Kansas City Chiefs’ celebratory trip to the White House comes with undercurrent of tension

The visit by the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday carries an underlying level of tension not often felt at championship celebrations at the White House.

It’s been only a few weeks since Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker criticized President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, and other unnamed Catholic leaders for “pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America” — an apparent reference to transgender rights. His commencement address at Benedictine College also contained numerous other controversial statements, such as swipes at LGBTQ people, calling Pride Month a “deadly sin,” bemoaning diversity and equity initiatives and suggesting women find more fulfillment from getting married and having children than from their careers.

“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,” said Butker, who is also Catholic, during the speech.

“How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? 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 praised his wife, Isabelle, saying she “would be the first to say her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

His criticism of Biden and the swirling controversy around Butker after the speech went viral led to speculation that the kicker — who wore a tie with an anti-abortion phrase on it to the White House last year when the Chiefs last visited to celebrate a Super Bowl win — would skip the visit this year.

At this point, he is expected to attend. When asked if Butker will come to the White House with the rest of the team, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told reporters last week, “Oh, I’m sure he will, yeah.”

It could set up an awkward moment if the president and the kicker interact. Asked during a press briefing earlier this month if the White House expected Butker to attend festivities at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to weigh in on the situation.

“Honestly, what I can say is we invite the entire team and we do that always – I don’t have anything beyond that,” she told reporters. “We invite the team, it’s an invitation that goes to the team, and so it’s up to the team who comes and who doesn’t.”

Since his speech, some of Butker’s high-profile teammates have distanced themselves from his opinions even as they say they embrace the three-time Super Bowl champion as a person. Star tight end Travis Kelce said last week that he doesn’t agree with any of what Butker said but he still feels that the kicker “is every bit of a great person and a great teammate.” Quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters that Butker was a “good person,” despite “not necessarily agreeing” with his comments.

The NFL has distanced itself from Butker’s comments, saying through a spokesperson that his views are “not those of the NFL as an organization.”

Butker, for his part, is not backing down from his comments and the ensuing controversy.

“If it wasn’t clear that the timeless Catholic values are hated by many, it is now,” Butker said during a speech at the Courage Under Fire gala in Nashville on Friday night, which was hosted by Regina Caeli Academy.

While Butker’s attendance is expected at this point, there’s one high-profile Chiefs fan whose presence is not anticipated at this point.

Taylor Swift, the global superstar who is dating Kelce, isn’t expected at the White House on Friday because she’s in Europe on her long-running Eras Tour. Swift played a show in Madrid on Thursday night before the visit, and is traveling on to Lyon, France, later in the weekend.

The visit caps off a particularly high-profile season for the Chiefs after Swift and Kelce went public with their relationship early in the season. It ended in an accomplishment that hadn’t been done in two decades by an NFL team — a back-to-back Super Bowl championship, the fourth in Chiefs history and the third in the last five years.

The celebrations in Kansas City were tragically brief. On February 14, one person was killed and 20 others were injured in a mass shooting that took place just moments after the celebratory parade and pep rally had wrapped. Two men were charged with murder in the shooting, which started after a confrontation between two groups of people and was not connected to terrorism.

It was a violent and sad end to what had been a historic season on the field.

Kelce, who had already racked up a storied career that will likely send him to the Hall of Fame when he eventually follows his brother Jason into retirement, became a celebrity outside the world of football thanks to his relationship with Swift. While his performance on the field dropped off as compared to his incredible 2022 season, he still played well enough to be rewarded with a contract extension that made him the highest paid tight end in the league.

For his quarterback, Mahomes, the victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas cemented the Texas Tech alum as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game’s history, even though he’s just six years into his career and is not yet 30 years old.

He said last year’s visit to the Oval Office was one of the highlights of his career.

“I mean, I’ve never been to Washington, DC – I’ve never even got to see from the outside, seeing the White House or any of the monuments or memorials,” Mahomes told reporters at the time. “And so, to be able to be here and see that, and see the history of this great nation that we have, it was really cool for me to just be here and be in the moment, and I don’t think I could ever really imagine it being as cool as it was.”

CNN’s Donald Judd, AJ Willingham, Matias Grez and Keith Allen contributed to this report.