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NFL player Harrison Butker is correct about motherhood. He’s wrong about our choices.



NFL player Harrison Butker is correct about motherhood. He’s wrong about our choices.

Butker is correct that motherhood holds far more value and worth for many women, including myself.


Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker delivered a controversial commencement speech last Saturday, during Benedictine College’s graduation ceremony in Atchison, Kansas. It sparked swift and furious backlash in news and on social media.

Butker, 28, used his platform and opportunity to gloss over half a dozen hot topics, from the roles of men and women to the LGBTQ+ community to hurtful COVID-19 policies and abortion.

But what caught my attention was Butker’s comments about the role of women, work and motherhood. As a working mom myself, Butker’s comments highlighted an ongoing conflict moms have within themselves and society. It’s not quite as simple as Butker portrays, but it’s not as complicated as it seems.

Butker made a strong statement about women, work and motherhood

“For the ladies present today, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment,” Butker said. “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. … 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.”

Butker also said his wife Isabelle seems to value her “vocation as a wife and as a mother” most and doesn’t regret becoming either.

This seems to have made a lot of people mad. A petition at has been started, calling on the Kansas City Chiefs to dismiss its kicker due to his “dehumanizing” remarks.

Surprise! A lot of women value motherhood, but not all.

What Butker describes is an orthodox view of the roles of men and women, which holds that women are happiest and most satiated at home, raising children and being a wife.

For a lot of women, this is the case.

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These are also traditional Catholic views, and Butker spoke at Benedictine College, a Catholic private liberal arts school about 50 miles northwest from Kansas City, Missouri, where the Chiefs are headquartered.

For women who want to be homemakers and are married to kind, selfless and humble men who aren’t obsessed with submission as a means of control, this lifestyle could be healthy for dedicated partners. It is certainly good for society for women to have babies, given the declining birth rate.

It’s disheartening to see such a harsh reaction to traditional Catholic views. The extreme petition to “cancel” Butker or have him fired shows incredible ignorance and a lack of tolerance. It’s fine to think that Butker is sexist, wrong or bigoted. But he has the right to hold orthodox views and should not lose his career over it.

It’s exhausting to see a mantra of “diversity, equity and inclusion” in corporations, schools, colleges and organizations around the United States but see that it means only certain views are tolerated, only certain belief systems can be spoken of publicly.

Butker’s views may not seem wise, progressive or healthy to women who want to have robust careers, who’ve suffered abuse in relationships or who simply don’t understand more orthodox views. That’s OK: They don’t have to align with him or choose that path.

He’s passionate about this, so he mentioned it in a speech. For women at a Catholic school’s commencement wondering, in a world where women are breaking glass ceilings, if they can “just” stay at home and be a homemaker like they desire, perhaps they felt a sigh of relief or “permission” to follow their own calling in life. Butker did receive a round of applause after this portion of his speech.

Women might not have to choose as much as Butker thinks

Still, Butker’s remark that all women will wish they chose motherhood over choosing a career is both a false binary and a bit more complicated. Not all women will want to become moms over becoming attorneys, and not all attorneys will be happier as stay-at-home moms or homemakers.

Butker can believe this based on his lived experience with his lovely wife, and that’s OK − many people make life assessments from personal anecdotes.

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What Butker did miss, perhaps for lack of time or nuance, is that women can be both great moms and have fantastic careers, though perhaps not simultaneously. In fact, a 2019 Gallup poll found that 56% of women preferred working to homemaking.

Women are also more likely to work part time than men. This could be because we’re juggling raising the kids with wanting to help contribute financially to the family. For many families, especially “in this economy,” as my teenage daughter is fond of saying, it feels absolutely necessary.

It’s worth mentioning that given Butker’s high-profile, lucrative career choice, his wife is likely not in a position to need to work, a privilege not all women have.

If I may interpret even further what Butker meant about “diabolical” lies being told to women, it’s that there’s only one way modern feminists think women can be happy, and that’s climbing the corporate ladder. This is not true. But it’s also untrue that women will only find motherhood rewarding (even if it’s the most rewarding, which I think was his point). We can also find joy in careers and especially in doing both. Even though doing both is hard and a struggle many men don’t have.

To women who want to be a mom and have kids, I say: Work toward doing both. Aim for a career that allows for the flexibility motherhood requires. This will eliminate some paths altogether but open up more, especially in today’s post-pandemic world, where so many industries have embraced remote work. This will present challenges, but so would not having kids, or not having a career.

For me, motherhood holds more value than a career

As a woman who has lived a more orthodox, homemaker lifestyle (I used to home-school my kids) but who has also worked full time and then some, I can say I value being a mom the most.

My work, my calling as a writer, is important. I’m grateful for it. But my role as a mother is infinitely more treasured and worthwhile. There are millions of writers in the world. But I am only mom to four humans. It is this narrow, unique scope through which G.K. Chesterton suggested a mother know the “hugeness of her task.”

But if women want to become moms, have a career or do both, they should do it with gusto. Moms should have a lot of kids if they want them. I’ve heard many moms of one or two children wish they had more, but I’ve never heard a mom wish she had less.

The reaction to Butker’s very Catholic speech to a Catholic college is not tolerance but a tyranny of ideology. Since when, in a post-modern world, can women not enjoy a career and motherhood? If anything, this is as backward as believing women should only have a thriving corporate career. This is anathema to feminism and the freedom American life offers.

People may choose to disagree with or even disdain Butker’s views. This is their right as Americans. But it wouldn’t hurt for people to realize millions of Americans hold orthodox views on women and family − and they’re not all setting women back. Butker isn’t entirely correct that all women should choose motherhood over work, but he is correct that motherhood holds far more value and worth for many women, including myself.

Nicole Russell is an opinion columnist with USA TODAY. She lives in Texas with her four kids.

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