N.F.L. Player Draws Rebukes (and Trolling) for Graduation Speech

Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs is one of the best place-kickers in the N.F.L. That is enough to make him somewhat famous in the football world, but players of his position aren’t typically known by more casual observers — unless they do something especially great or terrible on the field.

Last weekend, with the N.F.L. solidly in its off-season, Mr. Butker found himself at the center of a great deal of vitriol on social media, and it had nothing to do with his job.

On Saturday, Mr. Butker delivered a 20-minute commencement address to the graduates of Benedictine College, a conservative Catholic school in Atchison, Kan., about 50 miles northwest of Kansas City. He packed his speech full of conservative political discourse, railing against “degenerative cultural values and media.” He rebuked President Biden for his stance as a Catholic who supports abortion rights, and urged women to forgo careers so that they could support their husbands.

“I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother,” Mr. Butker said. “I’m on this stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation.”

He added: “It cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.”

Mr. Butker, who appeared to be choking up, was greeted by a round of applause that lasted for nearly 20 seconds before he was able to continue. At the end of his speech, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

The reaction online, however, was not nearly as receptive, with his comments being picked apart by posters on TikTok, Instagram and X.

Team officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the views Mr. Butker expressed prompted the N.F.L. to issue a statement saying the speech did not match the league’s values, and resulted in a rival team, the Los Angeles Chargers, trolling Mr. Butker on social media. More than 125,000 people, as of Thursday afternoon, had signed a petition on Change.org calling for Kansas City to cut ties with its star kicker.

Mr. Butker, 28, who describes himself as a devout Catholic, has won three Super Bowls with Kansas City since joining the team as a rookie in 2017. He converted all 11 of his field-goal attempts in the team’s most recent playoff run, and set a record for the longest field goal in Super Bowl history (57 yards) in the team’s championship-clinching victory over the San Francisco 49ers in February.

But on a team full of stars — Patrick Mahomes is widely considered the best quarterback in the N.F.L., and the team’s tight end, Travis Kelce, is among the best to ever play his position and is dating Taylor Swift — Mr. Butker had never really stood out. His speech on Saturday may have changed all that.

In the speech, Mr. Butker encouraged men to be “unapologetic in your masculinity,” referenced “the deadly sins” of homosexuality, and criticized Catholic priests for deriving “their happiness from the adulation they receive from their parishioners.” In attempting to drive home his point, Mr. Butker invoked lyrics from Ms. Swift’s song “Bejeweled” without mentioning her or Mr. Kelce by name.

“This undue familiarity will prove to be problematic every time,” Mr. Butker said, “because as my teammate’s girlfriend says, ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’”

Quoting Ms. Swift’s lyrics in such a speech was unusual, considering her status as an entertainment mogul who speaks frequently of empowering women and is believed to have a net worth of more than $1 billion.

Mr. Butker had also weighed in on Ms. Swift earlier this year, in an interview with the Eternal Word Television Network, describing her as “so humble and so gracious.” He added, in a nod to the values he discussed in Saturday’s speech, that he hoped that she and Mr. Kelce would “get married and start a family.”

The views expressed during Mr. Butker’s commencement speech at Benedictine drew swift condemnation. Justice Horn, a former Kansas City commissioner, wrote: “Harrison Butker doesn’t represent Kansas City nor has he ever. Kansas City has always been a place that welcomes, affirms and embraces our LGBTQ+ community members.”

Jessica Valenti, a feminist author, addressed the speech in her “Abortion, Every Day” newsletter, saying “So let’s be very clear about this commencement speech: Butker’s remarks weren’t ‘fringe’ or radical — they’re the law. He was simply saying out loud what Republicans have already codified: that women’s role in this country is to bear children and support men, who are the actual stars of the show.” She said bans on abortion, like the ones Mr. Butker is advocating, are “the embodiment of the smallest men’s biggest wishes.”

The N.F.L.’s response was to issue a statement from Jonathan Beane, the league’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, in which he said that Mr. Butker’s “views are not those of the N.F.L. as an organization. The N.F.L. is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

The Chargers, a rival team of the Chiefs, went a step beyond that, poking fun at Mr. Butker during a video announcing the team’s 2024 schedule. In the video, a Sims character with a striking resemblance to Mr. Butker was shown working in the kitchen.

As the week has unfolded, the discussion of Mr. Butker has expanded to looking into other aspects of his life. Among the details discussed by many on social media: Despite his stance on women in the workplace, his mother, Elizabeth Keller Butker, has a distinguished career. She is a medical physicist in the department of radiation oncology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

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