Former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka told Westood One’s Jim Gray that players should “respect the game” and take their protests off the field.
He suggested “the ballot box” as the truest place for protests.
Ditka made his comments in response to news that Vice President Mike Pence left an NFL game after more than twenty players for the 49ers knelt during the National Anthem.
From the Washington Post:
“Is this the stage for this?” Ditka said. “If you want to protest, or whatever 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.
“I don’t see a lot of respect for the game, I just see respect for their own individual opinions. … Respect the game, play the game, when you want to protest, protest when the game’s over, protest whatever other way you want to.”
With Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones making news for saying that his players would either stand for the anthem or get benched, Gray asked Ditka if that would be his policy, as well, were he in charge of an NFL team.
“Yes,” Ditka replied, “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. 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.”
Ditka supported President Trump’s stance that NFL teams should fire players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem. He suggested that not standing for the National Anthem in protest is disrespectful to the country.
The 77-year-old former tight-end and Pro Football Hall of Fame member drew criticism when he added in the radio interview that “there has been no oppression in the last hundred years.”
“All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression,” 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.”
That particular comment has made headlines. It’s unclear if Ditka meant oppression in the NFL or in the U.S. at large. Either way, he was probably right in saying he wasn’t “watching it as carefully as other people.”
Former pro wide receiver Steve Smith responded to Ditka’s comments with a Tweet.
— Steve Smith Sr (@89SteveSmith) October 10, 2017
Ditka spoke to TMZ Sports about NFL kneelers earlier this year, saying “people are gonna do what they want to do. This is a different generation. In other words, they think a lot of things don’t apply to them. […] There’s always gonna be some malcontents. So let them be malcontents. Let them do their thing. And they’ll move on. Nobody will think about it. Nobody will remember who they were.”
“There’s a time and place for everything,” he said. “Before a football game is not the time and place for it.”
If Ditka was still coaching, you can bet he wouldn’t tolerate protests during the National Anthem from his players.