Supporting inclusion means embracing Harrison Butker, Catholic nonprofit tells NFL

Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker talks to the media before an NFL football workout Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo.

The backlash to Harrison Butker’s commencement speech is still ongoing more than 10 days after he spoke at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

But so are efforts to support the Kansas City Chiefs kicker, who used the speech to promote theologically and politically conservative views.

On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell briefly addressed the Butker situation during a press conference.

“We have over 3,000 players. We have executives around the league. They have diversity of opinions and thoughts just like America does. That’s something we treasure,” he said, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Last Thursday, the Catholic nonprofit CatholicVote called on Goodell and Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt to do more to support Butker.

In an open letter to the two men, the organization criticized the statement that Goodell referenced, which came from Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer. The statement said the kicker’s views “are not those of the NFL” and highlighted the league’s commitment to inclusion.

The letter reads, in part, “A recent statement by the league distancing itself from Butker for his remarks calls into question your commitment to genuine diversity and inclusion. ... Does this inclusion include Catholics, pro-life Americans, mothers and those who hold to traditional moral beliefs?”

The letter concludes with a reference to Michael Jordan, saying, “Catholics watch NFL games, too.”

Since video clips of Butker’s speech began going viral last week, sales of his jersey have skyrocketed and his social media following has also surged.

“Butker now has 411,000 followers on Instagram ... after gaining 85,000 from May 13-20. Before the speech circulated online, he sat at 326,000, meaning his total rose by over one quarter (26%) in a week,” CasinoAlpha reported in a press release.

Rally House, a sporting goods store in Kansas City, sold out of Butker merchandise last week, as the kicker’s jersey became one of the most in-demand items on, per KCTV, a Kansas City station.

“He has sold more than Kelce and Mahomes today — just the demand after the speech, it’s been men and women — it’s been both calling to get his jersey,” said Rally House store manager Aaron Lewis to KCTV.

Butker also enjoyed some praise from national lawmakers and high-profile Catholics as people across the country debated what he said.

  • The Rev. James Johnston, bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said in a statement, “Harrison Butker’s passion for his Catholic faith and his family are beautiful and well known. ... I support Mr. Butker’s right to share his faith and express his opinions — including those that are critical of bishops.”

  • Lou Holtz, a Hall of Fame football coach best known for his work at the University of Notre Dame, praised Butker on X. “Thank you ... for standing strong in your faith values. Your commencement speech at Benedictine College showed courage and conviction and I admire that. Don’t give in,” he wrote.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican who represents Missouri, posted to X that he’s “proud to call Harrison Butker (a) friend.”

Other prominent figures criticized the speech, including the sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, which is one of Benedictine College’s founding institutions.

“The sisters of Mount St. Scholastica do not believe that Harrison Butker’s comments in his 2024 Benedictine College commencement address represent the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college that our founders envisioned and in which we have been so invested,” the nuns said in their statement, which they shared on Facebook and on their website.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 220,000 people have signed a petition calling on Chiefs leaders to dismiss Butker from the team.