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US sports talk loudmouths delight in blaming Taylor Swift for Travis Kelce’s dip in form

Patchy form of Kansas City Chiefs’ player grist to the mill for business of commercially astute indignation

There is a shouty corner of the American sports television universe where (mostly) men make huge sums of money offering outrageous opinions specifically designed to generate viral videos and clickbait. Some of the tiresome guff they may well believe, most of it, any discerning person can see, they are spouting to provoke and antagonise. Controversy for controversy’s sake in an obvious grift that is a daily race to the bottom of a very lucrative barrel. Skip Bayless, who earns $8 million (€7.3 million) a year spewing ludicrous, ill-founded critiques of players like LeBron James, last week trained his blunderbuss on Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end and boyfriend of Taylor Swift.

“Feels like it’s about time to call Taylor Swift a distraction,” posted Bayless on X. “What do you think Patrick [Mahomes —Chiefs quarterback]? Andy [Reid — Chiefs coach]? How about you, Travis?”

The Chiefs had just lost a game on Christmas Day to the Las Vegas Raiders and Kelce had not played well. As happens in sport. But this was the perfect opportunity for Bayless to garner attention by blaming an individual’s poor performance and waning form on his relationship with the most famous woman in the world, a singer-songwriter with notoriously loyal fans who take grave offence whenever she comes under attack. The last part is important. The moment he threw Swift’s name in there, Bayless created textbook rage bait, instantly guaranteeing reams of social media reaction for him, essential to keeping his toxic brand relevant.

Others made the same tactical play. “Taylor O-No! Gets KC Grief” shrieked the New York Post, reporting about online keyboard warriors comparing Swift’s supposedly deleterious impact on the Chiefs to Yoko Ono’s perceived contribution to the demise of The Beatles. Bloviators on sports talk radio sang a similar song, riffing about the “distractions” impeding the play of the perennial All-Star, tracing his decline to her arrival in his life last summer, and even calling for Kelce, a two-time Super Bowl champion, to retire. Nothing personal, just the modern business of manufactured commercially astute indignation.


In a time when every newspaper in America is laying off journalists, USA Today recently appointed a full-time Taylor Swift correspondent, somebody whose sole brief is to report on the performer, and everything related to her. A sign the media apocalypse is near or a smart attempt to capture a more youthful demographic. NFL games that Swift attends as a spectator routinely attract an increased 50 per cent of teenage girls to television screens. Her mere presence cheering on her fella has been marked by total viewership of these matches rising 22 per cent. In the first month of the relationship, sales of his number 87 jersey quadrupled nationwide.

These staggering numbers offer a glimpse of the immense sway Swift holds over her followers, a demographic so cultishly devout they call their hero “mother”. The figures also explain why the NFL has been thrilled by and shamelessly cashing in on the relationship. The league briefly changed its official X handle to NFL (Taylor’s Version) in homage to how she describes re-released, copyright-busting editions of her back catalogue albums, and television cameras pan to Swift in a corporate box up to 17 times during a game. Here she is cheering, there she goes mouthing a swear word. Oh wow, she just sipped a drink and spoke to Kelce’s mother. Now back to the action.

“I’m just there to support Travis,” she said. “I have no awareness of if I’m being shown too much and pissing off a few dads, Brads and Chads.”

Irate Brads, Chads and dads are definitely contributing to the current backlash against her and her beau. As much as the NFL and its commercial partners are delighted Swifties are paying attention, gridiron die-hards are irritated by her in-game activities becoming a staple of every Chiefs’ broadcast. There is, inevitably, a political element to this too. Kelce previously advertising Covid vaccines has already had him tagged as suspect by the Joe Rogan/Aaron Rodgers/science-denying brainiacs. Throw in the fact Swift, evincing guts to match her talent, has publicly called out Donald Trump as a racist and white supremacist and it was inevitable their high-profile coupling would torment the more feeble-minded.

For all that, attempting to connect his lack-lustre displays to the blossoming love affair appears the ploy of the truly desperate and the downright misogynistic. Former players and pundits have been queuing up to point out the real reasons for Kelce’s reduced impact on the field are far more prosaic than his romance with a woman who just earned her first billion and could sell out any NFL stadium umpteen nights in a row. The average career of a tight end is less than three years. Now in his 11th season, Kelce recently turned 34 and is at a stage when there is supposed to be a fall-off in his performances.

Nine of those Chiefs’ campaigns have involved runs deep into the play-offs, so he has a lot of high-intensity mileage, battled a pre-season knee injury, and is attracting more special attention from defenders. Like his coach opting to use him closer to the line of scrimmage, those are obvious football explanations routinely backed up by stats illustrating his diminished explosiveness and inability to break tackles like he used to in his physical prime. Sound tactical analysis, the problem is none of it can be attributed to Swift and where’s the clickbait in that?