In the age of social media, where engagement and follower count have usurped on-field accomplishments as the new currency, it’s not enough to be a world-class athlete anymore. These days, excelling on the field or court is the least a star can do, the bare minimum in building a brand. Some might prefer it that way, the tightlipped Mike Trouts and Kawhi Leonards of the world, eschewing fame and privilege for privacy and comfort. But for others, knowing their 15 minutes could expire at any moment (celebrity tends to have the shelf life of guacamole), the platform offered by sports presents an opportunity, an entry point to unparalleled power and influence.
Throughout the industry, analyst chairs are littered with ex-quarterbacks and other skill-position players, granted a clearer path to relevance by virtue of their leading-man status, dominating broadcast booths and studio desks the same way they commanded NFL huddles for so long. That’s what makes Jason Kelce such a unicorn, the rare offensive lineman to emerge as a legitimate mover and shaker in the sports content space, laying on the charm with a rugged, blue-collar aesthetic similar to the everyman stylings of punter-turned-media impresario Pat McAfee.
Equal parts brash and self-deprecating (he’d be the first to cop to his less-than-chiseled physique, embracing his tongue-in-cheek alter ego as “Fat Batman”), Kelce is, in many ways the perfect avatar for the city he represents. He’s gritty, profane and most of all hilarious, graduating, in the span of 12 NFL seasons, from lovable underdog to shoo-in Hall of Famer, a Philly staple as fundamental as whiz wit and Ben Franklin.
Kelce’s ascent to the height of a sport that treats its players with the callous disregard of a Waffle House bathroom is nothing short of remarkable. After failing to garner a single Division I scholarship out of high school, Kelce walked on at Cincinnati, where he switched from running back to fullback and eventually center, ultimately landing with the Eagles as an unheralded sixth-round pick in 2011. The rest is history, quickly asserting himself as the franchise’s heart and soul, culminating in Kelce’s memorable victory speech after upsetting the high-powered Patriots in Super Bowl LII, adorned in mummer regale from his perch atop the Rocky Steps in Center City.
“HUNGRY DOGS RUN FASTER. AND THAT’S THIS TEAM!”
Jason Kelce just lost his voice and delivered one of the greatest parade speeches EVER. [NSFW] pic.twitter.com/d2wjGDBgYL
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 8, 2018
That’s a hell of a character arc, the kind of rags-to-riches story that makes Hollywood screenwriters salivate. It doesn’t hurt that his younger brother Travis is just as gregarious and equally successful, a groundbreaking tight end playing for the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. Following the blueprint laid out by predecessors Peyton and Eli Manning, the Kelces have built a formidable alliance, consolidating their power in becoming the new gold standard for sports siblings.
It’s not an easy trick to pull off, yet the Kelces have made their rise to the top of sports media seem effortless, striking the perfect balance between funny and vulnerable, connecting with audiences on an intimate level through heartfelt anecdotes, witty banter, and insider access to guests like Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Julian Edelman on their wildly popular New Heights podcast. Ranked as the most downloaded sports podcast on iTunes and fourth overall among all genres, the Kelce brothers have parlayed their success on New Heights (alluding to their shared hometown of Cleveland Heights) into endorsement deals, an Amazon documentary, and even a foray into comedy with Travis hosting an episode of SNL last spring.
Talk about manifesting your own destiny. After being snubbed by Taylor Swift months earlier, Travis’ persistence paid off, with the “Blank Space” singer attending Sunday’s game as the mustachioed tight end’s guest of honor.
— Jarrett Payton (@paytonsun) September 25, 2023
Hoisting the Lombardi is impressive, but not nearly the flex of leaving Arrowhead with the world’s biggest popstar on your arm. Known for her passive-aggressive lyrics, routinely airing dirty laundry about her exes, let’s all hope, for Kelce’s sake, Swift never writes a song about him.
Between their showdown in last year’s Super Bowl (a plotline that received extensive media coverage), Travis’ rising fame as the subject of recent tabloid fodder, and the brothers’ viral presence as newly minted internet celebrities, the Kelces suddenly find themselves at risk of overexposure, wearing thin on fatigued audiences who might not have the bandwidth or attention spans to consume their avalanche of weekly content.
However, concerns over their staying power are assuaged by the duo’s relative lack of ego, displaying a down-to-earth nature and affability uncommon of 30-something millionaires with the world at their fingertips. But it’s the Kelces’ underlying sweetness that really resonates, giving hope for families everywhere by maintaining a close kinship in spite of their heightened fame. That sense of loyalty doesn’t seem manufactured or contrived, with Travis and Jason genuinely committed to their relationship, not just as brothers, but as best friends and active participants in each other’s lives.
That’s not to say the Kelces are infallible. Quite the contrary—part of the appeal of New Heights is how achingly honest the brothers are, poking fun at each other’s shortcomings while being the first to acknowledge their own imperfections as flawed individuals doing their best to navigate a complex world. Travis often reflects on the disappointment of only playing two seasons with Jason in high school and college, losing a year of high-school eligibility to poor grades before having his scholarship revoked at Cincinnati, the result of a failed drug test. Even after his reinstatement, Travis still needed a lifeline from his brother, doing his best to convince former coach Andy Reid that Travis, for all his baggage, was ready to be an NFL contributor.
The documentary Kelce, chronicling what Jason anticipated would be his final NFL season in 2022, begins with the 35-year-old puttering around his home in Haverford, Pennsylvania, opening and closing drawers in search of his lost Super Bowl ring. The scene, a common occurrence in the Kelce household, elicits laughter from his wife, Kylie, who teases her oafish husband for never knowing where anything is. Now married with three children including a newborn daughter born days after the Super Bowl, Jason delights in sharing the couple’s origin story. As Jason tells it, the two met for drinks at a local dive, where a drunken Kelce made a disastrous first impression (he fell asleep within 45 minutes), prompting him to beg for a “do-over” the following night. Kylie, meanwhile, was suspicious of being catfished, half-expecting the “Jason” she had matched with on Tinder to be someone else, a scam artist cosplaying as an NFL offensive lineman.
Not exactly a Nicholas Sparks novel, but that’s life, isn’t it? Warts and all. Similarly, Kelce doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of his broken body, beaten and bloodied by years of physical exertion in a vicious sport. That authenticity is part of the Kelces’ broader appeal, offering, if nothing else, a fresh perspective, presenting themselves not as role models but as wide-eyed storytellers reveling in the NFL experience. The Kelces aren’t cerebral or scholarly by any means, but they’re uniquely human, offering more substance than the cartoon likes of Rob Gronkowski and others who lean too heavily into “dumb jock” shtick, relying on outsized antics that reek of desperation.
The Kelces are nothing if not ambitious, trying their hand at off-field pursuits such as real estate, farming and even music, with Jason displaying surprising vocal chops on a Christmas album he recorded with teammates last year.
Whether it’s co-founding Tight End University, an annual summit held in Nashville, or hosting reality shows like the one Travis starred in back in 2016, the Kelces are up for anything, even if it means risking the existential dread and embarrassment of failing on a grand scale. More than anything, the Kelce Bros aim to please, choosing the path of least resistance rather than correcting fans who have mispronounced their name for the better part of a decade. The Kelce brand is helped tremendously by the fact that both brothers are damn good football players, benefiting from increased visibility as every-down difference-makers on teams that matter.
Whether it’s as podcasters, studio analysts, or entrepreneurs, both siblings are well-positioned for whatever awaits them in their post-playing careers, accomplishing—through hard work, talent, and a little bit of luck—the enormous feat of transcending America’s most popular sport. Not bad for a couple of Cleveland kids.