Lori Falce: Graduation speech ignites debate on gender roles

May 17—Harrison Butker, the Kansas City Chiefs player who kicked the longest field goal in Super Bowl history, has become a pariah for many after a graduation speech at Benedictine College.

A devout and very conservative Catholic, Butker gave a speech not about taking the lessons from the Atchison, Kan., school and the classes it taught out into the world. He gave a speech heavy on religion and politics — and admonitions to women about staying home to be wives and mothers.

"I want to speak directly to you briefly because I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you. How many of you are sitting here now, about to cross the stage, and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you're going to get in your career? 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 said.

He went on to say a woman's most important title is that of homemaker and that his wife's contributions at home allow him to use his vast talents on the football field. Gee. Great.

I'm going to pause here to make something clear. I am a Catholic and a woman, and I come from a long line of working women who contributed equally or more to their families both inside and outside the home. A $20 million NFL contract isn't on the table for every spouse, and, even if it was, social media can show you that a lot of women found Butker's speech offensive or laughable.

But I'm going to break away for the moment. Butker had every right to say what he did.

He was speaking to an audience that included many like-minded Catholics. Although the school has a narrow majority of women students, reports say he received a standing ovation for his remarks. Benedictine knew what they were getting; Butker gave a similar speech at Georgia Institute of Technology last year.

Whether I like what he said or not, the speech wasn't for me. I can take what I like from it and allow it to form my opinions about Butker.

Just like people have about quarterback Colin Kaepernick or soccer star Megan Rapinoe or Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva or basketball great LeBron James.

A sports figure is not required to close his mouth on controversial or political topics. It might cause a stir, but that's fine. Because people have the same right to respond that the players do to speak.

I would rather have someone I don't agree with speak out so I know their thoughts than stay silent.

Butker made it clear where he stands. If sales of his jersey suffer or he doesn't get an endorsement deal in the future, that's not "cancellation." It's disagreement. He spoke his mind and now may or may not face natural consequences.

You cannot decry one athlete's political speech without decrying it all. By the same token, you can't support Butker's open words while saying someone you disagree with must stick to sports. That's simply not fair play.

Lori Falce is the Tribune-Review community engagement editor and an opinion columnist. For more than 30 years, she has covered Pennsylvania politics, Penn State, crime and communities. She joined the Trib in 2018. She can be reached at