The NFL (Taylor’s Version), Toxic Masculinity, and the Bible

The NFL (Taylor’s Version), Toxic Masculinity, and the Bible January 31, 2024

A football, a record, and a Bible on a Table
Image Credit: created with AI 1/30/2024

Okay, men, we’ve gotta have a talk. It’s about Taylor Swift. Actually, I guess it goes way deeper than that—but the whole Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce thing is an appropriate starting point.


Even if you don’t follow the NFL or pop culture, you’ve probably heard about the backlash Taylor Swift has gotten for being shown on screen so often during Kansas City Chiefs football games. Even if you’re not a sports or pop culture fan, this is about all of us, so here’s a quick primer:

Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce began dating this past September. Taylor was in the middle of one of the highest-grossing tours in music history, and Travis was at the height of his game as one of the best tight ends in the NFL. They were an instant power couple.

While neither one of them asked for the attention, a high-profile romance like theirs was bound to attract a lot of press. And sure enough, it did. Travis was spotted at a couple of Taylor’s concerts, and Taylor was spotted at a few of Travis’s games. The networks began taking notice of when she was sitting in the family suite and began cutting to her to show her reaction when Travis would make a big play.

The Double Standard Begins

It didn’t take long before the questions started. Was Taylor’s presence at Chiefs games a distraction for Travis? Was it a distraction for the team? How might such a public relationship affect locker room chemistry?

Interestingly enough, no such questions were ever asked about Taylor and her tour. It was a long tour, it was worldwide, and at each concert she sang forty-four songs. That’s not twenty-two per night spread over two nights—it was a full forty-four all at one time. Between that, choreography, outfit changes, and all the other complicated details that go into putting on that kind of a show, nobody asked if their relationship or Travis’s presence at her concerts was a distraction for her. There was no speculation that it might affect the chemistry of the on-stage performers or that it might be an off-the-stage distraction.

To be fair, maybe some of the questions and speculation were because millions of TV watchers saw Taylor at the games on Sundays and there was no such public broadcast of the concerts. But that doesn’t begin to explain all of it.

So, there’s that. The one-sided distraction question.

Misperception of Time

The larger issue, however, is the backlash, particularly on social media, that has been aimed directly at Taylor for the audacity of attending Chiefs games to support her boyfriend.

“But wait,” you reply. “The objection isn’t to her being there. The objection is to how much time they’re taking up showing her and talking about her during what’s supposed to be a football game.”

So that begs the question. How much time is being spent on Taylor Swift during games? Believe it or not, there are people who have actually done the calculating for us.

The answer? Very little.

In the five games the Chiefs have played between December twenty-fifth and the AFC Championship a couple of days ago, she has been on the screen for an average of thirty-four seconds.

Being up in arms over thirty-four seconds out of a three-and-a-half-hour broadcast sounds an awful lot like a tempest in a teapot, doesn’t it? From listening to reactions, you’d guess that it would’ve been much more.

It’s Not Unusual

However, this checks out with multiple studies showing that both men and women overestimate the amount of time women spend speaking—particularly in business settings, but also in general. While Taylor Swift hasn’t been speaking during these games, it makes sense that the average viewer would overestimate the time she was on screen. It’s basically the same concept which involves the same biases.

We expect to hear women less, and when we don’t, we are more likely to label those women as pushy or overbearingthan we would a man with the same behaviors. Like before, the same basic concept holds with women taking up space or being seen—they are more likely to be thought of as attention-seeking or self-centered than a man would be.

So there’s that—the perception that Taylor Swift has taken up much more time during the football broadcasts than she actually has.

Why Not the Networks?

This gets us to the biggie. Why do we attack her instead of the TV coverage? And why do we overestimate the amount of coverage she’s been given?

The answer: a national culture of toxic masculinity.

Now before we go any further, the issue is not masculinity but toxic masculinity, and the two are not the same. Masculinity is one end of a healthy spectrum of being and self-expression, as is femininity. God created each of us along various points of that spectrum, and when we live into our God-given createdness, it is very good. Like all good things, however, masculinity can be twisted and transformed into something destructive—something far from its original intended goodness.

That’s when it becomes toxic.

Masculinity vs. Toxic Masculinity

Masculinity is confident in what it is, recognizes its strengths and weaknesses, seeks to maximize the strengths, and grow through the weaknesses. Toxic masculinity is insecure, fears being perceived as weak, and compensates by trying to appear hyper-masculine. It is threatened by and lashes out at feminine power and success. When it comes to Taylor Swift, toxic masculinity sees every appearance of hers on camera as a power grab and a detraction from the masculinity of football.

