If you had never heard of NFL player Travis Kelce before news broke in late September that he’s allegedly dating Taylor Swift — and had his face and name plastered all over the Internet as a result — you’re not alone. In August, only 38% of Americans knew who he was. But all it took was for Swift to show up to his Sept. 24 game, and suddenly, 63% of folks nationwide recognized his name.
Indeed, all the Swift-related attention has been great for Kelce, a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs — the same team where superstar Black quarterback Patrick Mahomes plays — and for the NFL. Fanatics reported a 400% increase in sales of Kelce’s jersey in the week after he was linked to Swift, his podcast hit No. 1 on Apple, and tickets to Chiefs games are selling like hotcakes.
Who hasn’t the Kelce/Swift romance been good for? The Black women Kelce has previously dated or been in long-term relationships with.
Malcolm X told us, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” But Brother Malcolm couldn’t have anticipated the disrespect that comes from having 18,400,000 Google search results for “Taylor Swift, Kayla Nicole.”
Kelce briefly dated life coach and influencer Maya Benberry in 2016. Since the start of Kelce’s entanglement with Swift, Benberry has reported receiving death threats from alleged fans of Swift after she referred to Kelce as a narcissist and cheater and warned Swift to watch out.
But the vast majority of bullying and harassment on social media has been directed at 31-year-old Kayla Nicole, a Los Angeles-based model and sports journalist. Kelce was in an on-again, off-again relationship with Nicole from 2017-2022.
Black Women Are Regularly Bullied Online
Once news of Kelce potentially being with Swift hit the internet, some Black women commented online that going from Nicole to Swift was a major downgrade for Kelce.
“So many Black women picked up their phones, wiped away their saddest tears, unlocked those same phones with their scrunched-up faces, pressed the X app, just to complain that a once fine, swagged out, fade-wearing white man was doing the unspeakable; he was dating a white woman, and not just any white woman, thee Taylor Swift,” wrote Kyla Jenée Lacey at Hubnews.com.
But the majority of hate on social media has elements of both racism and sexism. Some of this misogynoir has come from Black men who have long called Nicole a sellout and gold digger for being in a relationship with a white man. Never mind that “Black men are twice as likely as Black women to have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity (24% vs. 12%),” according to Pew Research Center.
In addition, both Black men and Swift fans have said that Swift is a “come-up” or upgrade from Nicole.
“Why would any man wife this? Ok, nice to look at but you really want this as a wife?” is typical of the negative comments on Nicole’s social media.
For Black women who spend time on social media, the attacks on Nicole might feel familiar. A study by Amnesty International found that Black women are “disproportionately targeted” by online abuse and are “84% more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets.”
The attacks on Nicole are also reminiscent of the hate directed at Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Meghan Thee Stallion… basically, it’s open season on any Black woman at any given time.
As Imani Gandy, the editor-at-large for Rewire News Group, wrote, “I get harassment as a woman and I get the extra harassment because of race and being a black woman. They will call white women a ‘c*nt’ and they’ll call me a ‘n*gger c*nt’. Whatever identity they can pick they will pick it and use it against you. Whatever slur they can come up with for a marginalized group — they use.”
Meanwhile, neither Swift nor Kelce seems to have publicly spoken up to tell people to cut the harassment out.
Nicole seemingly responded to the hate on Oct. 9 with a brave Instagram post where she read an open letter to “Black women, specifically.”
“They may call you a traitor for falling in love,” Nicole said. “You’ll hope the ones closest will protect you but quickly realize people don’t protect what they don’t value.”
“They’ll say you’re too much, too provocative, too boisterous, too outspoken — and, in the same breath, tell you you’re not enough,” Nicole said. “Not successful enough, not wholesome enough, maybe not even intelligent enough. They’ll say you deserve the backlash and embarrassment… they’ll even try to tie your value to your net worth.”
RELATED: Black Women Are Saving Us All
Earlier this year, Swift was dating Matty Healy, lead singer of the 1975, a guy known for making degrading comments about Black women and seeming to make a Nazi salute.
Folks might see that as a sign that Swift is anti-Black woman — or maybe it’s just a reminder that every woman, no matter how famous or wealthy she is, can make a bad relationship judgment call. Besides, Beyoncé showed up to the premiere of Swift’s Eras tour movie in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, so she has at least one sista in her corner.
As Nicole put it in her video post: “Black girl, please remember your value lies elsewhere. Your value is deep within your heart.”