I have never been a “sports person”. I did not marry a “sports person”. I probably don’t even know when a game is on, even if that game is on Super Bowl Sunday.
My (and my husband’s) total lack of interest in sports has been a proven fact and a long running joke in my family. For Christmas 2022, my brother, a huge sports fan, gave my kids an official Memphis Grizzlies jersey. They had no reaction. None. They didn’t know who the player or team was or what sport the team played. Their disgruntled response and my brother’s incredulous irritation prompted him (at my urging) to accept the gift, for such a fine piece of gear would go to waste in our unsportsmanlike household.
The caveat to this disinterest is the love of sports-related entertainment. Tsports television and movies, documentaries about athletes and global competitions like the Olympics – I love the grit of King Richard, the inspiration of Ted Lasso and the insider politics of Full Swing, even though I don’t want to watch tennis, football or golf .
I love the underdogs, the superhuman feats of achievement, the once-in-a-lifetime moments and the personal, behind-the-scenes interviews and stories that bring a meaningful synchronized downhill slalom or dive. Even I, the person who only watched one quarter of a football game my entire time in college, watched Netflix’s Quarterback and Prime Video’s Kelce.
But I don’t watch sports – at least, until September of last year.
Specifically, September 24, the day Taylor Swift showed up at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, to sit in a luxury suite next to Travis Kelce’s mother, Donna Kelce, and watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the Chicago Bears. That string of proper names would have been meaningless to me if Swift hadn’t left the stadium in Kelce’s “getaway car” and further fueled speculation about their then-rumored relationship. Just like that, a new football fan was born – and I wasn’t the only one.
Swifties texted their dads and brothers, googled football terms and rules, bought jerseys (Travis Kelce jersey sales soared almost 400% after that game), appeared in Swift-inspired sign games and even tuned into “New Heights,” a football podcast with Travis Kelce and his brother, Jason Kelce. We also heard “sports people” try to explain that, in fact, Swift didn’t put Kelce on the map, as the athlete had built his huge fan base by being one of the best teams of all time.
Like one self-proclaimed Swiftie, I was enthralled watching the football season unfold as a real-life rom-com between Miss Americana and Prince Heartbreak. I was tuning in for the 25 seconds of Swift’s reactions that I would see during the three-hour games, mesmerized by her outfits, expressions, cheers and friendships with other WAGs (which I now know means wives and girlfriends of players).
I can’t pinpoint when it changed – when I started tuning in to Swift and the game itself. But I know that this transformation did not happen in a vacuum.
During the fall, my world was out of balance. I was in the midst of moving and parenting two young children. Despite the fact that there were surgery 15 months ago for endometriosis, I was often debilitated due to the worsening of my symptoms. I also felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the large-scale problems, especially climate change, abortion rights, gun reform, and a huge increase in local crime that was burdening everyday life. Because of the extreme weather patterns that limited my children’s ability to play outside, the dread I felt every morning when I dropped them off at preschool, and the local anxiety of pumping gas or walking alone through the grocery store parking lot, life felt fragile. .
Historically, the way I deal with life’s challenges—healthy or not—is to immerse myself in the world of a TV show I love. However, due to the writers strike, I didn’t have the weekly dose of new content that has long anchored my life. There were no cozy comedy hours of “Abbott Elementary” on Wednesdays or “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursdays. Sure, there were shows being released on streaming platforms, but it wasn’t the same as waiting to watch one of “my shows.”
I never expected football to fill this gap. With each game, I became more interested in the other Chiefs players on the field, such as running back Isiah Pacheco, offensive lineman Harrison Butker and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Even when the Chiefs had a tough losing streak, I kept watching. I was waiting to see what play coach Andy Reid would call and if the offense could match the performance of the defense.
After games, I found myself discussing what happened on the field the same way I would analyze what happened in an operating room at Gray Sloan Memorial Hospital.
One day, in a moment so quintessentially American it felt cliche, I was talking to my neighbor over the fence about the Chiefs.
“Are you really talking about football?” my husband asked as he poked his head out the back door where my neighbor and I were. I shrugged off his disbelief – football was getting fun.
I suddenly understood water cooler talk: the assumption that one more person tuned in and watched “the game” for fun in a way that connected them to a team and a fan base that included neighbors, colleagues, and teachers. children. Watching the Chiefs gave me the non-internet companionship of TV content before streaming took over that I miss so much.
Until last September, I had never considered the entertainment value of sports. But now yes. Players become characters. Shows become subplots. Games become history. The seasons weave together narratives that we share, analyze, and discuss with people in a way that affects us in the same way that scripted television does.
While I still worry about the overlap between football and domestic violence and the risk of players developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy after being hit week after week, I’m starting to understand America’s obsession with the sport — and it’s all because of Swift.
“Yes, she somehow made one of America’s most popular things — football — even more popular,” Sam Lansky wrote in his December Time Person of the Year profile of Swift. It’s true. While Swift may have angered some “dads, Brads and Chads,” she has also grown the Chiefs’ female audience “by leaps and bounds,” boosted the Chiefs’ value to an estimated $331.5 million, and contributed to huge ratings increases for the games that she followed. . (For example, the Chiefs-Dolphins Wild Card game on the Peacock last month set the record for “most televised live event in U.S. history.”)
Swift is the reason I first tuned in, but I never expected I’d still be here, 12 to 13 games later. I never thought I’d talk to my neighbor, brother, or stepfather about “the game.” I never expected that my children would be as excited to see the “red team” as I am.
This Christmas, my stepfather gave me my first piece of sports gear – a Chiefs jacket. Unlike the Grizzlies’ jersey from 2022, this one was happily received and worn immediately. My daughter ran away with it within minutes, wearing it while we watched the Chiefs game Christmas Day, the first time Swift’s entire immediate family (including her brother, Austin, who was dressed as Santa) attended with him.
Of course, a big part of my passion is still Swift and her “love story,” which is cemented into our cultural memory. Hopefully, she will return from her tour date in Japan to attend the Super Bowl. If not, I’ll still watch.
I want to see what happens with the first team I ever followed. I’m too young of a fan to consider myself a true member of the Chiefs Kingdom, but I plan to continue hanging out on the sidelines, enjoying the last live broadcast of the season before “my shows” return for the seasons their newest later this month.
And, of course, I’m hoping for another installment of my favorite couple and another moment to add meaning to a game I’m just learning to appreciate.