Harrison Butker responds to commencement speech controversy

Harrison Butker is opening up publicly for the first time about the controversial commencement speech he gave at Benedictine College, a small Catholic liberal college in Kansas.

During his speech, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker, who is Catholic himself, spoke out against birth control and IVF while also encouraging young women in the audience to be homemakers, among other topics.

Following the online backlash for his remarks, which left some graduates at the school outraged, Butker responded to the controversy on Friday evening at a Courage Under Fire gala in Nashville, Tennessee.

“The theme for tonight’s gala, ‘Courage Under Fire,’ was decided many months ago, but it now seems providential that this would be the theme after what we have all witnessed these past two weeks," he said. "If it wasn’t clear that the timeless Catholic values are hated by many, it is now. Over the past few days, my beliefs or what people think I believe have been the focus of countless discussions around the globe."

Butker noted that his "beliefs" were received with a "shocking level of hate" and it was very different from the criticism he receives on the field.

“The more I’ve talked about what I value most, which is my Catholic faith, the more polarizing I have become. It’s a decision I’ve consciously made, and one I do not regret at all," he said.

In his controversial speech, Butker asserted that his wife’s life “really started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

Aside from online outrage, his comments also drew criticism from a group of nuns associated with Benedictine College, who celebrated the college’s “educated” women in a statement.

The speech also prompted the NFL, which has recently welcomed throngs of new young women fans thanks to Taylor Swift, to issue a statement asserting that Butker’s views “are not those of the NFL as an organization.”

Harrison Butker (Benedictine College / YouTube)
Harrison Butker (Benedictine College / YouTube)

Though many have spoken out against his speech, some have come forward to support Butker for expressing his opinions, including Tavia Hunt, wife of the Chief's Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, who wrote on Instagram that "affirming motherhood" and "praising your wife" were not "bigoted" views.

Here's everything to know about Harrison Butker and his controversial speech.

Who is Harrison Butker?

Harrison Butker is a kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 28-year-old athlete was drafted in 2017 by the Carolina Panthers but was signed by the Chiefs in September of the same year.

As a player for the Chiefs, Butker has won three Super Bowls and was singled out for scoring a 27-yard field goal that helped the team clinch a victory in the 2023 Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Butker, who opened up about his Catholic faith to the EWTN Global Catholic Network, married his high school sweetheart, Isabelle Butker, in 2018. The couple are parents.

What is Benedictine College?

Benedictine College is a small Catholic college in Atchison, Kansas.

What did Harrison Butker say in his speech, exactly?

The NFL star has come under fire since giving a May 11 commencement speech at the school during which he shared his views on a range of topics including gender roles, birth control and sexuality.

Butker called being a homemaker one of the “most important” roles for a woman and stated that his own wife's life “really started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how much happier someone can be when they disregard the outside noise and move closer and closer to God’s will for life," he told the crowd. "Isabelle’s dream of having a career might not have come true, but if you ask her today if she has any regrets on her decision, she would laugh out loud without hesitation and say no.”

He urged men in the audience to “be unapologetic in your masculinity” and “to fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

Butker criticized birth control and IVF as examples of "disorder" and likened Pride Month, a month-long annual celebration honoring the LGBTQ community, to a “deadly sin sort of pride,” rather than “true God-centered pride.”

He also denounced priests who "prioritize hobbies or even photos with their dogs and matching outfits for the parish directory" over leadership.

What has the public response been?

The NFL player’s speech inspired prolonged applause and a standing ovation before the crowd May 11. But the online response has been fiery.

Not everyone present on graduation day was thrilled, either, with one young student telling NBC News her "jaw dropped" when she heard the athlete's comments.

Mary Aaker, a 2019 Benedictine graduate, said Butker’s remarks were “disheartening.”

“All of that was boiled down to, ‘I bet you’re most excited to go out and start a family,’” she said on on TODAY.

The backlash also heated up the internet, prompting some women to troll the Chiefs' social media pages.

When the team posted a reminder about the release of its upcoming schedule on Instagram over the weekend, some women responded by mocking Butker's remarks.

"I wish I could watch but my husband says I have to stay in the kitchen," wrote one.

"I’m sorry could someone read this to me. I’m a woman and I only learned birthing and cooking," wrote another.

The sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, a group of nuns associated with Benedictine College, shared a statement about Butker's speech, saying it "fostered division."

"One of our concerns was the assertion that being a homemaker is the highest calling for a woman,” the statement reads.

The sisters described how they have spent more than 160 years devoting their lives to God while educating women.

“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,” their statement read.

Later in the statement, the nuns said they “reject a narrow definition of what it means to be Catholic” and want to be known as “an inclusive, welcoming community.”

The NFL also distanced itself from the views expressed in Butker's speech. Jonathan Beane, the league's senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, told in a statement that the athlete's 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," the statement added.

Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder criticized Butker's speech at a concert in Las Vegas, saying he couldn't follow the "logic" of his words.

“There should be pride in homemaking if you’re a man or a woman … it’s one of the hardest jobs and you should definitely take pride in it, but you’re going to benefit by giving up your dreams?

He concluded, “There’s nothing more masculine than a strong man supporting a strong woman.”

TODAY’s Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager weighed in, too.

“Well, I’m where I am today because I have a husband who leans into his vocation, which is being an equal partner. And I tell him that all the time,” said Jenna.

“Don’t speak for us,” Hoda said. “Stop speaking for women out there.”

Others, however, have publicly applauded Butker's speech. Tavia Hunt, wife of the Chief’s Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, wrote on Instagram that “affirming motherhood” and “praising your wife” were not “bigoted” views.

Former "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Patricia Heaton also shared her support for Butker. "I don’t know why everybody’s knickers are in a twist,” Heaton said May 18 Instagram video. “He gave a commencement speech. The audience applauded twice and gave him a standing ovation at the end, so clearly they enjoyed what he was saying. The guy is espousing his own opinions and Catholic doctrine, so what?”

“It’s his opinion,” she added. “He can have one. He’s allowed. He’s not a monster for stating what he believes.”

Others online pointed out that Butker’s mother is a medical physicist, per her  LinkedIn, complicated his sentiments about the “diabolical lies” women have been told about working.

“What does your mom think about your little speech Harrison?” posted Vicki Chan, a medical doctor and TikTok influencer.

Has Harrison Butker responded to the speech?

Butker has not responded to the controversy his May 11 speech ignited. However, he seemed to get ahead of it in the speech itself.

Addressing the political nature of his speech, Butker said near the end, “I know that my message today had a little less fluff than is expected for these speeches, but I believe that this audience and this venue is the best place to speak openly and honestly about who we are and where we all want to go, which is Heaven.”

He said he knows he has “gained quite the reputation for speaking (his) mind,” but feels he has “no other choice but to embrace it.”

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