The Tight End the Right Turned Against: Why Travis Kelce Is the Man for Taylor Swift

Ramon Antonio Vargas / Guardian UK
The Tight End the Right Turned Against: Why Travis Kelce Is the Man for Taylor Swift Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore on 28 January. (photo: Patrick Smith/Getty)

Like the singer, the Chiefs football player is at the top of his field, while his support of BLM and vaccines align with her progressive politics

Travis Kelce’s star power has long been known to sports fans. But the rest of the world has caught up since the start of his relationship with the pop icon Taylor Swift.

And this pairing actually makes perfect sense – so much so that the Guardian has broken down a couple of big reasons why.

It’s not just that Kelce’s play at the tight end position for the Kansas City Chiefs has earned him four coveted First-Team Associated Press All-Pro selections and positioned him to pursue a third NFL championship in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Those laurels established Kelce as a superstar in his own right in the most powerful US sports league. And they vaulted him to a level of fame and fortune independent from his association with Swift, who is 34, like him.

Yet what has also apparently been key for Kelce in his courtship of Swift are his political beliefs. They are more progressive than those held by nearly every other prominent white American professional athlete – and therefore line up comfortably with those of the singer and most of the so-called Swifties who support her.

One of his more notable political expressions came exactly six years before Swift attended her first Chiefs game in support of him. On that afternoon of 24 September 2017, Kelce followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead and took a knee during the pre-game national anthem ceremony in support of teammates who were protesting racist police brutality, which in the US disproportionately afflicts Black people.

Within the fraternity of NFL players, that sign of support for the Black Lives Matter movement makes sense. More than half of the league’s athletes are Black, including Patrick Mahomes, from whom Kelce has caught a total of more than 700 passes and 70 touchdowns heading into Sunday’s title showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

However, that didn’t stop Donald Trump – the president at the time – from leading Republicans’ demands for NFL teams to cut any players who protest by kneeling.

Kelce has used a handful of occasions since then to show his willingness to take stands, even if it means placing himself in the crosshairs of the US’s political right. Just weeks after American conservatives mounted a boycott against Bud Light because it published an advertisement featuring transgender social media influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, Kelce agreed to appear in a commercial for the beer maker.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland, Ohio, native has also advocated for Americans to be vaccinated against the flu and Covid-19 viruses, including in a commercial campaign for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that began around the same time as his relationship with Swift.

Kelce’s Bud Light spot stopped well short of expressing support for Mulvaney and seemed more geared toward winning the beer maker back some of the sales that it had lost amid the transphobic boycott. And Kelce’s work for Pfizer reportedly netted him about $20m, a figure most would probably accept in exchange for incensing vaccine skeptics.

Yet it’s clear those decisions left the US right wing feeling called out by him. In December, the Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight contender Colby Covington – an unabashed Trump supporter – publicly called Kelce “one of the biggest pieces of shit of all time”.

For his part, the New York Jets quarterback, former Super Bowl champion and anti-vax skeptic Aaron Rodgers disparagingly referred to Kelce as “Mr Pfizer” before challenging him to debate vaccines on the Pat McAfee Show.

Kelce ignored the invitation and expressed sympathy for whatever Rodgers must have been going through while missing most of the 2023 NFL season with a torn achilles tendon. (Rodgers then went on to lose his regular guest appearance gig on the Pat McAfee Show, which is reported to have earned him $1m a year, for accusing comedian Jimmy Kimmel of feeling “nervous” about being connected to the late sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.)

On Swift, Kelce has said all the things she and her fans could want to hear at this stage.

“You can’t put any more pressure than I put on myself – that’s just the heart of a competitor,” he said at the Super Bowl’s annual media day when asked if he is negatively affected by all the extra attention Swift brings with her.

“She’s unbelievable – she’s rewriting the history books herself,” Kelce remarked when asked about how Swift, days earlier, had captured a record-setting fourth Grammy award for album of the year.

Kelce made it a point to nod at his beloved’s army of supporters – “it’s been fun to kind of gather the Swifties in the Chiefs kingdom”. He claimed to be unsure exactly where Swift was as the Super Bowl neared, though he said he believed she was in Tokyo – where virtually the entire world knows she has a concert on Saturday before planning to fly to Las Vegas to see Kelce take on the 49ers in person.

When asked which would happen first, the 49ers winning a Super Bowl ring or Swift getting an engagement ring, Kelce said that the only person he envisions getting a new ring on Sunday is him.

“I told her I’ll have to hold up my end of the bargain,” Kelce joked, “and come home with some hardware too.”

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