused of being the reason if the Chiefs had a bad game, and I personally watched men in Ravens jerseys boo and flip off the screen when she was shown supporting her partner. This time, instead of internalizing the displays of misogyny, I was reminded of Swift’s 2010 song “Mean,” in which she sings, 
I can see you years from now in a bar
Talking over a football game
With that same big, loud opinion 
But nobody's listening 
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things 
Drunk and grumblin' on about how I can't sing
But all you are is mean
All you are is mean
And a liar, and pathetic
And alone in life, and mean.

Over a decade later, Swift is even more unbothered by drunk football fans (and has once again proved her prophetic powers). Her highly televised interactions with the sport have provided evidence against the idea that women can’t enjoy football or understand it. In the year of the girl, Swift has shown that even hyper-masculine football isn’t off-limits, which is a threat to many of those who have supported the league for decades. She's also reminded me that, for better or worse, this is a sport I enjoy, and I have a right to enjoy it. I will always have complicated feelings about the league, but I will always have hope that it can get better. Swift’s connection to the NFL and the influx of female fans will not solve its bigger problems, but it is striking how much one woman can change the way an entire league feels and open it up to fans that it so seriously neglects. I don't know how long my rediscovered enthusiasm for the sport will last, but I will be watching the Super Bowl in my Eras Tour t-shirt, hopefully bothering a few "Brads and Chads" in the process. 
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Olivia Luppino is a producer at Salon. Previously, she wrote about culture, fashion and lifestyle for The Cut and Popsugar.
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