Skip to content
Harrison Butker’s Big Mistake

Harrison Butker’s Big Mistake

By: Russ Latino - May 18, 2024

Harrison Bukter delivers commencement adress at St. Benedictine College.

Harrison Bukter delivers commencement address at St. Benedictine College; receives standing ovation. (Photo Courtesy of St. Benedictine College)

  • The three-time Super Bowl champion kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs made the fatal error of saying Catholic things at a Catholic university commencement. The apoplectic response wreaks of hypocrisy and is emblematic of the loss of pluralism in America.

Harrison Butker is Catholic. Invited to give a commencement address at Benedictine College, Butker espoused views commonly associated with Catholic doctrine. At the conclusion of his remarks, the Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker received a standing ovation from those in attendance.

Outside the walls of the auditorium housing Benedictine’s graduation ceremony, Butker’s remarks drew a different, less generous initial response.

The outrage machine quickly pounced on comments Butker made to female graduates, twisting relatively benign statements on the importance of family into some variation of “Harrison Butker says women’s only job is to be barefoot and pregnant.” That he said nothing of the sort mattered not to people eager to score cheap points in an increasingly tiresome culture war.

So what did Butker actually say? He separately addressed both men and women. Butker told both groups they had been fed a lie about life’s meaning and significance coming solely through professional achievement. He extolled both groups on the virtue of family commitment. Yes, he talked about his wife’s “vocation” as a homemaker, but he also separately talked about his “vocation” as a husband and father.

In addressing female graduates, Butker did not say that being a wife and mother was the “only” role of a woman. He said it was “one of the most important” roles. In the English language “one of the most important” does not naturally translate as “only.” In fact, it logically implies the existence of other important roles.

Harrison Butker has won three Super Bowl championships while starting at kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker)

Nothing in Butker’s commentary suggested that women could not, or should not, find meaning in professional life. He merely pushed back on the secular notion that finding meaning in family is somehow a lesser pursuit for weaker people.

Butker’s view of the importance of family, and the unique roles played by wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers, is consistent with long-held Catholic, and more broadly, Christian doctrine.

In a sane world, Butker’s comments to Catholic students at a Catholic university would be a nothing-burger. But sanity left the building a while back.

Audience Should Matter

The website of Benedictine College reads, “As a Catholic college, Benedictine College is committed to those beliefs and natural principles that form the framework of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and it is committed further to those specific matters of faith of the Roman Catholic tradition, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and handed down in the teachings of the Church.”

The Gospel Coalition has a good exposition on the two prevalent Christian approaches to gender roles, for anyone interested. Butker and the Catholic Church both ascribe to the ‘complementary’ approach, as do most mainline Protestant evangelical denominations.

Butker was talking to people within a community already exposed to thoughts similar to his own. His opinions were not shocking for most in attendance, but rather, orthodox and reaffirming. The standing ovation he received serves as evidence of the point.

Butker has also received encouragement from prominent Catholic leaders. Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City said in a statement:

“Harrison Butker’s passion for his Catholic faith and his family are beautiful and well known. And like most people, he also has strong opinions on where we are as a Church and as a nation. The Catholic Church believes that God calls everyone to pursue holiness no matter what path they take. As St. Paul notes, that diversity of callings and vocations is essential to the life and mission of the Church. I support Mr. Butker’s right to share his faith and express his opinions.”

Bill Donuhue, President of the Catholic League, wrote in a statement on Thursday that Butker “nailed it” during the commencement speech. “His courage and his commitment to Catholicism is laudatory,” Donohue said. “A heralded Catholic football player defends traditional moral values at a Catholic college — how novel.”

If society is to judge the propriety of certain speech, then consideration must be given to the unique values of the community in which the speech is shared. There should be some acceptance of the fact that different communities carry different customs and beliefs.

Broader Appeal

Despite the initial uproar, Butker’s views appear to have broader appeal. Within hours of the controversy breaking, his jersey became one of the top selling in the NFL, eclipsing even his Kansas City MVP teammate Patrick Mahomes. By Friday, all female-sized Butker jerseys at had been sold out.

