Former NFL tight end, coach, and ESPN analyst Mike Ditka argued Monday that players have no cause to kneel in protest of racial injustice towards African Americans as “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years.”
Ditka, who early on supported then-candidate Donald Trump, voiced his opinions on the demonstrations during a Monday Night Football interview with Jim Gray on Westwood One before that night’s game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings.
“Is this the stage for this?” the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee asked. “If you want to protest… you’ve got a right to do that. But I think you’re a professional athlete, you have an obligation to the game… Respect the game, play the game, when you want to protest, protest when the game’s over, protest whatever other way you want to.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made waves for saying that if his players did not stand for the anthem, they would be benched. Ditka, who is the former coach of the Bears and Saints, said he would follow Jones’s lead were he still in charge.
“I don’t care who you are, or how much money you make. If you don’t respect our country, you shouldn’t be in this country playing football,” he said. “Go to another country and play football. If you had to go to somewhere else and try to play this sport, you wouldn’t have a job.”
“If you can’t respect the flag and this country, then you don’t respect what this is all about, so I would say: Adios.”
Jim Gray asked Ditka, “For those who want social justice, and for those who look back at the lives of Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens… your response would be?”
“I don’t know what social injustice have been,” Ditka argued. “Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. I mean, you can say, are you talking that everything is based on color? I don’t see it that way… All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression. There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”
Ditka added that he believes plays are really protesting “an individual,” in reference to President Trump. “That’s wrong, too.”
He urged players to vote instead.
“You’ve got a ballot box… That’s where you protest. You elect the person you want to be in office, and if you don’t get that person… you respect the other one.”
“Football has been so good to these guys,” he said of the protesting players. “I don’t think it’s the stage for protests. I’m sorry.”