NFL legend Mike Ditka has weighed in on the Colin Kaepernick-inspired national anthem take-a-knee protests by some NFL players, particularly if they occur on the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
A long-time panelist on ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown, who now does occasional remote commentary for the sports network, Mike 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 to 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 individuals to win an NFL title as a player, an assistant coach, and a head coach. The Bears retired Ditka’s jersey number (89) in 2013.
When asked by a TMZ videographer if the national anthem protest was disrespectful to the memories of the first responders (and by extension, presumably all the victims at the World Trade Center) who died while mounting rescue efforts, Ditka agreed that “of course it is.”
He went to say that a small group of “malcontents” have a right to do their thing, however, as long as the demonstration remains lawful and non-violent.
The college and pro football hall of famer added that he’d like see the protests put on hold every day, not just on September 11.
“I mean, there’s a time and place for everything. Before a football game is not the time or place for it. Period.”
Iron Mike also offered a succinct message for those who plan to sit during “The Star-Spangled Banner” tonight: “God Bless America.”
“The NFL has already taken a substantial hit in the ratings. It certainly won’t help the league if it appears players are now disrespecting the victims of the horrific terrorist attack,” The Daily Caller claimed.
Watch the TMZ video with Mike Ditka below and draw your own conclusions.
“Da Coach” seems to have changed his tune on this issue. Almost exactly one year ago, Ditka declared that those who he considered disrespecting the flag should “get out out of the country,” TMZ reported at the time.
In NFL double-header action tonight, the New Orleans Saints visit the Minnesota Vikings, and the Los Angeles Chargers meet the Denver Broncos. Although some NFL players have sat during the national anthem before this season’s pre-season games and ahead of regular season play (and obviously last season), there is no word that any player is contemplating sitting during the national anthem or any of the September 11 commemoration pre-game ceremonies.
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 about his divorce from “Seven of Nine” actress Jeri Ryan that were unsealed by a California judge under unusual circumstances, 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, and shortly thereafter launched his White House bid. Mike Ditka now maintains that Obama was the worst president in U.S. history.
[Featured Image by Jordan Strauss/Invision for NFL/AP Images]