Granderson: A football player said something stupid about women. Let it go

ARCHIVO - Foto del lunes 5 de febrero del 2024, el pateador de los Chiefs de Kansas City Harrison Butker habla en conferencia de prensa en la noche inaugural antes del Super Bowl 58. (AP Foto/Charlie Riedel, Archivo)
Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs is having an undeserved 15 minutes of near-fame. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Between 1800 and 1900, women made up only around 10% of the world’s authors. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who was born in 1868, adopted the pseudonym Stephen G. Tallentyre to improve her chances of being published, and in 1906 she wrote one of history’s most important defenses of free speech: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

To this day, it is often misattributed to Voltaire.

The publishing world did not see a steep increase in female authors until the 1970s — but today, women write more books than men and read more than men. Women also now make up nearly 60% of master’s degree recipients in the U.S. and nearly 70% of high school valedictorians.

To some of us, this represents progress.

However, for men like Harrison Butker, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker whose controversial commencement speech at a small Catholic liberal arts school has sparked a debate about freedom of speech, women’s gains look like a threat.

Read more: Granderson: The NCAA's dilemma about trans athletes shouldn't be that hard of a call

“As men, we set the tone of the culture, and when that is absent, disorder, dysfunction and chaos set in,” he told male graduates last week at Benedictine College in Kansas. Addressing the rest of the audience, he said: “It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you. … Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, 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.”

He also threw in a bizarre jab at LGBTQ+ people, discussing pride but “not the deadly sin sort of pride that has an entire month dedicated to it.”

Read more: Granderson: Sports gambling is coming, and it'll be even worse than you think

In response, the National Football League said Butker’s “views are not those of the NFL,” adding: “The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

To paraphrase Hall, I don’t approve of Butker’s remarks, but I’ll defend his right to say them.

That’s what free speech means.

The outrage over what he said is also free speech.

Butker doesn’t need to lose his job. No one needs to be canceled. In this case and many other situations in which a minor celebrity says something stupid, the best thing would be for us all to just move on.

The attention given to his remarks far exceeds their importance. He’s not an elected official able to set policy. He’s a seventh-round draft pick who contributed to three Super Bowl wins.

Prior to his commencement speech, most Americans probably had no idea who he was or what he looked like. It’s not like he has a State Farm commercial or is Taylor Swift’s love interest. He’s a man of note who decided to use his time in front of new college graduates to parrot antiquated ideas about gender roles that were disproved a century ago.

During World War II, women flooded the workplace and helped to hold this country together, as they had done in a thousand ways before and as they have continued to do since. Few would suggest we are worse off because of women’s contributions outside the home.

Regardless, Butker seems to have married a woman who agrees with his views. Good for him. I married a man who agrees with mine.

There are people who support what Butker said, including famed football coach Lou Holtz, who said on social media that the commencement address “showed courage and conviction.”

This week sales of Butker jerseys spiked, and he currently has the second-most popular one on his team. Folks who loved his comments can wear those shirts. That’s all freedom of expression protected by the 1st Amendment. As is displaying the Pride flag or asking why conservatives are so offended by men in drag when our Founding Fathers wore makeup, heels and wigs.

I suspect that in a few years Butker will look back on his comments with a measure of regret. I certainly believed and said a lot of things when I was 28 that I no longer believe or say. When that revelation comes for Butker, my hope is that he will remember this moment, shake his head and use his free speech rights to admit that what he said was stupid. That would show courage and conviction.


If it’s in the news right now, the L.A. Times’ Opinion section covers it. Sign up for our weekly opinion newsletter.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.