For those mulling over their prop bets for Super Bowl Sunday, one item seems to be a virtual certainty: At some point, Taylor Swift—musician, stadium-filling megastar and cat lover—will appear on your screen during the big game.
Swift began dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce last year, and has attended 12 live football games since, not counting the Super Bowl. Not everyone is pleased. Memes expressing annoyance at shots of Swift popping up during NFL broadcasts have spread across the internet. Some politicians and pundits, meanwhile, have suggested that the entire relationship may be a conspiracy to boost the odds of Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential election.
Jamie Skerski is a former college athlete and associate chair for undergraduate studies in the Department of Communication at CU Boulder. She’s teaching a course this semester titled Communication, Culture and Sport, which examines how sports can hold a mirror up to racial and gender politics and other values in the U.S.
Skerski gave CU Boulder Today her take on why some football fans have turned anti the “Anti-Hero” singer—and, to borrow a line from the musician herself, whether they just “need to calm down."
“What lessons are dads teaching their daughters, and sons, when they react with such disdain?” Skerski said. “They are teaching the Swifties in their life that their interests don’t matter. That a woman who is wildly talented, successful and adored by millions should be demeaned rather than celebrated.”
This seems like a classic love story. Have reactions to her game-day appearances surprised you?
You literally have Travis Kelce, the tight end, and Taylor Swift, who is the equivalent of the homecoming queen—the popular girl and the football player. This is Americana. And yet there's still this backlash to her being shown on TV.
Why do you think that is?
I think it harkens back to the way we have been taught to dismiss or devalue things that are associated with femininity—whether that be romantic comedies, fashion, love songs.
When people get angry about a 26-second clip of Taylor Swift at a football game, it reminds me of those signs on a treehouse that say, “No girls allowed.” This is a space for masculine values, bonding and friendship, and we don't want any of the girl stuff to interfere.
Is Taylor Swift actually a distraction for the NFL?
Military flyovers, cheerleaders, the commercials for trucks and beer, those are all distractions to the game. Players being carted off on a stretcher are a distraction. The displays of nationalism and military propaganda are distractions. But those distractions are meant for those viewers.
Taylor Swift represents empowerment for girls and women. She's about connection and inclusion, not division and competition. Taylor Swift is almost like a fly in their pudding.
Why do you think some on the political right are reacting with such vitriol to Swift?
Politically, they are afraid of the mobilization of the Swifties. I can already see the T-shirts and friendship bracelets that say, “Make America Great Again: Taylor’s Version.”
Is she known for being a particularly political celebrity?
Swift has been vocal about issues in the past. She's spoken up about LGBTQ+ rights, racial injustice and women's reproductive rights, and I expect her to be vocal on these issues as we get closer to the election.
I also think she knows that an endorsement, like endorsing a presidential candidate, is a different genre. It wields a different kind of power. I suspect that she will wield that power very carefully.
Does Swift face different risks than male celebrities who speak out about politics?
There’s a paradox because we hear a lot of people say, “Taylor Swift should keep out of politics.” It’s like when people told LeBron James and other Black athletes who were standing up for racial injustice to “shut up and dribble.”
And yet, at the same time, she is facing such pressure to make a statement about the election. She has to walk a very fine line. It’s representative of how we expect women to be perfect at all times. It’s impossible to do.
What is your own history with sports?
I grew up as an athlete, and I went to college on a softball scholarship. I’m able to understand the hype, the devotion, the commitment. We can get absorbed in a game, and it allows us to be present for a moment. It is a moment of zen.
At the same time, I also understand that everything that's going on in sport is reflective of things happening in politics, education and other industries. That balance allows me to help my students look at sport as a microcosm for critically examining other institutions, cultures and organizations.
What do you hope will happen on Super Bowl Sunday?
This is an opportunity for fathers and boyfriends to connect with their daughters and the women in their lives and say, “What is it about Taylor Swift?” Instead of demeaning it; it's a chance for connection.