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Taylor Swift, Elisabeth Elliot, and the NFL

They show us how we misplace hopes and how we consume celebrities

Taylor Swift attends the Chiefs playoff game on Jan. 13 in Kansas City, Mo. Associated Press/Photo by Ed Zurga

Taylor Swift, Elisabeth Elliot, and the NFL
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I’ve been drawn into two pretty consistent conversations in recent days, and they both involve famous women—Taylor Swift and Elisabeth Elliot. At first blush, they couldn’t be more different, but both women are kind of being talked about and metabolized in similar ways in these conversations. Women pretty consistently want to know what I think of the fact that Swift is dating Travis Kelce (I think he’s very boring), and men want to know what I think of the fact that the NFL is always showing images of her in luxury boxes basically doing a weird 34-year-old’s pantomime of what high school girlfriends do every Friday night vis-à-vis wearing her boyfriend’s jersey and cheering and stuff.

The short answer is that it’s a little annoying but not as annoying as some other NFL stuff (more below). It hits me at a weird “dad” level of “isn’t it sad that she never had a childhood because of all the money and fame-chasing and is kind of retroactively trying to have one now?” She’s an adult acting in childlike ways. She’s publicly hoping in the wrong things.

Regarding Elisabeth Elliot, people seem to want to know whether I think it’s OK that she ended up being human and not walking on water (as per a book that I haven’t read but have still talked about a lot), or whether we should have been allowed to “have” Elisabeth Elliot as some sort of perfection paradigm, in perpetuity. I can see both sides of that argument, too.

I could easily tap out of both conversations, due to being a guy. But I actually find them both really interesting because even though they are “about” Swift and Eliot, they are really about us.

Some baseline Taylor Swift stuff, for me: My students and nieces made me listen to her a few years ago and I liked it. I enjoyed her concrete imagery and storytelling, and the way the songs invited me to direct a short film in my own mind, starring me. This struck me as pretty commercially brilliant. I’ve probably written about her for publication more than any straight, conservative, middle-aged man should … including here. That said, I need to be wary of performatively leveraging Swift to say some things about my own persona. This is usually done (and done insufferably) by male “feminists,” but strikes me as the least feminist thing (leveraging a woman, for your own advancement) one could possibly do. Anyway.

Essentially with the NFL and with Elliot, we’re saying something along the lines of “Don’t mess with my enjoyment of a thing I’ve enjoyed for a long time.”

On Swift and the NFL, together: Now, the sensible and audience-aware thing for me to do would be to rant about how all the cut-away shots of Swift are an affront to the sanctity of the game. But let’s be honest, the NFL’s product has been disappointing for a long time, right? I mean, every Monday morning lead is about officiating outrage or something like it. You can’t hit a receiver up high, or around the knees, and apparently have to just sort of gently cradle him to the ground. You can’t hit a quarterback at all. Commercials used to be fun, but now every broadcast is brought to you by a cocktail of drugs (Covid! Plaque Psoriasis! Alopecia! Oh my!) and gambling concerns. The NFL during Covid/Floyd was a game wrapped in a heavy-handed social-sermonette. It’s not like we’re protecting a pristine product.

And Swift and Kelce are just doing what anyone would do apart from the Lord. If “that” (luxury boxes, VIP stuff, fame) is all you have, then it follows that you would chase it with all your heart. They’re just hoping in the wrong things.

But this is where the Swift, Elliot, and NFL Venn Diagrams overlap: Essentially with the NFL and with Elliot, we’re saying something along the lines of “Don’t mess with my enjoyment of a thing I’ve enjoyed for a long time.” With the NFL it’s “Stop showing Taylor Swift!” and with Elliot it’s “Stop reminding me that she was human and fallible and capable of making bad choices (like us)!”

The fact of the matter is, the Swift/NFL thing will be over in five minutes. I mean, it was all probably a neatly-constructed PR-ruse anyway, meant to last for the duration of the season and not much longer. But the Elliot thing is more interesting and both things point to the fact that we still (despite ourselves) want material things to worship. The fact that I want the NFL to be perfect is proof that I’m both created in God’s image (true) and have a sin nature (also true).

Elliot’s imperfections are hard to sit with, only because they remind me of my own. And there was a version of both women’s careers that didn’t have to involve them putting themselves on a stage or in front of a camera on a regular basis. And there’s a version of “our” careers, as consumers, that don’t involve us putting too much hope in too many fallible things.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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