The national-anthem protests sparked by Colin Kaepernick have caused a torrent of reactions, ranging from strong support to vehement disapproval. Mike Ditka placed himself firmly in the latter group in remarks made Friday to a Dallas radio station, adding that he doesn’t “see all the atrocities going on in this country” that others are protesting.
“I think it’s a problem, anybody who disrespects this country and the flag,” the ESPN pundit and former NFL coach and player told KRLD-FM. “If they don’t like the country, if they don’t like our flag, get the hell out.”
Ditka’s stance does not come as a shock, given previous statements he has made, including that Barack Obama was “the worst president we’ve ever had.” A noted supporter of Donald Trump, the 76-year-old Hall of Famer said in July that there’s “no questions” that ESPN has a politically liberal culture.
“I have no respect for Colin Kaepernick. He probably has no respect for me; that’s his choice,” Ditka said Friday. “My choice is that I like this country, I respect our flag, and I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on.”
“I see opportunities, if people want to look for opportunity,” he added. “Now if they don’t want to look for them, then you can find problems with anything, but this is the land of opportunity, because you can be anything you want to be, if you work. Now if you don’t work, that’s a different problem.”
Starting in August, Kaepernick began sitting or kneeling during renditions of the anthem before 49ers games, pointing to the spate of deaths by unarmed black men at the hands of police officers. Some NFL players have emulated his actions, some standing with their fists raised, and athletes in other sports have joined in.
I don't have a problem with Ditka not agreeing with Kaps actions but to say he doesn't see the atrocities at all… #AmeriKKKa
— Justise Winslow (@IAmJustise) September 24, 2016
On Friday, Kaepernick joined an Oakland, Calif., high school football team in staging a pregame protest. While the San Francisco quarterback knelt, the young players lay on their backs with their hands in the air.
Kaepernick came to Oakland, CA. He kneeled on one knee, players laid on their back with hands up during the Anthem. pic.twitter.com/Cae4sTopac
— Kirk Morrison (@kirkmorrison) September 24, 2016
Another ESPN analyst, Paul Finebaum, recently apologized for claiming, while discussing Kaepernick’s protests, that “this country does not oppress black people.” The 60-year-old Finebaum said, “I blew it. I simply did not have a good grasp of the situation. I know better. I’ve lived in this country, I see what is going on all across the country from north to south to east to west and I have no excuse.”