Believe me, I did not want to comment on Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker’s controversial commencement address this month at Benedictine College, which made headlines for its criticism of “woke” culture, American Catholic bishops, abortion, gender theory, President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and women in the workplace.

I am not interested in engaging in online iterations of the “working mother” wars in the Catholic world, where much of the commentary has been centered. I find it all mostly just self-justification and sloganeering.

But here’s my comment: the speech is a mess. It’s also probably a lesson to colleges everywhere to vet your commencement speeches: I am sure that people at Benedictine could have shaped the Catholic athlete’s ramblings into something coherent that still maintained his central point.

That point — I think — is that Catholics should be courageous and prophetic, both in their daily lives and in the public square. But while I probably don’t disagree with much of what he said, I would describe the speech as a whole as “flailing.”

Sure, you can criticize American bishops for being weak and careerist, but is this where you want to do it? And in a way that sounds like a mashup of various gripes you’ve heard from your circle of friends? And if you’re going to do so without mentioning recent problems related to sexual and spiritual abuse, how courageous are you, actually?

I came away from the speech with two main thoughts.

First, while the most controversial elements of Butker’s talk concerned women and work outside the home, it is important to note that his words on this certainly came from a place of deep appreciation and love for his wife. That said, how much more helpful would his points on the relationship of life, family, and career have been if they considered the challenge of balancing these values for both men and women in today’s human-consuming world of ours?

One could take a page, for example, from a recent online essay in Christian commentary site Mockingbird titled “Overselling Vocation.” Writing about the false promises of the sexual revolution and the egalitarian movement, author Alex Sosler imagines a world “where men and women were called to mutual homemaking, where the career vs. family struggle disappeared altogether.”

How would homes be different, Sosler writes, “if we were building something together versus being exhausted away from home and apart? Instead, we’re part of an exploitative economy that doesn’t end with the products we buy or those who make them. The exploitation comes after us all, twisting our desires and priorities into mutual enmity.”

Kansas City Chiefs' Harrison Butker kicks a field goal in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas Feb. 11. (OSV News/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

Butker certainly might have interesting things to say about faith and vocation in today’s culture. But what if they came from a place of willingness to be honest about his own career and place in the world, and a deep understanding of Catholic spirituality?

In short: Dude, you make millions of dollars a year for kicking a ball for an employer that does not embody traditional Christian values on basically anything, from economic justice to sexuality.

Far more interesting than excoriating others who, in his view, fail to live up to the standards of Christian discipleship, would be an explanation of where he sees his role as a Christian in the context of the NFL industrial complex.

You are a part of — and therefore support — an institution that is deeply oriented toward profit and exploits human desires and yearnings for belonging, combat, entertainment, one that turns a blind eye to criminal behavior, and the physical harm this work causes its own employees.

How do you understand your role to be a prophetic disciple of Jesus there? How do you balance your huge income with Catholic teaching on justice and the dangers of wealth? How do you use your position to speak up for the truth in your own workplace?

This is not a screed against the NFL or professional sports. All of us who work do so for imperfect, compromised institutions. But how do we make that fit with our call to be conformed to Christ, no matter where we work? And what about when that daily work means being part of a corrupt, venal, anti-human institution?

In short — you’re doing a stupid job for The Man. What’s the Christian path in and through that life?

If he is thoughtful, I do think that the millionaire football player who professes faith in Jesus would have something useful to say to the young person in the audience who’s looking at a first job in front of a laptop doing data entry, or to the cashier who hates her job but catches a glimpse of this talk on YouTube.

It’s within Butker’s right to use his platform to spout off about others — bishops, priests, and politicians included. But it’s harder to hold up a mirror and speak honestly about the challenges of Christian discipleship from the fraught, conflicted, compromised place where we — not others — find ourselves.