Harrison Butker: In Hot Water or Too Hot to Handle?

So much is being said about a speech that wasn’t even for us.

Harrison Butker on the sideline of the AFC Championship in Baltimore on Jan. 28.
Harrison Butker on the sideline of the AFC Championship in Baltimore on Jan. 28. (photo: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons)

As parents gathered at Benedictine College over Mother’s Day weekend to watch their graduates walk across the stage with their diplomas, little did they know the commencement speech Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs gave would still be one of the biggest news stories a week later.

In a word that he himself used early on in the now-viral commencement speech that hit on fatherhood, homemaking, protecting life and so much more, Butker dared to be “countercultural.” As Kathleen Parker put it in The Washington Post, “The man is a revolutionary.” 

Butker said succinctly: “Our Catholic faith has always been countercultural. Our Lord, along with countless followers, were all put to death for their adherence to her teachings.”

One proud father in the stands that Saturday was Brian Horvath, marketing director of EWTN News, there to cheer on his daughter, who was blessed to have a school career amid the pandemic that was not affected by COVID lockdown.

"Having attended the commencement in person, I was especially intrigued by Harrison’s constructive comments toward strengthening the Church," he told the Register, adding: "I hope that those he was addressing across the world in the leadership of the Church “hear and understand…” (Matthew 15:10), so that the flock may not be led astray."

But the now-viral speech did throw many into a frenzy. Social-media scourging mainly focused on the part about “the diabolical lies” that are told to women — and what followed. 

Perhaps he meant to point to the perceptions of secular society, which doesn’t really place value on being a homemaker or see taking care of one’s family as being the most vitally important thing. Remember the society that applauds companies for paying for their employee’s abortions? That society. 

Speaking to freshly minted graduates who are eager to embrace their futures, many with dreams of jobs, homes and wedding bells in their heads and on their hearts — on the campus of a faithfully Catholic college — Butker received applause throughout his speech (one instance lasting as long as 18 seconds!) and a standing ovation from his intended audience.

Post-speech, thousands of people agreed with what the devout Catholic, husband and father said. 

Catholic commentator and EWTN radio host Ashley McGuire loved the speech  telling the Register she admired what he said: 

"I'm not sure when praising homemaking or acknowledging that marriage and children might just be more important to a woman than a career became cause for a national rending of garments, but I admire Butker for making such a clear and countercultural message. I laughed when I saw that the NFL said his words, 'do not reflect our values.' This from an organization plagued by domestic violence scandals and whose entertainment denigrates women. Team Butker."

Others were quick to take issue with certain turns of phrase in the address, including that a woman’s life begins once she is a wife and mother.

When you’re a NFL placekicker who also serves the traditional Latin Mass, words move quickly in our media-driven world, rippling through AP stories that only cite mention of “deadly sin of Pride month” to The View, where hosts tore apart his take on traditional homemaking only to then watch Whoopi Goldberg of all people to defend the professional athlete and his “Catholic values.” 

The NFL distanced itself from Butker, as a Change.org petition circulated, asking for him to be removed from the team. In return, supporters of the kicker have started a petition for those who stand with his message (and free speech). 

The Chiefs even took to social media to disown him in a quickly deleted tweet. 

Deleted tweet by Kansas City Chiefs reacting to Harrison Butker's speech.
Deleted social media post by Kansas City Chiefs reacting to Harrison Butker's speech.

Does the NFL have an issue with Catholics in a league that has its own “police” to keep players’ misdeeds out of the press? 

On the issue of diabolical lies, Butker couched "life beginning" between having a career and "one of the most important titles of all. Homemaker." Many took offense to this, even bringing 90s grunge guy Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder out of the woodwork to condemn the speech. 

But as a Catholic author and writer — who is a mother of many children and a college professor with a Ph.D. — said in her piece on the topic, the speech was not for society at large: 

Catholic writer and proud homemaker Emily Zanotti took a look at the speech through the eyes of John Paul II, who wrote beautifully on the topic of women and vocation. “The ‘diabolical lie’ of feminism is that women have nothing unique to offer to society that differs from what men offer, rather than assets, intrinsically linked to their womanhood, that make them essential to every area of life,” Zanotti wrote today, concluding: 

“We can’t reduce Catholic thought on how women do that to a shallow, bumper-sticker observation on a single woman’s vocation, nor can we say that ‘life’ begins for women when they become wives and mothers. Certainly, for me, despite years in the workforce, and my position writing to you now, raising my children remains the most significant job of my life. It is, as many women know, the greatest job I could have hoped for. But that is not to say that my life only began at their birth. As humans, made in the image of God, our lives begin the moment we come into existence as an individual thought of our Creator, and there are as many plans, purposes and vocations as there are people. That is, of course, very hard to fit in a commencement speech.”

