Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka issued a statement Tuesday night clarifying comments he made in regard to NFL players choosing to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
“The characterization of the statement that I made does not reflect the context of the question that I was answering and certainly does not reflect my views throughout my lifetime,” the former coach of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints said in a statement. “I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years and I am completely intolerant of any discrimination. The interview was about the NFL and the related issues. That’s where my head was at. I was quoted in the interview stating, ‘You have to be colorblind.’ I stated that you should look at a person for what they are and not the color of their skin. I’m sorry if anyone was offended.”
In an interview with Jim Gray on Westwood One’s Monday Night Football pregame show, Ditka questioned how much oppression is seen in the United States.
“All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression,” Ditka said in that interview. “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. … If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort into yourself, I think you can accomplish anything.”
The 77-year-old Ditka on Monday maintained that he was not “condemning anybody or criticizing anybody,” but he said a football game is not the right place for players to protest.
“If you were coaching … would it be your policy that either you stand for the national anthem or you don’t play?” Gray asked Ditka.
“Yes,” said Ditka, who also played for the Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys as a tight end. “I don’t care who you are, how much money you make. If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football.
“Go to another country and play football. If you had to go somewhere else to try to play the sport, you wouldn’t have a job. So that would be my take. If you can’t respect the flag and the country, then you don’t respect what this is all about. So I would say, ‘Adios.'”
Ditka’s comments were met with criticism from around the NFL.
“Look up the meaning of oppression. Look up the definition of oppression, and you understand that it’s obviously taken place,” fellow Hall of Famer Joe Namath said in an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”