(CBS) As protests against racial injustice continue in the NFL and the sports landscape, former Super Bowl-winning Bears coach Mike Ditka claimed in a national radio interview that America has been free of oppression for “the last 100 years.”
“All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression,” Ditka told Jim Gray on Westwood One’s pregame show ahead of the Bears-Vikings game Monday night. “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, and you want to put effort in, I think you can accomplish anything.”
Ditka continued on.
“I don’t know what social injustices have been,” Ditka said. “Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. I mean, you can say, ‘Are you talking 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,” he said.
Ditka has vehemently criticized NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
“Is that the stage for this?” Ditka said on Westwood One. “If you want to protest, or whatever you want to protest, you’ve got a right to do that, but I think you’re a professional athlete, you have an obligation to the game. I think you have to respect the game. That’s what I think is the most important thing. I don’t see a lot of respect for the game. I just see respect for their own individual opinions. Opinions are like noses, we all have one. Some are good. Some are bad.
“When I look at the whole thing, I’m not condemning anybody, or criticizing anybody. Respect the game, play the game. When you want to protest, protest when the game’s over. Protest whatever other way you want to. Football has been so good to these guys. It’s been so good to me. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. I don’t think it’s the stage for protest. I’m sorry. A lot of people disagree with that, but that’s my take on it.”
Ditka said if he were coaching now, he would require players to stand for the national anthem, or they wouldn’t play.
“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,” he said.
Some NFL players fired back at Ditka’s comments, including Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett.