my thoughts on KS Chief's Harrison Butker's commencement address (& celebrities in general expressing their views)


Published in the Fargo Forum in May, 2024

Butker does not play for the Minnesota Vikings or even the Pittsburg Steelers, so my NFL interest in him is small.  He is also not Jewish, and his politics are a wee bit more right-learning then my own, so my interest in his creed or worldview is small.   However, what he said and the platform, in which he was given to say it, highlights a problem with how the First Amendment applies to professional celebrities and athletes alike.

I do not want Butker to be punished for expressing his views, even though I'm afraid I have to disagree with what he said.  I certainly do not intend to treat Butker as having expertise in theology, sociology, psychology, or political science.  The big problem is not so much what he said, but that hypocrisy tends to flow more freely than actual freedom when it comes to the First Amendment.

                When you are a professional celebrity or athlete, your beliefs and opinions on anything and everything are given a big platform.   In the era of social media, this can apply to anyone with a YouTube or Ticktock account. 

If you are not professionally famous, your First Amendment rights do not normally come with a commencement address, mass media interviews, or corporate sponsors.   A certain degree of hypocrisy exists in who gets handed a First Amendment megaphone to express himself or herself and who will probably be given a cheap pencil.  

The hypocrisy is even more visible when you look at how different professional celebrities and athletes are sanctioned differently for expressing their First Amendment rights, based on their race, creed, sex, sexual orientation, and even political party membership.  

When, mostly, minority professional athletes took a knee – instead of standing for the pledge of allegiance -- to raise awareness of racial and economic disparities, they did face sanctions.  Yet, Butker can freely express conservative, Republican views and still bask in the glory of the First Amendment. 

Butker is free to condemn homosexuality, but you will note that there are no openly gay or bisexual NFL players on the field.   Heck, it was widely felt that Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, was cut from the team because he had publicly opposed the Minnesota ballot measure that would have banned gay marriage.  Even being a straight ally for marriage equality seems to have less First Amendment weight in football than Butker’s juvenile understanding of the Bible.

Butker is free to endorse a laughably bad, 1950s TV sitcom-type role for women, but professional female athletes do not seem to have the same rights, when you consider the fact that women’s professional sports are not treated equally when compared to men’s professional sports.

If you agree with what Butker said, then you probably bask him in all-American, First Amendment glory and are not likely to question why we give this megaphone to professional celebrities and athletes, or why, even among these well-paid famous professionals, some people with the megaphone can freely express their views without sanctions, while others are cut from the team, lose lucrative endorsements and otherwise encouraged to remain in the closet.

We should be able to be consistent adults when it comes to the First Amendment and how we sanction views that we dislike or disagree with.