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Dave Hannigan: The antediluvian gospel according to NFL star Harrison Butker

Kansas City Chiefs kicker’s address to college graduates was like a papal encyclical dating from before Vatican II

A key contributor to the Kansas City Chiefs winning three Super Bowls, Harrison Butker might well be the best kicker in the US National Football League (NFL). Less open to debate is that he has just become the most notorious, most loved, and most reviled. Quite a feat. This is what delivering an inflammatory commencement address to the 2024 class of Benedictine College can do for name recognition and reputation. People who have never witnessed him power a field goal home from 62 yards suddenly have very strong opinions about the nature of his character and beliefs. With good reason.

Charged with motivating students on their way out into the real world, the graduation speaker traditionally deals tiresome platitudes and well-worn cliches. An uber-Catholic, Butker last week chose instead to deliver a scattershot soliloquy. He attacked and/or sideswiped IVF, abortion, surrogacy, euthanasia, birth control, couples cohabiting before marriage, working mothers, president Joe Biden, liberal priests, lackadaisical bishops, Taylor Swift, Martin Scorsese’s Silence (a movie he seriously misinterprets), and LGBTQ rights. Addressing an audience where about half the 485 graduates were women, he advised them to forego their professional aspirations, get married and have children. Because that’s what his wife did and that way true happiness lies.

“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,” said Butker, whose own mother is a medical physicist. “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!’”

Less a commencement speech and more a wide-ranging papal encyclical dating from sometime before the Second Vatican Council, it even came replete with a paean to the virtues of the Latin Mass. Butker advised students to move someplace near one of the 400 throwback churches across the US still conducting the Tridentine rite every Sunday. That he knew the timbre of his audience at the Kansas school can be gauged by the hearty laughter of the students when he made fun of gay pride month and their sustained applause following his call for women to return to the hearth.


There is a powerful constituency in the US that desperately wants to turn the clock back to the 1950s, an era they have utterly mythologised and fetishised. Dewy-eyed troglodytes yearn for that supposedly utopian time and place when black people struggled for basic equality, gays had no rights, immigrants were mostly white, and with-child women were merrily tethered to the kitchen sink. Butker struck a chord with those nostalgists, becoming such an instant hero to the demographic that the suits at Fox News or some other conservative television channel are no doubt already preparing offers to bring him on board. Articulate, always impeccably dapper (check out his fashion-forward Instagram), and way to the right of Pope Francis? Perfect.

Sales of Butker’s number 7 Chiefs shirt are skyrocketing as those in his thrall appear scarcely bothered by how his sermon played fast and loose with the truth. Witness his outrageous claim that a new congressional Bill is so strict “something as basic as the biblical teaching of who killed Jesus could land you in jail”. A lie, and a beloved anti-Semitic trope to boot. There was some troubling tone-deafness too. In an institution boasting just 43 black students (2 per cent of the campus population), he lambasted the “tyranny of diversity, equity and inclusion”, initiatives which are designed to give minorities a fairer shot at more representation in higher education.

Aside from provoking predictable outrage among groups caught up in the blast zone of his rhetoric, Butker was also roundly condemned by the order of Benedictine nuns. The sisters said his comments did not represent the values of the Catholic liberal arts college founded by their predecessors in the 19th century. There is also a petition doing the rounds to have his contract with the Chiefs cancelled. An inevitable yet ludicrous demand. No player should have their job endangered for expressing political and religious beliefs, no matter how antediluvian.

Many on the right-wing of the spectrum have been quick to fight his corner and to cite his First Amendment rights. And they are correct. The irony here is the same people took the diametrically opposite view back when Colin Kaepernick was protesting police brutality, a position that cost him his livelihood in the NFL. The league whose owners once collaborated to freeze out the quarterback issued a statement saying Butker is fine because he was speaking in a “personal capacity”.

Other staunch defenders of his testimony of faith are the very talkshow bloviators who, not that long ago, told LeBron James and other athletes to “Shut up and dribble” when they spoke out about systemic racism in the US. It’s almost as if these characters want freedom of speech to only apply in certain cases and to those they agree with.

“You are entering into mission territory in a post-God world, but you were made for this,” said Butker. “And with God by your side a constant striving for virtue within your vocation, you too can be a saint.”

The gospel according to the 233rd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.