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NFL’s Harrison Butker’s Hard-Right Social Views Kicked Up a Storm of Controversy

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Graduation speeches are like life and Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.

I’m so accustomed to headline-making controversies touched off by commencement speakers whose views tilt to the left that the Harrison Butker dustup caught me by surprise.

Until now, the public has known Butker, 28, as simply a kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, helping them to Super Bowl wins in recent years. But in recent weeks his profile has grown thanks to his May 11 address at Benedictine College, a private Catholic institution in Kansas, in which he took on a range of hot-button issues, including Pride Month, abortion access and the Biden administration’s pandemic positions.

I appreciated his candor. He is a faithful Catholic known in those circles for being an outspoken conservative and was speaking at a Catholic institution to a polite audience that gave him a standing ovation at the end of his 20-minute speech.

He warned us at the beginning that he intended to say the “difficult stuff out loud” and that he had “gained quite the reputation for speaking my mind.” Indeed. As a fatherly talk show host once advised me, “When you have the microphone, Page, use it!”

Butker did. His wide-ranging address also took on birth control, “dangerous gender ideologies” and a number of Catholic principles which have been subjects of vigorous debates between liberals and conservatives in the denomination.

On the topic of birth control, he said, “There is nothing good about playing God with having children — whether that be your ideal number or the perfect time to conceive.” He called out abortion, in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy as symptoms of “disorder.”

He also urged the men in the graduating class to be “unapologetic in your masculinity, fighting against the cultural emasculation of men.” I’ve heard this before. Manhood movements of all sorts have been gaining more attention in these political times. Butker is known to be close to Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, who has spoken and written extensively on subjects like the cultural emasculation of men, which also has become a popular theme in mobilizing Republican voters.

Other parts of the speech were specific to the Catholic Church, including his “love” for traditional Latin mass and the state of the priesthood: “Sadly, many priests we are looking to for leadership are the same ones who prioritize their hobbies or even photos with their dogs and matching outfits for the parish directory.”

And, perhaps most memorably, he directly addressed “the women” among the graduates as he argued against “most diabolical lies” they have been told.

Using his wife, Isabelle, as an example, he advised women to be excited to take on the “vocation” of wife and mother. “Isabelle’s dream of having a career might not have come true, but if you asked her today if she has any regrets on her decision, she would laugh out loud, without hesitation, and say, ‘Heck, no.’”

I’d like to have heard Isabelle’s take on that.

 

Alas, she and her husband made themselves unavailable for comment after the commencement went viral. Others, including the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, a founding institution and sponsor of Benedictine College, condemned it.

“Instead of promoting unity in our church, our nation, and the world, his comments seem to have fostered division,” said their statement posted online.

In response to the assertion that homemaker is the highest calling for a woman, the statement said. “We sisters have dedicated our lives to God and God’s people, including the many women whom we have taught and influenced during the past 160 years. These women have made a tremendous difference in the world in their roles as wives and mothers and through their God-given gifts in leadership, scholarship, and their careers.”

The National Football League also distanced itself from Butker’s comments, noting that “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.”

Debates on these social issues hardly are limited to Catholics — or even to arguments between the left and the right.

For example, Butker’s jab at IVF, in-vitro fertilization, touches on an issue that has divided conservatives. Some lawmakers who urged outlawing the practice as “anti-family” have reevaluated their position as more families tell their own stories about how IVF enabled them to have children, which is about as pro-family as one can get.

That’s why I hope Butker’s mind isn’t completely closed. Times change and people are complicated. Sometimes kickers get their field goal attempts blocked and have to pick up the ball and run with it.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2024 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2024 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.


 

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