If you’re looking for some good, open-minded conversation on social issues, especially those involving race, you probably should steer clear of speaking with Mike Ditka about them.
Back in 2014, the former NFL player and coach (and proud Trump supporter) said he was "embarrassed" to see a handful of St. Louis Rams players utilize the "Hands Up, Don’t Shoot" position popularized by Ferguson, Missouri protestors prior to a game. In 2016, he said Colin Kaepernick should "get the hell out" of America if he doesn’t like what’s happening in the country. And on Monday night, Ditka continued his crusade to try and discredit those protesting against injustices in the U.S. during an interview on Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame show with Jim Gray.
In theory, Ditka should have had plenty of other things to talk about with his former team, the Bears, taking part in the MNF game. But instead, he used his time to take aim at those NFL players who have protested by taking a knee during the national anthem in recent weeks.
"Is this the stage for that?" he asked. "If you want to protest… you have a right to do that. But I think you are a professional athlete. You have an obligation to the game. I think you have to respect the game. That’s the most important thing. I don’t see a lot of respect for the game. I see respect for their own, individual opinions. Opinions are like noses, we all have one. Some are good, some are bad. I’m not condemning anybody or criticizing anybody. Respect the game. Play the game. When you want to protest, protest when the game is over. Football has been so good to these guys. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. I don’t think it’s the stage for protests."
Had Ditka stopped there, he probably wouldn’t have made many headlines outside of Chicago. But he continued and, well, his comments gradually got worse. After saying that he didn’t agree with players protesting, he also said that, if he was still coaching, he would bench players for protesting during the national anthem.
"I don’t care who you are, how much money you make," he said. "If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football. If you had to go somewhere else and try to play this sport, you wouldn’t have a job… If you don’t respect this flag and this country, then you don’t know what this is all about. I would say, adios."
Ditka then went on to downplay the protests as a whole and to say that he doesn’t even understand why NFL players are upset enough to protest in the first place. The way he sees things, there isn’t a reason for it.
"All of a sudden, it has become a big deal now—about oppression," he said. "There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people. I think the opportunity is there for everybody—race, religion, creed, color, nationality. If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in, you can accomplish anything. And we have watched that throughout the history of our country. People rise to the top and have become very influential people in our country by doing the right things. I don’t think burning the flag, I don’t think protesting the country… it’s not about the country… They are protesting maybe an individual, and that’s wrong, too. You have a ballot box, you have an election. That’s where you protest. You elect the person you want to be in office. And if you don’t get that person in office, I think you respect the other one. Period."
Ditka's comments went over about as well as you would expect them to. His name has been trending on Twitter for most of Tuesday morning, and while he—unfortunately—is being applauded in some circles for being critical of NFL players protesting, he’s being called out for his "100 years" comment, in particular, by those who don't agree with anything he said.
The fact that Ditka said what he said isn’t surprising given his history when it comes to discussing social issues. But he might want to check the facts here and reconsider some the senseless opinions he provided while speaking with Gray.