Pro-life podcaster, wife and mother Lila Rose championed motherhood and the feminine genius in full in her response:

Catholic commentator Amy Welborn was not impressed with the speech, writing in a blog

“Harrison Butker makes millions of dollars a year for kicking a ball for an employer that does not, in the least, embody traditional Christian values on basically anything, from economic justice to sexuality.”

Perhaps Butker was trying to say something nice about the vocation of motherhood, marking the Mother’s Day weekend. 

Regardless, his speech has sparked an online debate that is now making its way into blogs, social-media posts and heated dinner conversations on women and motherhood. #Tradwife videos are now trending, there is much googling about the traditonal Latin Mass, and might some young atheist right now be looking up JPII? 

Compelled by Butker’s words on homemaking, Emily Stimson Chapman weighed in too, through the lens of her series on the “Manosphere,” which apparently defines young millenial men who are misogynistic and don’t think women should work at all outside the home. 

Chapman writes: “But unless we help young men find a better understanding of what it means to be a man — a healthy, faithful, and richly Catholic understanding — that spirit will soon enough find its way into your world, making it as challenging for you to put a charitable spin on Harrison Butker’s words, as it is for many of the women (like me) who are being called ‘disappointing’ (and worse) for our less-than-enthusiastic response to his speech.”

It has also led to enriching conversations on the balance between career and home, a challenge for those women who love being a mother and wife and enjoy a professional career, many of whom, as an added kicker, love Butker’s speech. 

Dr. Grazie Christie, a physician, EWTN Radio host and fellow at The Catholic Association, was up for the challenge, issuing a viral tweet: 

We are also witnessing inspiring moments of reflection on the beauty of motherhood and staying at home to serve the domestic church. Register contributor Nicole LeBlanc reflected on the love she has in this Yes and about the extremely important roles that John Paul II spoke so passionately about, including the role of spiritual mothers who do not have children:

Catholic writer and commentator Amber Duke (formerly Amber Athey) also weighed in about what has so ruffled feathers. 

A former NFL employee addressed the terrible work environment of the NFL, saying Butker was the last one who should be losing his job: 

Catholic influencer Sachin Jose threw his hat in, offering “full support.”

Others support Butker’s call for men to live masculine virtue: 

And Patricia Heaton told everyone to calm down:

Bishops also took to social media to voice support for Butker, including one who is no stranger to controversy: 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco promoted the speech, seeing a message in it for himself as a spiritual father: 

But an interesting tidbit surfaced this week, in reference to how Benedictine not only ends the year with a commencement address but also starts with a convocation. Catholic author and speaker Tim Carney was the man to offer words as the 2024 graduates began their senior year. And the message was very similar in spirit, reflecting on God’s calling to be “fruitful and multiply.”

The Family Unfriendly author has a lot to say about where society stands right now: on life, demographic winters and family, and there seems to be a teachable moment surfacing in all of this: 

“We are forgetting that humans belong in community. That fellowship and camaraderie aren’t nice diversions. They are as necessary for the soul as food and water is for the body. Modern man forgets this. He reveres autonomy too much and neglects his duty to others.”

Perhaps if Butker had the savvy writing skills of Carney or the intellectual and spiritual prowess of St. John Paul II, he would have won over more hearts proclaiming the dignity of “women who work,” and remembered the founders of the university, thanking consecrated life; including spiritual mothers, as well as single women who are serving Christ in the world. He’d have even more voices cheering him on. In the words of JPII:

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic. 

Hopefully the anger that his speech incited for some won't diminish the call he made for us all to look to Christ in drowning out the noise of the world: 

“I say all of this to you because I have seen it firsthand, how much happier someone can be when they disregard the outside noise and move closer and closer to God’s will in their life."

Bravo to all of the graduates! And for the rest of us, let us carry on this vital conversation kicked off by Harrison Butker.