Mike Ditka apologized Tuesday for saying during a radio interview earlier in the week that he wasn’t aware of any racial oppression over the last 100 years.
The legendary NFL player and coach said in a statement posted on WGN-TV that he was talking about the world of pro football and not society in general.
During the radio interview Monday, Ditka was asked his opinion on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. He painted a pretty rosy picture of the world in response.
“I don’t know what social injustices there’ve been,” Ditka told Jim Gray on Westwood One before “Monday Night Football.”
Ditka stated that folks need to be “colorblind” and not judge people by the color of their skin. And apparently he thinks everyone has been doing a pretty good job of that.
“All of the sudden it’s become a big deal now about oppression,” he said. “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I’m not watching 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.”
Last season, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a movement by refusing to stand for the national anthem as a way to protest social injustice. Last month, President Trump called for NFL owners to fire players who take part in such demonstrations, which led to even more similar protests.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence left the 49ers-Colts game in Indianapolis after about a dozen San Francisco players took a knee during the anthem.
Ditka told Gray of the players’ protests: “Is this the stage for this? If you want to protest, 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.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said any of his players who don’t stand for the anthem will not play. Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase has told his players they are not allowed to kneel on the sideline during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Ditka told Gray he would institute similar rules if he were in such a position. “If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football.”
Oct. 11, 7:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with Ditka apologizing for his comment.
This article was originally published on Oct. 10 at 8:45 a.m.