Former Bears coach Mike Ditka appeared on Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame show with Jim Gray before the Vikings-Bears game. It was supposed to be a standard pregame hit before the game, but it quickly skidded off the rails.
You would think the talk would focus on Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, but most of the six-minute segment centered onthe NFL’s ongoing issue of team personnel kneeling during the national anthem.
Ditka — a proud supporter of President Donald Trump — was channeling his inner Archie Bunker as he tried to tackle an issue that was clearly outside his area of expertise.
“I don’t see all the social injustice that some of these people see,” Ditka said late in the interview.
At another point, Ditka said: “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.”
You could almost hear Gray squirming over the radio.
Keep in mind, the Civil Rights Act didn’t get passed until 1964 — a year after Ditka’s Bears won the NFL Championship.
Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning and was asked if he agreed with Ditka and his “no oppression in the last 100 years” comment.
“Well, look up the meaning of oppression,” Namath said. “Look up the definition of oppression and you will understand that it obviously has taken place.”
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Tuesday that the league did not share Ditka’s views.
“Everyone’s entitled to an opinion,” Lockhart said. “The league would not express that opinion, by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Westwood One interview Monday began with Gray asking Ditka about the NFL’s national-anthem issue. Ditka has previously said he is against players — protesting racial injustice — kneeling, and he more than doubled down on that rhetoric.
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“Is that the stage for this?” Ditka asked. “If you want to protest … you have a right to do that. But I think you are a professional athlete. You have an obligation to the game. I think you have to respect the game. That’s the most important thing. I don’t see a lot of respect for the game. I see respect for their own, individual opinions. Opinions are like noses, we all have one. Some are good, some are bad.
“I’m not condemning anybody or criticizing anybody. Respect the game. Play the game. When you want to protest, protest when the game is over. Football has been so good to these guys. Enjoy it. Have fun with it.
“I don’t think it’s the stage for protests, I’m sorry.”
Gray then asked Ditka 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 said. “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.
“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.”
Late Tuesday, Ditka issued a statement to various news outlets: “I want to clarify statements that I made in an interview with Jim Gray last night. 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.”
On Monday night, Gray tried to end the interview on a football note, but Ditka took it back to the good old days.
“My dad worked in a steel mill and he brought home a paycheck and we ate dinner every night together,” Ditka said. “We didn’t have anything, but we didn’t need anything because we had a family. That was a good time in America. I would like to see us get back to that.”
Ditka began the interview by saying: “I’ve had a good run. Football doesn’t owe me anything. I owe my whole life to football. It has been a good run. I don’t want to overdo it.”
Too late, Coach.