I have to give Mike Ditka credit for one thing.
He is what he is — a white man who is blind to the plight of people of color in this country.
He can see the greatness of a Muhammad Ali or a Jesse Owens, but he doesn’t have a clue about what it’s like to be an average black man trying to make it in America.
Not all white people are like Ditka.
Some of them know that there is still a fair amount of discrimination against blacks in America.
They see it in the neighborhoods where black neighbors are tolerated rather than welcomed. They hear it in the conversations that go on in private gatherings. They suspect it in the workplace when they look around and everyone looks like them.
But Ditka, a man who still has great influence in this city, isn’t one of those white people.
Ditka lives in a white world.
“There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” Ditka said in a television interview before Monday night’s Bears football game.
“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,” he said.
His race talk comes as the NFL struggles to figure out what stance to take with players who protest the mistreatment of young black men by overzealous police officers by kneeling during the national anthem.
Ditka, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, can’t even see that there’s a problem — despite a string of controversial shootings by police officers, including the Laquan McDonald shooting in 2014.
“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,” he said.
In Ditka’s world, the fact that a few gifted black people became wealthy is enough proof that there is no social injustice.
And it is the fault of the oppressed that they live in deteriorating neighborhoods, go to bad schools and can’t find legitimate work.
“If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in, you can accomplish anything,” Ditka reasons.
“[W]e 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,” he said.
No. Black people had to rise up and fight for social justice.
But where was Mike Ditka in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the back of the bus, an act of defiance that led to the Montgomery bus boycott?
Where was he when 14-year-old Emmett Till’s battered and disfigured face became a symbol of the South’s racial hatred?
Where was he in 1957, when then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened so that nine black children could attend the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School?
Where was “Da Coach” in 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of people to Washington, D.C., to demand that America live up to its creed that “all men are created equal.”
And where was Ditka in the summer of 1964 when the abduction and murder in Mississippi of three voting rights activists — Andrew Goodman, Michael “Mickey” Schwerner and James Chaney — sparked national outrage?
What did Ditka think these milestones in the civil rights movement were all about?
Ditka fans will likely dismiss his comments as the ranting of an aging man.
But the world according to Ditka is the reason we are stuck in the racial firestorm we are in today.