I don’t remember the first time I cried as a kid about my unruly curly hair or the first time I was made fun of in elementary school for liking football.

But I can pinpoint the exact moment I first heard Taylor Swift on the radio.

I was 9 years old, coming back from Hebrew school on an NFL Sunday in early fall when I heard the first guitar strings on the radio. I was silent by the time the chorus of her debut single “Tim McGraw” came on and in a trance by the time it got to the bridge.

After falling in love with her music, I found out Swift also had curly hair. Big, blonde ringlets styled in seemingly organized chaos, just like mine. Unlike in pop culture, where having curly hair was often seen as something to “fix” in order to meet society’s beauty standards (I’m looking at you, “Princess Diaries”), Swift embraced her natural hair and showed little 9-year-old me that it was OK to do so, too.

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It felt like she was my friend, and since then her ever-changing styles of music have helped me through everything from high school drama to the death of loved ones.

Swift, girlfriend of Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce, is expected to be in Baltimore this weekend when Kansas City comes to face the Ravens in the AFC championship game, just like she’s been in Buffalo, Green Bay and pretty much everywhere Kelce has played this season. She’s not playing it up just for attention, hopping into crowds shirtless or dancing on memorials. She’s cheering and dancing, just like every other football fan.

Through her own fandom and support of her boyfriend, Swift is proving to a new wave of football fans that there’s nothing wrong with liking the sport, one that she now thinks is “awesome” after ignoring it most of her life. I was seen as an outcast for not being a “stereotypical” football fan, but Swift is showing it’s cool for everyone.

But of course there are the naysayers on the internet trying to ruin it for everyone.

They question the attention she’s getting, wondering why the focus isn’t on the game. They growl when the now infamous graphic appears on screen showing Kelce’s stats before and after they went public with their relationship. They make clear their annoyance at the TikTok trend where girls joke that Swift put Kelce on the map.

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Is it over the top? Probably!

So what if, for some, this Sunday is a pop culture event and not a football game? So what if Swift is in a suite at M&T Bank Stadium eating local delicacies and enjoying herself? (Hey Taylor, the shouted “O” during “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not a cause for alarm). We accept and even applaud extreme sports fandom, so why aren’t Swifties given the same treatment?

Football is supposed to be fun. If this makes the game more exciting for some, who cares? NFL fans should be thrilled that football is being introduced to a larger base. This sport, like Swift’s music, is for everyone, regardless of whether they are watching for a glimpse of a pop star or to yell about first downs — or both, like I am.

On Sunday, Baltimore hosts its first AFC championship game since 1971. Let’s be kind to everyone who wants to watch the game. Let’s not make snide comments when Swift is shown or mock the people who wear Eras Tour merchandise instead of Ravens gear.

Thanks to Swift’s power to change perceptions, there’s a new group tuning in to football. If we make them feel welcome, maybe there’s someone out there who will grow to love the game because of her, just like I did with my hair.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College. 

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