Butker has received support from teammates, including Mississippi-native Chris Jones, who posted on X that he loved the kicker and called him “my brotha.” Following an effort by the NFL to distance itself from Butker, he also received support from the Hunt family, who owns the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mississippi native and Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones has voiced support for his teammate, Harrison Butker, amid controversy over Butker’s commencement speech at Benedictine College (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Once the more extreme caricatures of Butker’s speech are dismissed, his message becomes intuitively sensible. Very few wives or mothers would actually balk at the statement that being a wife and mother is one of their most important roles. Just as very few husbands and dads would balk at the statement that being a husband and dad is among their most important roles. Some of us might even sentimentally say that our lives began when married, and began again, when we had kids.

Few people on their death beds will dwell on professional achievements or disappointments. Family and relationships matter more in the end.

While not agreeing with the substance of the speech, Butker drew defense from liberal comedian Bill Maher, who focused on the fact that Butker’s statements were just a reflection of what a lot of people have believed for a long time.

Bill Maher provides unlikely defense to Butker’s commencement speech at Benedictine College.

Based on available data, even Butker lending credence to becoming a stay-at-home mom is not as fringe as portrayed by media and vocal activists.

Over a quarter of American mothers now identify as stay-at-home parents. An even larger segment, 50 percent of all mothers with children under the age of 18, would prefer to stay home if it were financially feasible, according to a Gallup poll. 60 percent of adults in a separate Pew study said it was better for children to have a stay-at-home parent focused on the family.

Hypocrisy in Action

Between 2000-2019, there were 117 arrests of NFL players for domestic violence or sexual assault. With limited exception, there is little secular judgment and even fewer consequences for the behavior. The reputation of players engaging in reckless promiscuity and fathering children with multiple women is part of league lore, glorified in television series like “Ballers.” Antonio Cromartie famously has 14 known children with 8 different women.

But Butker, through tears of appreciation for his wife, pressing the value of devoted monogamy and family, was a bridge too far. A petition calling for Butker to be fired has garnered over 200,000 signatures. In some circles, talking lovingly about your wife as a homemaker is apparently a more grevious sin than beating your wife, and a greater assault on the dignity of women than trying to impregnate every one in sight.

Many of those in a state of apoplectic shock from Butker’s comments have also spent months supporting protests against Israel — protests that have featured hate-filled chants of “death to Jews,” paraglider iconography celebrating the October 7th massacre of innocent Israeli civilians, and calls for “intifada.”

Hamas’ 1988-charter said women’s role in society was important because they “manufacture men and play a great role in guiding and educating the [new] generation.” At just 22 percent, Gaza has one of the worst female employment rates in the world. 51 percent of married women in Gaza report being the victim of some form of violence at the hands of their husbands. Sharia law applied in Gaza has deprived women of very basic rights. As recently as 2021, for instance, the Sharia Judicial Council in Gaza said women could not travel without the permission of men.

Standing in solidarity with people who actually oppress women is apparently en vogue, but again, we cannot abide Harrison Butker touting how great it is to be a wife and mom (and also a husband and dad). Perhaps all would have been absolved if Butker had called for intifada at the end of his talk. Our priorities and sense of harm are askew.

The Need for Pluralism

A final point: it is okay to disagree with Butker. He expressed a series of opinions rooted in his faith. He did not harm anyone in the process. He also did not advocate for the use of force to make women or men act in accordance with his understanding of scriptural gender roles.

Butker’s talk was not “Christian nationalism,” or the promotion of theocracy. Had it been, I would oppose it. I do not want or need government to impose my faith on others. I just need a society that still allows me to express it, and allows you to express what you believe, too.

Our first impulse when we hear something we disagree with should not be to destroy the speaker, or to silence his or her voice. This was true of Colin Kaepernick and it’s true of Butker.

A pluralist society is one that allows for true diversity of thought and expression. Pluralism was once a hallmark of classical liberalism. The response to Butker suggests many liberals have become quite illiberal, particularly when it comes to Christian expression.

We should be able to hear things we disagree with, voice our disagreement (or don’t), and move on. The rush to assume the worst of and condemn people we disagree with only further drives radicalization and division. There are no words too dangerous for us to hear. Harrison Butker’s are not the exception.

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: