The thin-skinned men triggered by Taylor Swift’s presence at NFL games need to get a grip

We don’t hear complaints when male celebrities are prominently featured at sporting events. But when Taylor Swift appears at NFL games, a segment of people lose their minds.

The multiple Grammy winner was all over social media ahead of Saturday’s game, the NFL’s main accounts included. Got prominent play during the game, too, with NBC’s crew panning to them in a suite, cheering big plays. When the musical superstar was shown on the Jumbotron, fans in the stadium went into a frenzy.

Yet Eminem’s presence at the Detroit Lions playoff game last weekend didn’t prompt the overheated vitriol that Taylor Swift’s appearances at Kansas City Chiefs games do.

“That’s the thing that’s disenchanting people with sports now,” Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, now a broadcaster, whined last week. “There’s so much on the outside coming in — entertainment value and different things taking away from what really happens on the field.”

It’s funny — and by funny I mean tiresome and lazy — how a high-profile female fan wrecks the game, while the prominent visibility of male celebrities or team owners at sporting events is accepted without complaint. Celebrated, even. Jerry Jones gets no shortage of airtime even when people aren’t trying to decipher his reactions to his team’s latest playoff meltdown. Matthew McConaughey’s presence at University of Texas games is considered kitschy and fun. Jack Nicholson was as central a figure in the Lakers’ Showtime era as Magic and Kareem.

But when Swift dares intrude on the NFL, a segment of people lose their ever-loving minds.

Swift has been called “Yoko Ono,” accused of having a negative impact on boyfriend Travis Kelce and, by extension, the Chiefs. She’s been dismissed as a bandaon-hopper. And in the most ludicrous criticism of all, there are some who’ve suggested she’s using Kelce and the NFL to boost her own profile.

Yes, because the most famous woman on the planet, whose $1 billion-plus Eras Tour helped fuel U.S. consumer spending last year, needs the help.

“There’s still a segment of the culture where football is the sanctuary from femininity, from anything that’s feminized. This is where men get to be men,” said Cheryl Cooky, a professor at Purdue University who studies the intersection among gender, sports and culture.

“Taylor Swift is a scapegoat for all of the male grievances of a shifting gender order in the NFL. And the broader culture,” Cooky added. “This story is, in some ways, not a story about Taylor Swift but a story about fragile masculinity among sports fans and the residuals of old-school masculinity in some corners of fandom.”

The dads, Brads, Chads and Dungys will no doubt shriek at the suggestion they’re thin-skinned because they don’t want their viewing experience “ruined” by Swift. (“I just wanna watch the game!” says Joe Dude, who also thinks the ManningCast is awesome and guffawed at the many close-ups of Andy Reid’s frozen mustache.)

But most female fans will nod knowingly, used to the conditional acceptance of our fandom. We’re asked to explain how we became sports fans, as if the reasons are different than they are for male fans. We have our knowledge tested, literally, to prove we’re legit.

And despite women making up nearly half of the NFL’s fanbase, as we have for the better part of a decade, we’re still treated as an amusement to be indulged.

Imagine only selling men’s merchandise in flannel and XXL sizes, which is essentially what the NFL and other leagues do by shrinking and pinking the offerings for women. There’s a reason Kristin Juszczyk’s designs took off last weekend, and it wasn’t only because Swift wore one of her custom-made coats.

“Women are accepted within the (sports) universe when they’re conforming to some kind of gender norms and expectations,” Cooky said, pointing to cheerleaders and athlete moms. “But women who are in positions of power get treated much differently. If you’re not fitting in the box the NFL and fans want to put you in, that’s when you’re going to experience that blowback.

“Taylor Swift is not just the girlfriend in the booth sitting next to Kelce’s mom and cheering on her man,” added Cooky, a self-proclaimed Swiftie whose favorite album, Reputation, is centeredaound Swift’s refusal to accept narratives crafted for her by others. “She’s also this really powerful global phenomenon.”

That’s just too much for some men. And, yes, it is almost always men.

These same men claim no one cares about women’s sports and look for any excuse to diminish the accomplishment of a female athlete. Aside from the basic ridiculousness of it all, the larger question is, what’s it to you?

Why does Taylor Swift going to games to support her boyfriend touch such a nerve with you? And why are you angry at her, when it’s the NFL and its broadcasters who are making a spectacle of her presence? Why are you bothered by someone else watching women’s sports? So much so you actively seek out ways to let the world know you are definitely not paying attention. Why do a female athlete’s accomplishments make you defensive?

If these things are truly impacting your ability to enjoy a game, or sports in general, the problem isn’t Swift or anyone else. The problem is you.

“What is the matter with people? The toxic masculinity that shows up in my Twitter timeline, my X timeline, because she’s having fun at a football game. I honestly don’t understand it,” NFL Network host Rich Eisen said earlier this week.

“It’s just like, get over yourselves,” Eisen added. “It’s saying more about you than it is about her.”

Men have never needed permission nor approval to be sports fans. Or anything else, for that matter. Women don’t, either, and that is what’s really bugging the dads, Brads, Chads and Dungys when they see Swift at an NFL game.

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