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Opinion: Jason Kelce gave all of us a master class in American manhood


Opinion by Amy Bass

(CNN) — Jason Kelce has left the building. And there wasn’t a dry eye that witnessed it.

Monday afternoon, Jason’s now globally famous brother Travis entered the Philadelphia Eagles’ press room as his usual snazzy self – two-tone shirt, dark glasses and a pair of friendship bracelets circling his right wrist (including one that connected two Ts with a heart) – and sat down in the front row with his parents.  Jason soon followed, back from his 7th stint at the Pro Bowl, completely in character:  hair – both head and face – bushy, black muscle tee, water bottle in hand.  As he took his place, alone, at the table at the front of the room, he thanked people for coming.

“Let’s see how long this lasts,” the Eagles’ center managed to say before shaking his head, emotion taking over, deep breaths and a few tries at “come on!” doing little to prevent the onslaught of tears that would pepper, interrupt and make perfect his retirement speech.  “Not a good start.”

But the tears, the emotion and the heart Jason Kelce put on display for the next 45 minutes as he talked about his family, his friends, his teachers, his coaches and teammates, and the staff in the Eagles’ operation were as much the point as any of the actual words that came out of his mouth.

The purpose of the press conference was to confirm what most everyone knew: Jason Kelce was retiring after 13 seasons of professional football, stepping away from a career that included, in addition to those Pro Bowl nods, a Super Bowl win (2018) and a Super Bowl loss (2023), the latter against his brother no less, something that was not lost on him in this speech.

But Jason Kelce’s retirement speech gave us so much more than just a sports headline.  Not only was I not alone in dropping everything to watch him, I was also not the only one — if TikTok and my sister are any indication — who had tears spilling down my face as I did so. Jason did too, and that was his gift: his speech was a master class in why all men should cry.

Ugly cry, in fact.

“As players, you write the narratives,” Jason said.  And his retirement monologue is yet another example of how both Kelce brothers are changing so many narratives, rewriting what tough-guy heteronormative masculinity looks like, at least from a central casting point of view.  Long considered to be the most successful siblings in the NFL, these two wear their hearts on their sleeves, demonstrating that emotion not only isn’t something we should hide: it is something that can make us better, and put a spotlight on us to boot.

We have seen these brothers in action, together, many times:  facing one another on the field, next to each other on “Saturday Night Live,” in seemingly raw display in “Kelce” (2023), Amazon Prime’s documentary that focused on Jason and his family as he contemplated when the end of his career would happen. We have heard them on their hit podcast “New Heights,” where we get to enjoy things like Travis mocking his older brother for wearing shorts and sandals to his documentary’s premiere, something for which Jason at first tries (unconvincingly) to blame on his wife, Kylie.

“I’m realizing now,” Jason says on the pod after a banter with Travis about the fact that Kylie was dealing with their daughters and had to get herself ready as well, “I probably can’t blame Kylie for this.”

Among many people in his life, Jason also waxed poetic about Kylie in his comments Monday, detailing how they met in 2014 after the Eagles’ Christmas party, sobbing when he spoke of “an aura around her,” how he knew right away that she was it and that she made him a better player. “I think it’s no coincidence I enjoyed the best year of my career with Kylie by my side,” he said, or that he’s starting to recognize that he has a life “that increasingly brings me more fulfillment off the field than it does on.”

Since the Eagles bowed out of the playoffs, he’s been living a lot of that life out loud in ways that might seem to be at odds with the emotional puddle who just stepped away from the game on Monday — and yet actually make sense in every way. The Kelce brothers’ open affection for each other, their family, and their partners goes beyond saying “I love you” – they shout it, they feel it, they live it. As we saw Monday — as in a pivotal scene in “Kelce,” in which Travis talks about how his brother stood by him when he lost his college scholarship because of a failed drug test — they cry it out.

Ugly, ugly, cry.

“There is no chance I would be here without the bond Travis and I share,” Jason said as Travis shoved tissues underneath his sunglasses to catch his own emotion. Jason recalled the conflicted feelings of being devasted over the 2023 Super Bowl loss and simultaneously being proud of what Travis had accomplished. “It’s only too poetic I found my career being fulfilled in the City of Brotherly Love. I knew that relationship all too well.”

That Jason ended his tribute to Travis by dropping the lyrics of one of Travis’s girlfriend Taylor Swift’s most loved songs was not, of course, an accident, as the pop star has become a fixture in all things Kelce for some time now. In Buffalo to watch Travis and the Chiefs make their way toward the Super Bowl, Jason tailgated with the so-called Bills Mafia before taking his place in a luxury box that included Swift, his shirtless barbaric yawp of support for Travis leading him to step into the stands to lift up 8-year-old Ella Piazza so she could see the pop star.

Athletes have said goodbye to their sports in a lot of different ways.  Abby Wambach deactivated her social media accounts and told us (sponsored by Gatorade) to “forget me.”  Serena Williams tried to win one final slam.  Derek Jeter went on a bona fide farewell tour. Lou Gehrig told a sold-out crowd in Yankee Stadium that he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

For Jason Kelce, it was tears and words, deep breaths and big hugs and all of the emotion that has made him, and his brother, elite athletes and champions.  They are men who believe that there is crying in football – and just about everywhere else, and that is an important takeaway for all of us, on and off the field, Super Bowl champion or not.

“I still don’t know if I’m an actual football fan,” my sister emailed me after I confirmed that she, too, had watched the presser with a box of tissues.  “I am a huge Kelce brothers fan, and I will miss Jason on the field. Whatever he does next, I’ll be watching.”

For now, he’s done.  “That’s all I got,” Jason said when he finished, mic dropped, football career over and he walked over to embrace Travis, his mom and dad, and, finally, Kylie – people who were there not to merely watch him retire, but to live it with him, feel it, out loud, and with plenty of tears.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Sports

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