Former Bears coach and player Mike Ditka appeared on Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame radio show with host Jim Gray before Chicago's game against the Vikings. He was asked about the protests during the anthem and whether he would bench players if they did anything but stand during the song.
Here's what he 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.”
Ditka was then asked about the issues that caused players to protest in the first place. According to the former football player, those issues are made up.
“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.”
After his playing days, Ditka worked for ESPN on its primetime "NFL Countdown" show. He no longer appeared on that show in 2016 in favor of a more limited role, although he hasn't made many appearances on the network since then.
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