May 20, 2024

In a brief commencement speech, the Kansas City kicker managed to be racist, sexist, and homophobic. The NFL’s response is revealing.

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker gives a commencement speech at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, on May 11.

(Benedictine College)

Colin Kaepernick was blackballed from the NFL for protesting police killings and racial inequity. The NFL’s quislings that defended the de facto banning of Kaepernick said, as part of their arsenal of arguments, that Kaepernick violated the most important rule of sports: making the games political. They said that politics had no place in football, and the quarterback was a “distraction” from the game itself. But it was never “politics” that Kaepernick’s foes in the owners’ boxes, league offices, and right-wing media sewers had a problem with. It was the ideas that he represented. In a sport where 70 percent of the players are Black, the league wanted to make clear that anti-racism had no place in the NFL.

This hypocrisy of what ideas are allowed and what are not is on sharp display in the story of Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker. If you are asking “who?,” you are not alone.  Normally the words of an NFL place kicker are about as sought after as a salad at McDonalds. Yet Butker has angered a subset of fans this week by being—not to put too fine a point on it—a bigoted jackass. It’s hardly the most important story on the sports/political landscape, but the attention Butker’s words have received and the false-sanctimony is revealing. At a commencement speech last weekend at Benedictine College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Atchison, Kansas, Butker managed, in just a few minutes, to be homophobic, anti-abortion (saying that Joe Biden was responsible for “the murder of innocent babies”), and racist, railing against  the “tyranny of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” He cried out against, “Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia, as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values and media, all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder.”

Seeking out the men in the audience, Butker told them to “be unapologetic in your masculinity,” and to “fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

Current Issue

Cover of May 2024 Issue

Yet the part of this lovely graduation speech that has garnered the most negative publicity is when he spoke of the “diabolical lies” that say to women they should work outside the home. “Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world,” he brayed. “But I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.”

Then Butker choked up when speaking about his wife Isabelle’s thwarted ambitions and his own thrill that she had chosen to be a “homemaker.” He said that she would be “the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.” 

Butker topped it off by incoherently quoting his teammate Travis Kelce’s girlfriend, Taylor Swift. The irony of him reciting the lyrics one of the earth’s most successful woman was not lost on Swifties who have savaged him in the aftermath of his blatherings. Less publicized, however, is that Butker’s own mother, Elizabeth Butker, has been a medical physicist at Emory University’s department of radiation oncology since 1988.

But we should not forget about the hypocrisy on display from not only Butker but the league. The NFL’s response was weaker than a $12 stadium beer, saying, “Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity. His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

This statement was made by Jonathan Beane, the chief diversity officer of the league, a position that Butker does not think should exist. Herein lies a microcosm of our present day politics. Butker believes “diversity” to be demonic; his language is violent and eliminationist. The response by the person who is supposed to defend diversity is to say, “Golly, he’s just speaking for himself.” The hard-right wing, of which Butker is a part, is ready for war, and the other side wants peace and the flow of money to continue uninterrupted even at the expense of their own existence.

Yes, the NFL wants female fans, and yes they want fans of color, and yes going soft on Butker risks that. But above all else, NFL executives exist to appease the whims of billionaires in the owners’ boxes most of whom—judging by their bankrolling of Donald Trump—agree with Butker. The destruction of Black bodies for white consumption and profit is an ugly business. Normally the NFL wants to keep the underlying ideology of its owners under wraps. The biggest problem with Butker is that he vomited it up for everyone to see.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Dave Zirin



Dave Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports. He is also the coproducer and writer of the new documentary Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL.