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The NFL isn’t smart enough to rig the Super Bowl for Taylor Swift

Through no fault of her own, Taylor Swift has helped amplify perhaps the dumbest conspiracy theory involving the NFL: that it’s rigged.

To those heartbroken fans of the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, I regret to inform you that the league is not rigged — your team just doesn’t employ Patrick Mahomes. Unfortunately for most fans, 31 other NFL franchises share that fate. Such is life.

Swift’s presence at the games and her highly publicized relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has revived the popular conspiracy theory that the NFL is rigged. Some fans claimed the league wants Swift to stick around all season to boost its business. Others invented a more diabolical angle. It all stems from the idea that the NFL is attempting to piggyback off Swift’s immense popularity to some end. But I’m not buying it.

Let’s bust out Occam’s razor. What’s more likely: The NFL is coordinated and smart enough to carry out a massive scheme to rig its outcomes and, importantly, dumb enough to think it’s a good idea to risk its entire business to get Swift to the Super Bowl, or, just hear me out, fans of defeated teams are reaching for something to be mad about. Tough call, I know.

I understand. I wanted to think — and probably claimed at some point in a fit of disappointment — that the league was rigged after my favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, lost the Super Bowl last year. They even lost, in part, due to a controversial call! But the truth is the Kansas City Chiefs scored more points than the Birds. And maybe KC caught a few breaks Philly didn’t. That’s life. That’s football. It’s as simple as that.

But Swift has caused the whole “NFL is rigged” discourse to gather steam. To better understand that, you first need to understand that the idea isn’t new. Year after year, fans really want to believe it. So much so that popular sports podcasts have made obvious jokes about the NFL script, and people thought it was serious. The NFL itself even kicked off this season with a commercial about it.

Yet, the speculative nonsense has taken a more intense and political turn with Swift (unfairly) at the center. At first, people theorized the NFL was rigging games in favor of the Chiefs to get Swift to the Super Bowl. And there is some data to show she’s bringing in fans. Searches for “football outfit” have spiked since Swift’s appearance at the games, and Kelce’s jersey sales jumped by 400 percent.

She is perhaps the most famous person alive, so it would be nice for the NFL to have her at the Big Game to support Kelce. But thinking the league would rig games to that end is ignoring the fact that the NFL, and the Super Bowl especially, is maybe the only thing in the country bigger than Swift. Twenty-nine of the top 30 broadcasts in 2023 were NFL games. The Oscars were watched by 19.4 million people; the Super Bowl was watched by 115 million people. It’s safe to say the NFL doesn’t need Taylor Swift to get eyeballs.

But now this simple play on a classic conspiracy — the NFL is rigged for ratings — has been warped into a political conspiracy. Right-wingers are claiming the NFL is rigged so Kelce can win the Super Bowl, and then he and Swift will endorse President Joe Biden on the biggest stage during an election year. And this isn’t just coming from anonymous Reddit posters spouting nonsense online. These are prominent Republican figures and politicians.

For example, failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, right-wing meme-guy Benny Johnson, and other conservative figures were in on it.

The thing is these people do not care about football. They don’t watch it. They’re like any other politician trying to score points by tapping into sports. It’s the conspiratorial cousin of Ted Cruz calling a basketball hoop a “ring.”

People latch on because we’re pattern-seeking creatures who love a conspiracy. The Chiefs head coach and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even had to answer questions about this nonsense.

“I’m not that good a scripter,” Goodell joked, via AFP.

If these people actually watched the NFL, then they’d understand the league can’t even agree on what a catch is, let alone how to carry out a political plot. Also, Goodell works for the NFL owners. Do you think 32, mostly white, mostly male, mostly older billionaires are going to support a Democratic president? Publicly available data in a 2020 report from Open Secrets showed that NFL owners gave to Republican candidates, including Trump, by a 9-1 margin. But never let common sense and actual empirical evidence get in the way of good outrage bait, right?

The NFL is not rigged, folks. This entire article aside, do people not understand that the league has publicly embraced sports gambling now? There are legal implications if the NFL were rigging games while letting average fans wager their hard-earned dollars. It could potentially bankrupt the league.

So please, if nothing else, understand that the outcome of Sunday’s Big Game will have nothing to do with which team Taylor Swift supports. I suspect it’ll have to do with all the talent on the roster — like the San Francisco 49ers or that pesky Mahomes fellow on the other sideline.

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