Harrison Butker Is a Jerk, a Bigot, and a True Representative of the NFL

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

Harrison Butker at commencement
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 the quarterback violated the most important rule of sports: making the games political. They said kneeling during the anthem 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 placekicker 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 it 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,” which supposedly “all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder.”

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

Butker was also antisemitic. He threw down with a “Jews killed Jesus” line, saying, “Congress just passed a bill where stating something as basic as the Biblical teaching of who killed Jesus could land you in jail.” Subtle as a blowtorch. But you won’t hear the right say a word about it while they’ll go full-House Un-American Activities Committee on college presidents over fabricated charges of the same. 

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Yet the part of this 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 his reciting the lyrics one of the earth’s most successful women 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 as well. 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.

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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.

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