Former Chicago Bears tight end and head coach (and ESPN analyst, among other hats he’s worn) Mike Ditka has not been shy about sharing his opinions about hot button issues in recent years. He was at it again on Monday night during an interview with Westwood One’s Jim Gray during the pregame show of the Vikings-Bears Monday Night Football matchup, discussing this season’s protests during the national anthem.
When asked about the protests, Ditka said he would bench any players who refused to stand during the national anthem.
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 to somewhere else and I try to play this sport, then you wouldn’t have a job. So that would be my take, if you can’t respect the flag and this country then you don’t respect what this is all about. I would say Adios.
Ditka also urged players to “respect the game” and protest…well, not while playing the game, which somewhat defeats the purpose of publicly protesting.
“Is that the stage for this?” Ditka 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, I’m sorry.”
But the most eyebrow-raising comments from the Hall of Famer came about the topic of social injustice and oppression in this country.
“I don’t know what social injustices [there] have been. Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. Is everything based on color? I don’t see it that way. You have to be color blind in this country. You have to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces — not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything.
“But, all of a sudden, it has become a big deal now — about oppression. 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 our history of our country.”
No oppression in the last 100 years…that’s somewhat incredible, given that 100 years ago, civil rights in this country were still being fought for. Hell, 100 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr wasn’t even born, and he spent most of his adult life fighting for equality.
If only Ditka could go on FS1 and argue with Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed. That would surely end well for everyone involved.