NFL legend Mike Ditka would not want any of his four kids — if they were still young — to play football because of the danger posed by concussions and other health risks.
The tough-minded Hall of Fame coach, who has spent his entire career in football in one capacity or another, made this admission to Bryant Gumbel during an HBO Real Sports feature on the 1985 Chicago Bears which will air tomorrow evening. See the clip with “da coach” embedded below.
A long-time panelist on ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown, Ditka was the Chicago Bears number one pick in the 1961 draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. He played tight end over 12 NFL seasons with the Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys. He finished his career with 427 receptions for 5,812 yards and 43 touchdowns. From 1982-1992, Ditka coached the Bears to a 106-62 record. He also led the team to a Super Bowl victory in 1986. Ditka and Tom Flores (formerly of the Oakland Raiders) are the only two people to win an NFL title as a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach. The Bears retired Ditka’s jersey number in 2013.
In an exchange with Gumbel, Ditka, 75, turned the tables somewhat and asked the HBO anchor if he would want his eight-year-old, if he had one now, to play football. When Gumbel replied, “I wouldn’t. Would you?” Dita responded as follows.
“Nope — and that’s sad. I wouldn’t. My whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”
Gumbel could have followed up (but apparently didn’t) by asking Ditka if he had any health-related regrets about his own NFL career.
The HBO episode also features interviews with ex-Bears stars, such as Richard Dent and Jim McMahon, that latter who is suffering with the affects of brain trauma.
Denouncing how the NFL, despite its wealth, treats retired players who are dealing with severe football-related injuries, Ditka didn’t mince words.
“Implement something for the former players who played this game and made this game what it is today. To the commissioner, to the owners, You’ve got an obligation and a responsibility to those guys. Because you wouldn’t have a damn job right now if it wasn’t for those guys.. they don’t do it because they don’t think they have to… they don’t think they owe anybody anything. And that’s bull.”
“Even Mike Ditka is questioning the violent nature of the sport in the wake of advancements in concussion research and his own experience with veterans plagued by health problems…In addition to the experiences of his ex-players, Ditka has a wealth of knowledge on the subject, serving as president of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund’s efforts to provide support for retired NFL players,” Yahoo! Sports reported.
In late 2013, Mike Ditka made non-sports-related headlines for claiming that his biggest mistake was not running for U.S. Senate in 2004 against then Illinois state senator Barack Obama. When Republican candidate Jack Ryan’s campaign imploded over revelations (which were unsealed under unusual circumstances shall we say) about his divorce from “Seven of Nine” actress Jeri Ryan, the GOP tried to recruit Ditka.
After giving the run serious consideration, Ditka subsequently announced that he would not seek the nomination because of family and business commitments. Obama went on to defeat replacement GOP candidate Alan Keyes in a landslide.