Many people believe NFL players should respect the United States flag and stand for the national anthem.
Mike Ditka took that opinion a step further Monday night.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer spoke to Jim Gray before Monday Night Football and was asked about players protesting during the national anthem, a topic that has dominated headlines throughout the early NFL season.
Ditka, who won championships with the Chicago Bears as a tight end and later as a head coach, reiterated that while he understands it's a person's right to protest, he said "if you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football."
Gray then asked Ditka: "For those who want social justice and for those who look back at the lives of Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens and John Carlos and Tommy Smith, your response would be?"
To which Ditka replied:
"I don't know what social injustices (there) have been. Muhammad Ali rose to the top, Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. Are you talking that everything is based on color? I don't see it that way. I think that you have to be color blind in this country. You've got to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces, not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything.
"But, all of a sudden, it has become a big deal now, about oppression. 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. I think the opportunity is there for everybody. Race, religion, creed, color, nationality. If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in, I think you can accomplish anything, and we have watched that throughout our history of our country."
“People rise to the top and have become very influential people in our country by doing the right things. I don’t think burning the flag, I don’t think protesting the country ... It’s not about the country. ... They are protesting maybe an individual, and that’s wrong, too. You have a ballot box, you have an election. That’s where you protest. You elect the person you want to be in office. And if you don’t get that person in office, I think you respect the other one. That's all. Period."
1917 was exactly 100 years ago. Since then, women were given the right to vote in 1920, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1945, racial segregation in the U.S. military was abolished in 1948, Brown v. Board of Education occurred in 1954 and the American Civil Rights Movement took place the following 14 years up until 1968.
Contact Brian Manzullo: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrianManzullo.
Detroit Free Press