The Chiefs' silence over Butker's speech is the loudest noise of all

Days have gone by without a statement in a world where silence (rightly or wrongly) equals complicity. Is this who the Chiefs are? Is this what they stand for? Do they agree with Butker?

Less than a year ago, I knew next to nothing about the Kansas City Chiefs. Blame it on the fact I live half a world away in Sydney, Australia and the NFL didn’t translate globally on the scale it does now (we’ll get to that). 

Sure, my family would tune into the Superbowl but given its timing for us at midday on a Monday, I was either at school/university/work. I couldn’t have even named the Chiefs as a team in the NFL and I certainly couldn’t have told you anything about their culture or plays. I knew who Patrick Mahomes was. I’d heard briefly of Travis (and Jason) Kelce, the brothers who faced off against each other in the 2023 Super Bowl and I had seen a photo of their mum in that adorable split jersey. 

Fast forward to now and I can tell you who most of the team are, what their home stadium is called, who their coach is and even some of the plays they use. I’ve watched games (even if the rules are still frustratingly strange to me and I really have issues with all that stopping) and care about how they’re going, as well as how they’re perceived. What was the gateway drug for this interest in a sport where Australia has absolutely no stake, I hear you ask? 

Well, see on September 24th last year, a certain world-renowned musician and songwriter whose music has always been there for me, showed up at a game looking happier than I have almost ever seen her.

And I’m someone who’s been following Taylor Swift’s career since she was wearing fringe dresses and cowboy boots, playing on sparkly sequinned guitars not just for a nostalgic moment, but indeed a whole tour. She was 18 then (I was 8) and will be 35 in December, while I celebrate 25 trips around the sun. Basically, we’ve seen each other through an awful lot of life, at least from a distance. I have a lot to compare it to. 

Like an overwhelming chunk of people on Planet Earth, I’ve watched Taylor and Travis’s love story (there really is no other way to say it, pun be damned) unfold with glee. Here are two emotionally secure people treating each other as equals, showing up and putting in the work. They support each other. They seem to make each other laugh. And from the very first moment, watching them drive away in his convertible, I sensed a click that I’m not entirely sure has ever been there for either of them before. It still makes my heart swell to think that the hopeless romantic who’s always sung about fate finds herself here because of something as whimsical and soft as a friendship bracelet.

I’ve long known the power and sometimes single minded support of Taylor’s fandom of which I consider myself a member and count many others as friends, but even I was gobsmacked by what happened next. Travis Kelce’s jersey sales increased by almost 400% after that first game alone. 

Countless videos and stories went viral on social media of fathers bonding with their daughters over watching games and of the NFL seeing a phenomenal rise in young women’s investment in the game so much so that Apex Marketing Group reported the financial impact of Taylor Swift to be upwards of $330 million (and that’s USD), across both the Chiefs as an organisation and the NFL more broadly. 

They’ve praised and supported her even while the worst of masculinity has screamed she’s ruining football. Hell, the timetable for the Chiefs 2024/25 season has been built around the NFL’s wish to maximise her attendance at games. As we’ve forever been trying to tell you, women have power. And influence. Immense loyalty and unabashed passion. Supporting women and appealing to them is one of the best business decisions you can make. No one has better understood and been happy to lean into that than the Chiefs.

That’s why when their kicker Harrison Butker gave a commencement (graduation) speech at Benedictine Catholic College a few days ago, that was absolutely teeming in misogyny and bigotry, I was horrified. If you missed what Butker said, let me give you a quick recap. He identified President Biden as Satan, dismissed and ridiculed the pandemic, plus referred to LGBTQIA+ community pride as the most devilish of sins.

This man then had the audacity to quote Taylor Swift song lyrics along the way. For the record, wildly out of context and in fact ironic given the particular song he chose, while referring to her as simply “my teammates girlfriend”. And all this was seconds before he  belittled female graduates by expressing his belief that they shouldn’t be thinking about promotions and their careers but instead that he knew they were “most excited about stepping into their true vocations as wives and mothers.”

He used his own wife’s alleged insistence that “her life only truly began as a wife” as proof. He was given a standing ovation. As much as that makes me feel sick, I can’t say it’s altogether surprising that so many people seem OK with Butker’s beliefs. After all, this is a year where Donald Trump is running for re-election. 

From what I’ve observed of the Chiefs, this goes against their values. It seems to go against the values of Travis Kelce, who alongside his brother is regularly and rightfully praised for his openness and emotional intelligence as well as support of and respect for women. I doubt he appreciates the objectification of Taylor or that she has even been brought into this mess by Butker. Patrick Mahomes gave a speech only a few short weeks ago celebrating the “dawning of a new era where women’s sport is finally given the credit it has always deserved,” so I can’t imagine he’s pleased either.

While hearing either of these men denounce Butker would be extremely satisfying, I understand that team dynamics might have their hands tied. They also it seems, wouldn’t be able to trust that their own people had their back over Butker’s. 

What I can’t understand is the incredibly loud silence from the Chiefs as an organisation. Days have gone by without a statement in a world where silence (rightly or wrongly) equals complicity. Is this who the Chiefs are? Is this what they stand for? Do they agree with Butker? It sounds like it, because I can’t hear anything else. Was all of their support for women just a show to cash in on the worldwide name Taylor Swift suddenly gave them? Are they aware that their newfound global profile, which sees stadiums on the other side of the world filled with their jerseys, is almost entirely because of a woman and her work ethic? They can’t be. Ignorance is the only reason I can possibly come up with that would explain their willingness to throw that away. They must not have realised what they had in the first place. 

If I was a woman who worked for the Chiefs, I wouldn’t feel safe or supported at work. Nor if I was the partner of a player or of the staff. And the fans, well that silence has been filled by a roar of female rage. It’s a sorry soul who wades into the Chiefs comment section in an attempt to monitor or defend. Personally, if I was on their social media or publicity teams, I’d be rocking backwards and forwards in a corner right now.

Image: Comments on the Chiefs' Instagram page.

But there is a way out. Denounce Butker. Prove to the world of impressionable young women watching that you believe they can be more than wives and mothers. Stand against the diminishing of one of your own as she is once again pulled into the fray and reduced without her consent. Or don’t. It’s up to you.

Alright, now Chiefs, you might look at all us women out there and think, who’s afraid of little old me? 

You should be.