By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Mike Ditka is a useless person. This is demonstrably true based on evidence in various manifestations.
Yet America still goes to drink from the Ditka well in 2017. This is a man who’s a parody of himself, fueled by anginous oafs who don’t understand that they’re part of the punch line and kneel at the shrine of Da Coach to lap up his wine and any of the other four dozen products he shamelessly attaches his name to while they wear sunglasses and a sweater and no self-respect.
Regarding coaching, Ditka has a single championship while in charge of maybe the NFL’s greatest roster ever in the 1985 Bears, then he single-handedly evacuated the New Orleans Saints’ organs through the franchise’s bowels while working there.
One of his former players, the late Dave Duerson, said: “Mike was not one who gave a damn about the players or their injuries when he was coaching. He was very disrespectful of guys who got hurt.”
Regarding talking football, Ditka has fallen asleep on live air. He has used a slur on live air. He has called Jonathan Martin, who was bullied out of football, a baby on live air. He has sighed on live air that Ray Rice — “probably not a bad guy, but he made a bad mistake” –punching out a woman ruined two lives and destroyed Rice’s earning power.
This is a useless person. ESPN realized it when it decided that the comic value of watching a decrepit old man farting on air literally and figuratively wasn’t worth bringing him back for its NFL programming last year. There are still people out there who believe Ditka is worthy of talking to about anything, though. Even the 1985 Chicago Bears have exhausted every known conversational avenue, but that cache will always cash a check for Da Coach, a blithering orange beefstick.
So it’s not a surprise that very important reporter Jim Gray brought Ditka on the Monday Night Football radio broadcast on Westwood One this week to talk about the intersection of sports and politics. If you’ve ever listened to Gray’s radio interviews with Larry Fitzgerald, Tom Brady and others, they’re a brain-crushing amount of milquetoast without a decent follow-up question to be found. Ditka’s time on Gray’s version of Firing Line was no different.
“All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now, about oppression,” Ditka waxed on NFL player protests of police violence and social injustice. “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.”
Now right there, Ditka has shown that he’s an irresponsible choice for an interview on this subject matter. That’s on Gray and his producers. And when you cave to the easy clicks and ratings of getting the socially stunted to mouth-breathe anything Ditka, you make a useless thing a counterproductive thing.
Did someone really need Ditka’s take on player protests? What enlightening perspective could you have possibly envisioned him providing? You didn’t, because if wanted Ditka’s thoughts, then you only cared about him saying extremely Ditka-brand garbage devoid of empathy to stir a base and piss off people that have a decent understanding of systemic issues affecting marginalized groups in this country.
The obvious ignorance of Ditka’s brand of history doesn’t need much of a basic timeline going back 100 years to counter. What about just in Ditka’s football lifetime?
In 1963, while Ditka was a player with the Chicago Bears, the AFL’s Oakland Raiders moved an exhibition game against the New York Jets from Mobile, Alabama because four black Raider players raised objections with then-coach and general manager Al Davis about segregated seating. In the summer of 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pelted with rocks and bottles as he marched through Marquette Park to protest Chicago’s discriminatory housing practices that still exist today.
“I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen — even in Mississippi and Alabama — mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’ve seen here in Chicago,” he said afterward.
At the time, Ditka was in his final training camp as a Bears player. Before the 1967 season, no black man had played college football for an SEC team. All that news must have missed Da Coach, who was still invited to speak to a national audience on issues of sports and race a few hours after his former colleague was suspended for doing her job.
Gray mentioned Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens, to which Ditka responded that Ali “rose to the top” and “Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived.”
Owens said of his return to America after his legendary performance at the Olympics in the face of Nazi Germany that: “I came back to my native country and I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. Now what’s the difference?
“I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.
“After I came home with my four medals, everyone wanted to slap me on the back, shake my hand or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job.”
Owens also noted of Adolf Hitler shaking his hand that Franklin D. Roosevelt never did the same or congratulate him or invite him to the White House. But Owens is at least classy to Ditka.
And to have an obvious fundamental misunderstanding of all that went into how Ali “rose to the top” is a special kind of privileged insulation.
But Ditka has long been insulated by the privilege of not having to know any of this. So why then is anyone asking him about the social issues being highlighted by football players? Especially when he already made his opinions known a year ago and three years ago, all of which with the convenience of whining “I don’t get it” without ever attempting to educate himself on what he doesn’t get, and he has never shown a proclivity toward evolving on any matter.
Going forward, Ditka won’t change. He has no need to in whatever time he has left in this fantasy land. This makes him useless to intelligent discussion on matters as benign as football or as crucial as football mattering off the field.
But the next time you invite him onto your radio show or interview him for a newspaper piece (or let him write a column in it) in order to grab the lowest common denominator’s eyes and ears, you put #content ahead of the well-being of people. The next time you seek his image to push your beef sandwich or boner pill and thereby use his endorsement to tacitly endorse his cigar cloud of uselessness, you put money above ignorance.
You’re then using what’s left of a long-proven useless person to make yourself far worse than useless.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.