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Mike Ditka responds to the furor over his ‘no oppression’ statement

Mike Ditka | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

A Pro Football Hall of Famer, a former Bears Pro Bowler and the NFL distanced themselves Tuesday from Mike Ditka’s claim that he hasn’t seen one instance of oppression in the last century.

But Ditka late Tuesday issued a statement to various news outlets in an attempt to “clarify” his controversial statements of the day before and said he was “sorry if anyone was offended.”

“I want to clarify statements that I made in an interview with Jim Gray,” the former Bears coach said. “The characterization of the statement that I made does not reflect the context of the question that I was answering and certainly does not reflect my views throughout my lifetime. I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years and I am completely intolerant of any discrimination. The interview was about the NFL and the related issues. That’s where my head was at. I was quoted in the interview stating, ‘You have to be color blind.’ I stated that you should look at a person for what they are and not the color of their skin. I’m sorry if anyone was offended.”

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In the Westwood One pregame radio interview Monday night, Ditka was asked about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem; the protest, started last year, was in the name of racial and social injustice.

“There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” Ditka said. “Now maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people.”

Ditka also was asked that, if he were coaching today, would he bench players who didn’t stand for the anthem.

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

Asked about Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens — and others — taking a stand for social justice, 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.

The NFL did not support Ditka’s claims.

“Everyone’s entitled to an opinion,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said. “The league would not express that opinion, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Still, the NFL appears to be backing off its tolerance of players in recent weeks kneeling during the anthem.

In a letter sent to 32 teams and obtained by ESPN, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated that he wants players to stand for the anthem. The league has developed a plan to move past the debate over anthem protests, he wrote, and could enact it during the NFL’s fall meetings next week.

On “Fox & Friends,” Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath asked whether he agreed with Ditka.

“Look up the definition of oppression,” Namath said, “and you will understand that it obviously has taken place.”

Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, whose 90 receptions in 2014 smashed Ditka’s franchise record for a tight end, sent the following Tweet with three pairs of rolling eyes at the end: “Hasn’t seen oppression in 100 years, bruh?”