Women and feminine energy are welcome into the sanctum of toxic masculinity to the extent that they can serve its purposes. They can be on display as cheerleaders. They can be sideline reporters if they’re attractive enough. But if a talented, powerful, and outspoken woman is put in the spotlight for even a moment—even if she’s not asking for it, even if she’s not using the moment to display talent, power, or her voice, even if all she wants to do is be present and support her boyfriend—toxic masculinity sees her as a threat.

A Threat to the Insecure

That might sound overdramatic, but when you reduce the situation down to the fundamental forces at play, that is why she’s the villain and the target of so much of this backlash, and not the network producers themselves.

It’s also why the perception of the amount of time Taylor Swift has been on camera is much different than the reality. Masculinity invites the feminine into partnership, allowing each to complement the other. When masculinity becomes toxic, however, that dynamic changes. An invitation to synergy instead becomes a mask of false superiority. That’s when women are spoken over at meetings. That’s when men try to take credit for women’s ideas. That is when women become objects that exist for men’s pleasure. If you’re already insecure and afraid, treating as objects those who threaten you allows you to maintain an illusion of control. Objects are meant to be acted upon—they have neither choice nor voice—which is why toxic masculinity so often manifests itself as sexual violence.

Unfortunately, the Bible came out of patriarchal societies and created a church that for two thousand years has lived as a patriarchal system. You know the saying “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?” Well, there’s nothing like the power of a patriarchy to corrupt masculinity and make it toxic.

A Biblical Example For This Moment

There are very few men throughout church history who have been good examples of healthy masculinity. There are even fewer in the Bible that we can point to.

I do think there is one Biblical example who really has something to say regarding the whole Taylor Swift thing, and that is Joseph.

Think back to what you remember about the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary were engaged. Suddenly, Mary comes to him and tells him that even though they haven’t slept together yet and she hasn’t slept with anyone else, she is pregnant.

Joseph had to have been devastated. Under Jewish law, he could have publicly humiliated her for her infidelity and had her stoned to death. It’s what many men in a patriarchal system that gave them all the power would have done.

Joseph, however, resolves to treat Mary with compassion. He will quietly divorce her and not say anything to anyone. When he is told in a dream that Mary’s baby is of the Holy Spirit, he believes it. He still remains quiet. And then he does the most amazing thing of all.

Joseph steps into the background, allowing Mary to be the center of a story that is ultimately hers.

Healthy Masculinity

This is not the result of weakness or fear but of recognition that God has chosen Mary, and confidence that allowed him to take on a supporting role even in a toxic patriarchy. He could have lashed out in fear or tried to assert control by having her killed. Instead, according to Luke, she was able to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary and her cousin commiserated about their pregnancies and sang songs of revolution—a flipping over of the world that was ultimately beginning with Mary and her pregnancy.

Joseph accompanied Mary to Bethlehem to register with the census, he was there when she gave birth, and he was there when he was dedicated in the Temple, but the only time in either of the Biblical Christmas accounts that he was the center of the action was when he had the dream in Matthew that convinced him not to get a divorce.

Joseph was not threatened by his fiancée’s role in the redemption of the world, despite being part of a patriarchal society that had to have given birth to and supported a culture of toxic masculinity. He was her helper, just as there had to have been many times in the following years when she was a helper to him.

What About Now?

What does all of that have to do with Taylor Swift? It’s an object lesson in how masculinity doesn’t fear powerful women in powerful roles. It doesn’t try to silence the feminine voice nor hide the feminine away.

Masculinity, Biblical masculinity, is free to admire Taylor Swift’s strength, talent, and passion to do the right thing. It’s not threatened by her sitting in a stadium supporting her boyfriend. It’s able to do those things while at the same time enjoying the game her boyfriend is there to play.

And it can smile when it sees two people who have fallen in love and are enjoying the excitement of a new relationship.

So, men—we’ve got our work cut out for us. Because this whole Taylor Swift thing isn’t the actual problem—it’s a symptom pointing us in the direction of our own toxicity.

When we know better, we do better. Let’s do better.


About Matt Schur
After graduating with a B.A. in English from Truman State and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary, Matt Schur spent years wandering in a vocational wilderness before finally discovering his calling— assisting and advocating for the marginalized and vulnerable. He currently lives out that call as a case manager and housing specialist for people experiencing homelessness. He also serves an ELCA campus ministry part-time as its music director and pianist, and has published two books of progressive Christian poetry: “Cross Sections” (2021) and “Imperfectly Perfect” (2023). His writing has been featured in “Valiant Scribe Literary Journal,” “Unlikely Stories,” and “Cathexis Northwest Press.” You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives