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NFL players this season have been making headlines far beyond the football field — and not just because of Taylor Swift’s newfound interest in the sport.

Following in the footsteps of the NBA, the “NFL tunnel” is taking off — and players, including Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce and New York Giants’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor, among many others — are making waves with their pre-game high-fashion looks that give a creative spin to traditional menswear.

Now, the NFL Tunnel is becoming a highlight of every game.

Kelce, for one has gone viral for several looks, most notably the graphic blue matching denim set from KidSuper. Taylor, more recently, made waves in a casual wool Ami Paris sweater. Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow, who has been known for his high-fashion streetwear style, had his latest viral look this month in a colorful patchwork sweater designed by a friend from high school.

While many NFL stars have been showing off their tunnel fits for a few seasons, there’s been newfound interest from fans and the league itself in tuning into their pre-game walks, adding a new element to the games’ overall coverage. 

“We all know that fashion was always a part of players, but we never really highlighted it,” said Eddie Capobianco, vice president of influencer marketing at the NFL, about how the league has more recently leaned into fashion coverage. “Before we could really build our department, we had to come up with, ‘What is our point of view? What is our strategy? What are our goals?’ It comes down to a couple of things: being modern, being on the trends of culture, but also leading culture and being that culture carrier versus coming into it late.” 

Travis Kelce

Travis Kelce Courtesy of the NFL

The NFL has leaned into fashion coverage through several initiatives, including posting fashion content through its NFL Style Instagram page, an initiative led by the NFL’s fashion content strategist, Kyle Smith. The page highlights players’ tunnel fits and posts video series such as “Behind the Fit,” where the league interviews football players and their stylists about specific looks. 

The games’ broadcast coverage is also more focused on fashion, with commentators focusing on arrivals and interviews taking place in the tunnel. The NFL also partners with GQ Sports, giving the outlet access to players during their tunnel walks to document their style. 

“It really helps our fans get to know our players better when you can see what they’re choosing to wear,” Smith said. “Are they choosing to dress up? What brands are they interested in? What do they want to wear to show off their style? I love when a player has a chance to wear something that expresses who they are more than just a number on the field, so amplifying their style choices I think gives our fans such a unique view into their lives.”

Players like Kelce and Burrow are self-styled, but others have looped in the professionals, opting for professional stylists.

Stylist and fashion designer Dex Robinson has become an NFL go-to.

Robinson works with Taylor, Jalen Hurts, Darren Waller and others. Alongside Taylor, Robinson is behind fashion brand Diallo, which launched this March at Nordstrom. 

“Depending on the position you play, your team and what city you’re in, that determines how much face value you have, because [players] wear helmets on the field, so not all of them you would know by face,” Robinson said of his styling strategy.

“My strategy is trying to shift that narrative — like they’re not used to being at the forefront unless you’re a quarterback or just someone who the team has been built around, or they do lifestyle stuff off the field. People wouldn’t really know you, so I like to build organically and see what their goals are with bringing someone who is an expert in the style space,” Robinson said.

Darren Waller

Darren Waller Courtesy of the NFL

Robinson agreed that there’s an uptick in NFL fans who are more interested in players beyond the field. Fashion, he said, gives the players a new avenue of influence.

“Traditionally, when you think about fashion and menswear, a lot of times you’re looking at a skinny model,” Robinson said. “As an athlete, they don’t see themselves in a model who is a sample size. I think also music plays a huge part in the influence of it. The [musicians] who [the players] idolize actually care about how they look, and then the fans idolize athletes, so in turn, it’s like a domino effect.” 

Sports and fashion have converged more in recent years, Smith said, and that’s led to an increase in interest, too.

“You have this new breed of audience,” he explained. “It’s this new kind of fan that’s growing up because I think maybe even 30 years ago, you couldn’t be interested in fashion and sports. It was like choose one or the other, but now we’ve realized that you can be interested in both.” 

Smith and Capobianco explained this stigma has been broken thanks to younger generations like Millennials, Gen Z and even Gen Alpha, who are interested in brand values, authentic storytelling and getting to know their favorite athletes. 

The fans’ interest in fashion has in turn influenced more players to cultivate their own style, according to Smith.

Now, the content strategist said players have been asking about how to find a stylist, land brand partnerships and attention fashion shows. Smith works with the players to develop their presence in the fashion world, and also taps the athletes to be the face of the NFL’s partnerships with fashion brands, such as Boss, Born x Raised, Kith and many others. 

Overall the NFL anticipates its style coverage is only going to grow as more players experiment with their pre-game style and more fans tune into their fashion.

“When you think about other sports like baseball or basketball, the players are visible, whereas all NFL players have helmets on,” Capobianco said. “This is just another way of showcasing who they are and their self-expression. The NFL fan invests all year long, not only the season, so showcasing and highlighting who they are as they’re walking into the tunnel is important because fans want to know more about who [the players] are off the field.”