Mike Ditka: ‘If You Don’t Respect Our Country, Then You Shouldn’t Be in this Country Playing Football’

AP Pablo Martinez Monsivais Ditka
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

There’s one thing you don’t have to worry about when asking Mike Ditka a question, and that’s not getting a straight answer. The Bears legend and Hall of Famer railed against anthem protesters in a recent interview, saying “there has been no oppression in this country in the last 100 years that I’m aware of.”

Ditka appeared with Jim Gray on Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame show. Ditka said that he believes all players should stand for the anthem. Host Jim Gray then asked Ditka if he would benched players for kneeling, if he were still coaching.

What followed was classic Ditka.

Ditka said, “Yes, I don’t care who you are, how much money you make. 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 the 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.”

Next, Gray asked about Ditka about athletes like Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens using sports as a platform for protesting.

Ditka said:

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.

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 speech was, obviously, not well-received by the sports media. Pro Football Talk’s Darin Gantt essentially accused Ditka of being an angry, racist old man.

Gantt wrote, “Ditka won a title with the Bears in 1963. Perhaps caught up in the excitement, he missed the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year, or the problems that preceded it — and the ones which continue to this day.

“While it’s easy to dismiss the remarks as those of a cranky old man who just wants you young (black) rabble rousers to get off his lawn, they’re also as prevalent as they are willfully ignorant. One of the great things about being privileged is how easy it is to never see the problems around you.”

Also worthy of the charge of ignorance, is contorting Ditka’s remarks to make it sound as if he’s saying there are no problems with race in the country. Ditka never says that, instead he merely says there is no oppression in the country. Something that Gantt never bothers to correct Ditka on. Gantt alludes to oppression’s that occurred before the Civil Rights Act and those that continue today.

Yet, never at any point does he say what those are.

Also telling that Gantt has to use 1964 as his benchmark date of mass oppression. First, the fact that anyone would have to go back over 50 years to find a signature date of mass, organized oppression. Moreover, bringing up pre-1964 America is an argument for pre-1964 Americans, to protest. How in the world is that an argument for NFL players in 2017? How many of today’s multi-millionaire athletes ever saw a “colored” water fountain? How many were made to sit in the back of the bus? Or ever experienced mandated public school segregation?

The answer is zero.

The country is not perfect, Ditka never said it was. However, the real act of “willful ignorance” and “privilege,” comes from Gantt, and those who believe like him. It’s the willful ignorance of the fact you live in the greatest country in the world, while having the freedom and privilege of pretending you don’t.



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