Mike Ditka is 81 years old. He hasn’t coached in the NFL in over 20 years. But the Hall of Famer hasn’t ever been one short on opinion. The former Chicago Bears head coach made headlines recently when he shared his thoughts on athletes kneeling for the national anthem, and frankly, what he said should surprise no one. That’s because we’ve been down this road before. Ditka has voiced his displeasure on athletes kneeling for years. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there. He said much worse.
Mike Ditka’s latest comments on kneeling
With the nation undergoing a societal transformation since the death of George Floyd in May, many athletes have used their platforms to speak out against racial inequality and police brutality. In recent weeks, with sports returning, leagues, teams, and individual athletes have shown support for the social justice movement in a variety of ways.
In some cases, teams have worn shirts with messages like “Black Lives Matter.” In other instances, such as baseball, athletes have joined together and kneeled during a special moment of reflection before the national anthem. Some athletes have opted to remain kneeling when the anthem is played. That move has upset former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka.
“If you can’t respect our national anthem, get the hell out of the country. That’s the way I feel. Of course, I’m old fashioned,” Ditka told TMZ. “So, I’m only going to say what I feel. I think there’s a way you protest and there’s a way you don’t protest.”
Not surprisingly, Ditka’s tone-deaf remarks made headlines. And there was considerable feedback. But to anyone who has paid attention to Ditka in recent years, this is nothing new.
Ditka’s original remarks on Colin Kaepernick in 2016
In September 2016, just weeks after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled before a game during the national anthem, Mike Ditka shared his thoughts during an interview on the “Shan & RJ” radio show. When asked about the subject of protesting by kneeling, Ditka never hesitated.
“I think it’s a problem. Anybody who disrespects this country and the flag. If they don’t like the country, they don’t like our flag, get the hell out,” Ditka said. “My choice is, I like this country, I respect our flag, and I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on.
“I see opportunities if people want to look for opportunity. Now, if they don’t want to look for them, then you can find problems with anything, but this is the land of opportunity because you can be anything you want to be if you work. If you don’t work, that’s a different problem.”
Ditka’s comments on not seeing any atrocities raised some eyebrows. Kaepernick stated from the outset he was protesting police brutality and cited the name Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man gunned down by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just days before. Either Ditka never heard Kaepernick’s comments, ignored the content of what he said, or doesn’t consider the murder of an unarmed person by police an atrocity.
Mike Ditka makes headlines again in 2017 for ‘no oppression’ remark
A year later, the start of another football season, and Mike Ditka once again made headlines by voicing his displeasure against those kneeling and appealing for equal treatment in an interview with Jim Gray.
“All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression. There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” Ditka told Gray. “Now maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people. I think the opportunity is there for everybody. … If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort into yourself, I think you can accomplish anything.”
Ditka’s comments resulted in a swift and severe response, many criticizing him for ignoring or not knowing about the lynching of African Americans or Jim Crow Laws that enforced racial segregation, both of which occurred during Ditka’s lifetime. The former coach even received harsh criticism from the city in which he is beloved.
“I don’t know how you could grow up in this country — especially when he did — and be completely unaware of something as significant as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s,” ESPN Chicago radio host Carmen DeFalco told Chicago television station WLS-TV.
As the poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Mike Ditka has shown us over and over who he is. And, unfortunately, it’s not a good look. Despite his many accomplishments on the field, his comments in recent years have severely tarnished that legacy and will be lasting memories of the coach long after he is gone.