We won’t be seeing Mike Ditka at the Republican convention this week, even though the former coach is an avowed supporter of Donald Trump whose name had been floated as a possible speaker at the event in Cleveland. We also won’t be seeing Ditka in his longtime roles as an analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown,” as those programs recently have undergone some major personnel changes.
Ditka will, however, still turn up on the network from time to time as a contributor to “SportsCenter.” Gone from the network entirely is Curt Schilling, as the baseball analyst and former pitcher was fired in April for “unacceptable” conduct that included the sharing of a meme that disparaged transgender people.
Schilling had gotten into hot water with ESPN several times for controversial statements and social-media posts that reflected a right-wing viewpoint, while some thought the network’s announcement of a new — and less visible — role for Ditka was interestingly timed, as it came just days after he told a New York radio show that Barack Obama was “the worst president we’ve ever had.”
With that in mind, Sporting News, in an interview with Ditka published Wednesday, asked this question: “What do you think of the charge that ESPN is politically liberal — and doesn’t want conservatives like you or Schilling?”
“I think they lean that way,” Ditka responded. “Yes, there’s no questions about it.”
The 76-year-old Pro Football Hall of Famer then noted, “It’s a free country. You have freedom of choice. You can choose to be just about anything as long as you don’t break the law,” before saying that “it’s about time in our society that we stood up and cheered for the doers, the achievers.”
Not surprisingly, Ditka was much milder in his assessment of the culture at ESPN than Schilling, who, in an April interview with a Breitbart radio show, alleged that “some of the biggest racists in sports commentating” work at the network. He added, “It was apparent to me early on that if you wanted to go off topic as a sportsperson, you had to go off topic left, or you were going to get into trouble.”
But Ditka still managed to level a strong charge at the political left, suggesting that it is encouraging some of the high-profile violence the country has recently experienced, including a pair of incidents in which multiple police officers were shot to death. That came while reiterating to Sporting News his support for Trump.
“I told [Trump], and I told his people, the same thing: I support him,” Ditka said. “I think he’s the best candidate. I hope he wins. If he doesn’t win, that’s okay, he’ll get my vote. So there’s not much else you can say.
“That, again, comes down to the freedom of choice that is exercised by everybody in this country. You have a freedom of choice. But unfortunately a lot of people are taking this freedom of choice to a point where, ‘Well, I’ve got the freedom to kill and destroy and maim and all these other things.’ I’m not sure I really get it. So I think that if you have a liberal point of view at times, it kind of leads to some of this stuff.”
When asked if there was anything sports could do “at such a troubling time for our country,” Ditka replied, “I really don’t know. I think it starts at the top, I really do. In this country, I think if you want to change things, you start at the top.”
“You can say anything you want to say,” he added. “It’s like, ‘Well, police are targeting black men.’ They’re not. There’s more white men killed by police than there are black men. I’m not sure I understand it. … I just think what the country was founded on, the principles, the ideals, the democracy, the freedoms. Listen, nobody said it better than Martin Luther King. He said you don’t judge men by the color of their skin. You judge them by the content of their character . . . That about says it all. If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand anything.”