NFL legend Mike Ditka, who won Super Bowls as both a player and a coach, has offered strong words for football players who would kneel in protest of racial injustice and police brutality as “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played before games. During an interview with TMZ, the 80-year-old opined that anyone who kneels during the U.S. national anthem should leave the country.
Ditka is the chairman of the X League, an all-female tackle football league that rose from the ashes of the old Lingerie Football League. He was asked in the interview whether he would condone protests during the national anthem. He didn’t mince words with his response.
“If it was up to me, I would say no. If you can’t respect our national anthem, get the hell out of the country — that’s the way I feel. Of course, I’m old fashioned, so I’m only going to say what I feel,” Ditka said. “I think there’s a way that you protest and a way you don’t protest. You don’t protest against the flag and you don’t protest against this country that’s given you the opportunity to make a living playing a sport that you never thought would happen. So, I don’t want to hear all the crap.”
The kneeling protests began when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016. Since then, his protest has been joined by others, in almost every sport. Many of the individuals who have engaged in kneeling have suggested that their actions weren’t about the flag, America or the U.S. military, as detractors have indicated.
In the ensuing years, some noteworthy figures who originally did not support the protests have reversed course, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Meanwhile, Ditka has come under fire previously for statements made on the topics of inequality and players kneeling as a means of nonviolent protest. As shared by The Inquisitr in 2017, he claimed that people of color had not experienced oppression in 100 years during an appearance on Monday Night Football.
Despite his views on matters of race, Ditka championed the cause for gender equality in sports during his TMZ interview, lamenting that football is the only sport female athletes have yet to gain a foothold in. He further stated that the women in his organization are talented athletes.
Ditka played in the NFL for over a decade during the 1960s and early ’70s, winning Super Bowl VI with the Dallas Cowboys and picking up five Pro-Bowl selections. He spent the majority of his playing career with the Chicago Bears, the team he would later coach to a Super Bowl XX win following the 1985 season. In total, he spent 14 years as a head coach.