Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker (7) talks to the media during Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Can someone tell Harrison Butker it’s 2024, not 1924? His recent comments about women suggest he needs a reminder of the timeframe we’re living in. So, too, do the NFL and the Chiefs if they care about their female fans. 

Earlier this week, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker went viral for all the wrong reasons with his misogynistic comments toward the end of his commencement address at Benedictine College. 

For the ladies present today, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. You should be proud of all that you have achieved to this point in your young lives,”  Butker began innocuously enough.  “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 this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are 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.”

Yikes. It’s hard to believe Butker, whose speech also harped on abortion and LGBT rights, is on the same team as Patrick Mahomes who is a strong advocate for women’s sports as a part-owner of the NWSL’s KC Current alongside his wife, Brittney, who is both a mother and an entrepreneur. However, it’s easy to believe that the NFL will likely let Butker off the hook after releasing its latest slap on the wrist statement in response:

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” wrote Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, after Butker’s comments. “His 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.”

Really? Although the NFL has shown improvement in its racial/gender hiring practices over the past few years, it’s still got plenty of negative history to overcome in that department. 

Additionally, football has always been used as an exemplar of masculinity, dating back to the advocacy of Teddy Roosevelt seeking to save the sport when many died playing in the early 1900s.

“The bruising nature of football instills manly virtues and builds strong bodies, when with each passing day America risks becoming less rugged and virile,” Roosevelt wrote in a letter to then-Harvard president, Charles Elliot, who wanted to put an end to the sport in 1905 because of safety risks. “Surely we can minimize the danger without having to play the game on too ladylike a basis.”

In other words, football has always been viewed as inherently masculine, a protection against the cultural “feminization” of men, and even an instrument to prepare men for war. Butker’s commencement speech had a similar message to the men in attendance.

“As men, we set the tone of the culture, and when that is absent, disorder, dysfunction, and chaos set in,” Butker said after addressing the women graduates. “Be unapologetic in your masculinity, fighting against the cultural emasculation of men. Do hard things. Never settle for what is easy.” 

These comments come against the backdrop of the NFL, and the Chiefs, attracting more female fans than ever. The NFL risks turning off not only its newest female fans that tuned in amid the Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce storyline last season, but its entire female fanbase that’s been here all along. Judging by Eras Tour and Chiefs merchandise sales coupled with the endurance of longtime female football fans amid the NFL’s past fumbles on women’s issues, Swiftie loyalty and the female dollar are both far stronger than the NFL’s backbone and Butker’s obviously threatened sense of masculinity.

This context makes it even more of a punch in the gut for female NFL fans – the NFL and the Chiefs organization truly owes them. Not only are roughly half of football fans in America women, but last year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched ever and set record merchandise sales, thanks in large part to a surge in female viewership. In 2024, data showed that 64% of Gen-Z and millennial women held a favorable view of the NFL – also the most on record.

According to Nielson, the Chiefs were a part of 16 of the top 100 broadcasted televised events last year, and the team saw historic increases in merch sales thanks in large part to the same women and girls the Chiefs and their league are currently betraying with their near-silence on misogyny expressed in broad daylight. 

With its current (in)action, both parties are risking reversing any gains made last season. Failure to condemn misogyny is the same as condoning it, and women in sports deal with enough of that as it is. Whether it’s Caitlin Clark getting harassed by IndyStar reporter Gregg Doyel in her first-ever WNBA press conference, or female sports fans who are significantly more likely to be harassed at sporting events than their male counterparts, it’s oftentimes difficult (or even unsafe) to participate in sports in any capacity as a woman. Men like Harrison Butker make it even harder.

The fact that Butker’s jersey is currently the best selling in the NFL suggests his sexist attitudes are just a sample of those held by other like minded individuals. It’s also a reflection of values within the wider football culture. 

The current obligatory statement from the NFL coupled with radio silence from the Chiefs are a massive kick in the face to the women who make up a sizable proportion of its fanbase. These fans deserve better.

About Katie Lever

Dr. Katie Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current freelance sports writer whose work has appeared in Global Sport Matters, Sportico, Extra Points, Forbes, and other outlets. She is also the award-winning author of Surviving the Second Tier, a dystopian novel about the dark side of the college sports industry, available on Amazon. Follow Katie on Twitter and Instagram: @leverfever.