The Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce saga has produced a lot of remarkable takes. Those have included Elle Duncan saying “He’s never touched that woman” to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo claiming Swift has “never heard of Lenny Dawson” to a lot of people completely missing how many female fans were already watching football. But the most bizarre take so far may be the one from Rick Reilly, who wrote a Washington Post piece headlined “If anyone should be worried about Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce, it’s Trump”:
Opinion by Rick Reilly: The are lots of reasons to love it when universes collide. I’m especially rooting for these two because they’re driving right-wingers crazy. https://t.co/DvFvpnQggi
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 29, 2023
Some, uh, highlights from that:
They’re both 33, blue-eyed- and have perfect Colgate smiles. When they hurt, they “shake it off.” They both love catchy things — he, footballs; she, tunes.
…I want K-Tay to stick for one very good reason: They’re both loathed by right-wingers. She, for openly standing up against Donald Trump and for abortion rights. He, for appearing in coronavirus vaccine ads and taking a knee during the national anthem, the highest-profile White NFL player to do so.
In fact, if anybody should be worried about K-Tay, it’s Trump. These two have fan bases that are huge and devoted. Just from Swift attending that single Chiefs game, Kelce’s merchandise sales jumped 400 percent. Swift put out one Instagram story last week urging her fans to register to vote, Vote.org reported, and participation on the site jumped 1,226 percent in the next hour.
Between X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and Facebook, she has around 450 million followers (Kelce has “only” about 5 million). What if they decided a fun couples thing to do would be to … I don’t know … save democracy? K-Tay could stir up voters, from homecoming queens to assisted-living grandpas, from Castro Street to Wall Street, and rock polling places the way they rock stadiums.
That might be something even Trump couldn’t shake off.
This is incredible for how many of Reilly’s standbys it hits, from teeth to ridiculous nicknames to hacky song references and bizarre combinations like “from Castro Street to Wall Street” and “rock polling places the way they rock stadiums.” It’s probably not exactly the self-plagiarism he’s gotten in trouble for before, but it’s certainly not far off. (At least he didn’t bring up anyone’s breasts this time, though.)
It’s not shocking that Reilly is going after Trump again, as that’s been a feud from even before the 2016 election. And it’s one that, unsurprisingly, started with golf, with Reilly complaining about Trump’s golfing in 2004 book Who’s Your Caddy (which covered a lot of famous figures behaving badly at golf), Trump taking exception to that in 2015 after Reilly again accused him of cheating at golf and calling Reilly “a very dishonest writer” (he’s not wrong), and Reilly following that up with 2019 book Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. So it makes sense that Reilly’s continuing that feud, but it’s bizarre that he’s bringing that up around Swift and Kelce.
The remarkable thing here is that there isn’t even a premise. The activism mentioned by Reilly for both Swift (who’s been more notable for that) and Kelce (who’s done a few selected things) is largely from long before this talk of their relationship started. There’s no indication that they’re going to become more specifically political as a result of this relationship, and particularly speak out more specifically against Trump.
That connection all just reads as wishful thinking from Reilly, who doesn’t seem particularly concerned about policies, but prefers presidents with better golf etiquette. (Alternatively, it could be SEO thinking: “How can I drum up more clicks for a Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift story? I know, I’ll throw in Trump!”) And The Washington Post, the sixth-largest U.S. newspaper by circulation and one of the most prominent ones out there, thought this (and other similarly poor work from Reilly, who’s a contributing columnist there) was worth giving space to. Perhaps democracy dies not in darkness, but with terrible and hackneyed references to Taylor Swift songs and ludicrous connections to Trump.
This is completely in line with the last couple decades of work from Reilly, though. Reilly was once an incredibly-admired sportswriter, particularly in his 1985-2007 run with Sports Illustrated (and especially in the 1990s, where he was writing great features and not just cracking bad jokes). He was voted national sportswriter of the year 11 times, and is a member of the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
But problems started to appear with Reilly’s work even before his 2007 move to ESPN, especially around discussions of his loose approach to facts and crediting. And his ESPN tenure was a noted disaster for everyone except his bank account; as we noted in 2014 when he gave up his weekly column there, “The two best words to describe Reilly’s ESPN tenure might be ‘mailed’ and ‘in.'” (And he still somehow hung on there for two more years doing TV features, and did so despite a large batch of abhorrent tweets.)
But since Reilly left ESPN, he’s continued to be provided with high-profile platforms to present his particular brand of low-effort recycled garbage takes, from The Athletic to books to now The Post. And this particular column will certainly get hate-read, and someone somewhere will use that data to argue that it’s what readers want. And Reilly will continue to beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the particularly hacky parts of his past.