After pushback, Benedictine students are still happy with Butker

3 mins read
Harrison Butker
Harrison Butker, kicker for the Super Bowl LVIII champion Kansas City Chiefs, delivers the May 11, 2024, commencement address at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. (OSV News photo/Todd Nugent, courtesy Benedictine College)

Before controversy erupted on social media, the Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker received a standing ovation for his commencement speech at Benedictine College.

But the praise and pomp did not last long, as secular media outlets and social media users quickly blasted Butker for his controversial statements about women’s places in the home, his criticism of Church leadership, and his criticism of President Joe Biden.

This criticism resulted in a widespread, public call for the Chiefs to release Butker, and the NFL publicly disowned Butker’s speech in a statement, saying, “Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity.” Jonathan Beane, NFL senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, said in a statement released Thursday, “His views differ from those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Well-received by students

As the world vented, Benedictine College students took to social media, showing their support for both the college and Butker.

Elizabeth Abramo, a recently graduated senior, posted a long response on her Instagram story, expressing her support and appreciation for Butker’s remarks. In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Abramo shared that Butker’s speech affirmed her call to marriage.

“As a graduating student who is about to get married, my desire to get married and become a mother has been diminished by my professors, neighbors, and even some family members, who say I should wait or ‘live my life before I’m tied down,'” Abramo said. “Harrison affirmed this desire that the Lord placed on my heart, when many others have not.”

She appreciated that Butker strayed from the cultural mainstay of addressing men and women alike, but recognized the uniqueness of masculinity and femininity.

“He commended our academic achievements, congratulating our success. However, he said we don’t need to feel stuck under the pressure to work the same lifelong careers as men. Our gifts are different; they are unique to our feminine genius, and the vocation of a wife and mother is so intentionally catered to those God-given gifts,” Abramo said.

Many of the students in attendance saw the address as a call to authentically live out the Catholic faith, a good reminder as they prepare to enter the workforce.

“I thought that his best point was the first one that he made: that it is not enough to simply say you’re Catholic; you have to both believe and act on those teachings,” said recent Benedictine graduate Thomas Doyle. “So often, people tell us that believing is enough or going to Mass is enough. Harrison’s speech was an excellent reminder that there is more to Catholicism than going to Mass or praying once a week.”

Recent graduate Genevieve Henry shared Doyle’s sentiments, saying she felt inspired and called to be a witness to the Catholic faith in her daily life.

“His speech was very inspiring,” Henry said. “He reminded us that the world is confused and what it preaches only leads to unfulfillment. He reminded us that we, the students, have been learning and growing in our femininity and masculinity, so when we leave, we can change the culture in our own unique, God-given way.”

Put off by liturgy remarks

One part of Butker’s speech left many students nonplussed. Toward the end of his address, Butker spoke at length about his love for the Tridentine rite, which he referred to as the “traditional Latin Mass,” or “TLM,” saying, “the TLM is so essential that I would challenge each of you to pick a place to move where it is readily available.” Many students, such as graduate John Welte, were put off by his remarks.

“The end, where he moved into the TLM section, I agreed less with,” Welte said. “Butker said earlier in his speech that we shouldn’t be doing theology, but in this section, it seemed like he was contradicting himself. As Catholics, like it or not, we are obedient to the Pope and Church teachings. So I don’t think we should be saying that one form of the Mass is better than the other objectively,” Welte said.

Doyle agreed with these sentiments, saying, “I was concerned when he was speaking on the TLM because it is my preference to not go to the TLM, but I don’t think he said anything heretical.”

The context of a Catholic college

Even with Butker’s unyielding support for the Tridentine rite, Doyle and many other students appreciated his remarks and believe that the public outcry is unwarranted as he is a citizen sharing his opinion at a private event.

“As a whole, I thought that he did a very good job, and if nothing else, he spoke his opinion, which he is allotted to do under the first amendment,” Doyle said. “I applaud him for not backing away from speaking his opinion on numerous highly political topics.”

Students felt like the criticism was uncalled for as the speech took place at a Catholic college. They even hope Butker returns to address the student body again.

“This speech was at a Catholic college,” Henry said. “Most of the college agrees with him, and we all, at one point, have complained about the same things. I am praying that this blows over, and I pray he will come back again to give another speech.” 

Jack Figge

Jack Figge has written for multiple diocesan papers, including covering World Youth Day 2023 for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. In addition to his local coverage, he has written for the National Catholic Register, FOCUS and Catholic Vote.