American Football: NFL playoffs: Eminem vs. Taylor Swift: Fans of the stars argue in the NFL

Detroit’s German-American wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (r.) has to fend off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense on Sunday.

Photo: imago/Steve Nesius

You better not let this moment pass. You only get one try, don’t miss your chance to break through. Because this opportunity only comes once in a lifetime.” Marshall Mathers, better known as star rapper Eminem, wrote these lines 22 years ago. The song “Lose Yourself” is still his best-selling hit from a whole series of raps that paved his way out of poverty in the former metropolis of Detroit. But he never left the city. Many people give him credit for this, because anyone who could somehow afford it in the past 50 years left the former metropolis, as did the large car companies that once made the Motor City flourish. Of the once two million inhabitants, less than 700,000 are left.

Detroit is also lagging behind its once great years in terms of sport. There has been no title for the once successful Red Wings (ice hockey), Pistons (basketball) or Tigers (baseball) for more than 15 years. And the Lions football team in particular, which won the National Football League (NFL) championship four times in the 1930s and 1950s, has long only been making headlines with negative records. In 2008, Detroit became the first team to lose all of its 16 games this season. Even with nine playoff defeats in a row spread over 32 years, the club was a lonely leader until the end. “But this year it feels different,” said Eminem before the playoff duel against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. «This time we have a chance. Well, you know the rest.”

The Lions actually won in the first round of the playoffs: 24:23. Amon-Ra St. Brown, a 24-year-old wide receiver with a German mother, caught the decisive pass to take the razor-thin lead over time and send the packed Ford Field into a mixture of ecstasy and relief. A week later, this Sunday, the quarterfinals against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take place, and the Lions will become a symbol of the resurgence of an entire city.

After all, Detroit has been slowly getting back on its feet for a good ten years. In the previous decades, thousands of houses had been abandoned and fallen into disrepair until they were taken over by drug dealers and gangs. Those who still had work moved to the suburbs to escape the escalating violence. Many old ruins have now been demolished, and hotels and theaters are reopening, at least in the city center. Big companies are investing in Detroit again. Restaurants, museums and boutiques are relocating. Young people want to live in the center again and turn the Motor City into a Green City.

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Poverty and vacancies in the outskirts are far from being overcome, but things are slowly improving. And the Lions should reflect that. Football also fits well with an industrial location. The symbolism of hard work, sweat, masculinity and the fight against adversity is often translated into one’s own life. Fans sometimes come to the stadium with factory helmets on their heads. “This is the story of how much a football team can mean to a city,” said Eminem in his clip for the national TV broadcaster NBC directly before the wild card game against the Rams. “For far too long everyone has made fun of Detroit. You try to ignore it, but at some point the loser image gets stuck in your head.” This should end now.

As the Lions took the lead in the first quarter, stadium control flashed Eminem in his seat in the arena. The music star used gestures to encourage the remaining fans to cheer even more, but the 65,000 had an even better idea. They started rapping: “Lose yourself.” Sure, of course! The song about this one chance in life that you have to seize. This didn’t just affect football fans in Michigan. The Lions are slowly becoming the secret favorite of all those whose own teams have long since been eliminated.

Well, maybe not everyone. Because there are still the followers of an even bigger music star at the moment: Taylor Swift. The pop singer, who is said to have sold more than 300 million records, has also been seen more often in NFL stadiums this season since she started dating Travis Kelce, one of defending champion Kansas City’s best players. The hype surrounding the new dream couple in US show business was immense and a stroke of luck for the NFL, as it suddenly attracted a new target group that had previously paid little attention to the league: young and female.

The long-time residents didn’t need that and vented their displeasure about the media distraction from their favorite sport, especially on social media. The singer was greeted with whistles, especially at away games. Because the TV broadcasts preferred to show Swift instead of the players celebrating, regular media also asked rhetorically: “Is Taylor Swift ruining football?”

Her fans complain about double standards because Eminem is celebrated everywhere. More than 100,000 Twitter users liked a post that claimed, perhaps sarcastically, that Eminem was destroying football. The responses also went viral. “The difference is that Eminem is a long-time Lions fan and doesn’t just show up because he happens to be sleeping with a player,” is just one example of the online controversy. That may be true, but there’s also a touch of misogyny in the rapper’s defense, as it’s not the first time that female stars have been booed in stadiums while male colleagues cheer. Being a real fan is still often denied to women in the USA.

Incidentally, the direct duel between Detroit and Kansas City can only take place on February 11th at the Super Bowl, the NFL’s annual final game introduced in 1967. The Lions have never built this before. This year, not only many people from Detroit are hoping that it will finally succeed. Either because they want to finally see the eternal loser at the top. Or because with Eminem and Swift there are hardly any bigger fans in a stadium.

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