Kansas City Chief’s tight end (and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend) Travis Kelce takes the cover story of WSJ. Magazine‘s December 2023 / January 2024 edition lensed by fashion photographer Gregory Harris. In charge of styling was Edward Bowleg III, with grooming from Cristy Guy. Set design is work of Anastasia Rendina, with production from RW2.
Obviously I’ve never dated anyone with that kind of aura about them…. I’ve never dealt with it, But at the same time, I’m not running away from any of it…. The scrutiny she gets, how much she has a magnifying glass on her, every single day, paparazzi outside her house, outside every restaurant she goes to, after every flight she gets off, and she’s just living, enjoying life. When she acts like that I better not be the one acting all strange. – Travis Kelce on dating Taylor Swift
Kelce on his career with The Chiefs: He’s not ducking landlords these days. Still, he’s grossly underpaid. His $14 million salary, though near the top among tight ends, is half what the league’s star receivers make, and Kelce often functions as a receiver.
Nothing to be done, he says flatly. The Chiefs know, he says, that he would play for free. They know he loves his city, his quarterback. “Unfortunately, in this business, things gotta get ugly, they gotta get unpleasant [if you want more money], and I’m a pleasant son of a buck.”
Thank goodness for endorsements. At this point, says his co-manager Aaron Eanes, “the NFL is just his side hustle.”
Kelce on retirement: Kelce confesses that he thinks about it nonstop, “more than anyone could ever imagine.” In the same spirit, perhaps, he keeps his own counsel about his round-the-clock physical anguish. “That’s the only thing I’ve never really been open about,” he says, “the discomfort. The pain. The lingering injuries – the 10 surgeries I’ve had that I still feel every single surgery to this day.”
Donna (Mama) Kelce on what most defines her son: Donna says that anyone wishing to understand her younger son would do well to start with her older. Travis “could never quite catch up” to Jason, she says. “He was always just second, just searching to be the best, and never quite getting there.” (The only way in which the two brothers were full equals was appetite. As boys, Donna says, “they would sit down and eat whole chickens.”)
Donna Kelce on her true feelings about Taylor Swift: Donna Kelce still berates herself for how she handled a question about Taylor on the Today show. Trying not to sound too enthusiastic, she came off under-whelmed. Kelce, not wanting his mom to feel bad, immediately phoned her and assured her that she did a super job – adding that her green eyeglasses looked great.
These days, however, with the relationship progressing, Donna feels more at liberty. “I can tell you this,” she says, beaming. “He’s happier than I’ve seen him in a long time…. God bless him, he shot for the stars!”
Kelce on how his relationship with Taylor Swift began: “I don’t know if I want to get into all of it,” he says, and then he gets into it, because fountain.
“There were definitely people she knew that knew who I was, in her corner [who said]: Yo! Did you know he was coming? I had somebody playing Cupid.” He wasn’t aware at the time, however; the revelation only came later, after he looked down at his phone and got the shock of a lifetime. “She told me exactly what was going on and how I got lucky enough to get her to reach out.”
He lets slip that some of his early helpers were part of the Swift family tree. “She’ll probably hate me for saying this, but…when she came to Arrowhead, they gave her the big locker room as a dressing room, and her little cousins were taking pictures…in front of my locker.”
Kelce on his core group’s warning in the beginning: If anyone was nervous, he adds, it was his core group. “Everybody around me telling me: Don’t f- this up! And me sitting here saying: Yeah – got it.”
Kelce on being uncharacteristically guarded with the media when it came to Swift: “That was the biggest thing to me: make sure I don’t say anything that would push Taylor away.”
Kelce on their similarities: Kelce seems freer, too. He doesn’t need to be asked about Taylor; he mentions her unreservedly, lavishes praise on her, calls her “hilarious,” “a genius,” notes that they share compatible worldviews, especially when it comes to family and work. “Everybody knows I’m a family guy,” he says. “Her team is her family. Her family does a lot of stuff in terms of the tour, the marketing, being around, so I think she has a lot of those values as well, which is right up my alley.”
Kelce on his growing admiration for Swift: More often than not, he says, it was a Swiftian beat, a melody that captivated him. (“She writes catchy jingles.”) But lately he’s all about those lyrics; he’s scrutinized the breakup stuff. What a miracle, he says, the way Swift can turn life into poetry. “I’ve never been a man of words. Being around her, seeing how smart Taylor is, has been f-ing mind-blowing. I’m learning every day.”
Jason Kelce on his brother, Travis: “He just lives his life with so much joy,” Jason says. “He’s always kind of surrounding himself with people who are funny, who have a zest for life; it’s one of the things that defines him.”
Jason recalls many nights in the Kelce family room, the two brothers and mom eating in front of some comedy. “We had one of those coffee tables that the top would lift up and meet you at your face if you were eating,” he says, guffawing.
Kelce on Jets QB Aaron Rodger’s negative comments about him: Kelce took the high road then. He’s staying on it now. “Aaron’s always been cool to me,” he says. “I knew he was trying to have some fun. He’s in a situation where Tuesdays are his game days…. So I get it, man, I’ve been injured too…. Who knows what the guy is going through?”
Kelce on Operation Breakthrough: That’s Operation Breakthrough, he says, voice swelling with emotion. Founded in 1971, the charitable organization provides safe spaces and cutting-edge educational resources for the city’s poorest children. Kelce enjoys coming here to visit, and sometimes invites the children to his suite on Sundays. And three years ago, when Operation Breakthrough wanted to expand, he bought them the muffler shop next door.
Mary Esselman, Operation Breakthrough’s CEO, on Kelce commitment to the organization: Esselman says that whenever Kelce visits, he doesn’t bring media and he doesn’t leave until the last kid has felt seen and appreciated. Not long ago, she adds, Kelce sponsored a football camp. Afterward, Esselman asked the children to name the highlight of the experience.
One told her: “He remembered my name.”
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