Harrison Butker’s Hometown Gives Him a Major Tongue Lashing

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

Outrage over Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker’s commencement speech—in which he urged women to prioritize their families over their careers and railed against the LGBTQ community—has reverberated across the country and right back to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

Among those incensed by the speech are teachers, peers, and others in the community who spoke with The Daily Beast about their reactions to Butker’s controversial remarks.

“I was sick. I was disgusted,” said Amy Allen, an Atlanta real estate agent whose daughter overlapped with Butker at Westminster Schools, the elite private academy the star athlete attended. “It just felt so dystopian and just so backward… If someone were to sit there and say that to my daughter, I would just lose it,” she told The Daily Beast.

Butker, 28, addressed graduates of a small Catholic university in Kansas called Benedictine College on Saturday. The star kicker is a devout Catholic who has openly shared his religious views in the past, and he didn’t hold back in his speech, railing against abortion, IVF, surrogacy, Pride month, and “degenerate cultural values.”

In a particularly controversial remark, Butker told female graduates that their “most important title” should be that of “homemaker,” adding, “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… I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say her life truly started when she started living her vocation as a wife and as a mother."

Kansas City Chiefs Kicker Offends Just About Everyone in Conservative Religious Tirade

The remarks drew swift rebukes from audience members, rival teams, and even the NFL, which said in a statement that Butker’s views “are not those of the NFL as an organization” and that the league is “steadfast in our commitment to inclusion.”

But the comments were particularly troubling for those who knew him—or knew of him—during his time as a rising star at Westminster and at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he attended college.

Representatives for Westminster, Georgia Tech, and the Chiefs did not respond to requests for comment.

Allen, who said she knew Butker had “incredible talent and a bright future” in football when she watched him play as a high school student, described the speech as “mind-boggling.”

“What he believes are ‘traditional family values’ are actually an antiquated and oppressive system where men who look like him get to enjoy a special and inherent privilege and power and everyone else has a boot on their neck,” she said.

A former Westminster teacher during Butker’s time, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said the older generation of teachers and parents at the school may have received the kicker’s comments well.

“I think if you ask people from maybe a certain generation, they might say, ‘Oh, well, of course, that was a perfectly acceptable, normal, right up the center, graduation speech to give,’” he said. “But also I can imagine kids who are juniors who are part of this new generation that would be appalled by that,” he added. “I mean, he actually did a pretty broad swipe at pretty much every demographic you could find—it was like a lawn sprinkler!”

Rhonda Schwartz, another parent of an alum who overlapped with Butker at Westminster, told The Daily Beast she wasn’t surprised by the immense backlash to Butker’s comments. “The comment is being made at a commencement where women have really worked hard for their degrees and to use them. So I can understand that women may feel that that achievement is being minimized.”

Schwartz, a veteran journalist who spent decades working in a newsroom, said the issue felt personal because of her own experiences balancing professional obligations and family.

“Leaving my reporting career at CNN was the hardest decision I ever made in my life,” she said. “But there's no one size fits all … I believe that women should be free to choose which path they want to take. And sometimes women may be working full time, sometimes they take some time off, sometimes they come back. But I think it has to be personal.”

‘A Slap in the Face’

Westminster isn’t the only alma mater community outraged by Butker’s speech.

“I was a big fan of his when I was at Georgia Tech—we all were, because he’s got great talent,” said Carol Colatrella, a professor of literature and cultural studies at the university. “So I guess that’s what makes it really troubling to me.”

Colatrella said the school, which is well known for its engineering and computer science departments, is making a concerted effort to recruit more women and create a more welcoming environment for them on campus.

“This goes against that image of a place that is open and critically thinking, not just spouting some party line,” she added, calling Butker’s statements “a slap in the face” to women graduates. “I think if you interviewed people at Georgia Tech... most people wouldn’t agree with [his comments] either.”

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Christopher Yandle, the former assistant director for communications at Georgia Tech, wrote on Facebook that he worked with Butker as a student athlete and that this behavior was “not what I saw 10 years ago.”

“To say I’m disappointed in Harrison Butker’s comments is an understatement,” Yandle wrote. “But I think Harrison isn’t going to like how we raise our teenage daughter… She will never apologize for being a strong fucking woman because that’s who we raised her to be,” he added.

Several Georgia Tech and Westminster community members noted that Butker’s mother, Elizabeth, is an accomplished medical physicist at Emory University, with a master’s degree from Georgia Tech and a bachelor’s from Smith, the prestigious women’s college. The former Westminster teacher called Butker’s remarks “a complete polarization from his own mom… who maybe didn't cross the graduation stage thinking about having babies.”

Elizabeth Butker has not commented on her son’s recent remarks, but said in a statement in 2020 that she was proud of “the man he has become.”

There are a string of other accomplished women in Butker’s life, from his younger sister—a physician’s assistant who studied at Weill Cornell Graduate School—to his aunt, a senior vice president at McGriff, Seibels & Williams insurance company. Reached by phone, his aunt, Alice Butker, said she had not been able to watch her nephew’s speech because she was too busy at work.

Many of Butker’s fellow Georgia Tech graduates from the class of 2017 have also gone on to achieve career success—including the more than 50 women who also graduated with degrees in industrial engineering.

Maria Auslander, a senior consultant at the business consulting firm Slalom, not only graduated at the same time and with the same degree as Butker, but was also raised Catholic. She told The Daily Beast she was “proud of the career I’ve built for myself,” and that women “should have the right to choose how they spend the time in their lives, without judgment.”

“I’m proud of the women in my life who chose to have careers and I’m proud of the women in my life who have decided to be mothers—both endeavors are worthwhile,” she said in an email.

“In response to Butker quoting Taylor Swift, I’ll quote what I’m assuming is his favorite book—‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ (Matthew 7:1).”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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