The NFL season approaches, and players have made it clear that they will kneel during the national anthem in protest of systemic racism. This decision has prompted vastly different reactions, including one from NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka. He criticized that players that plan to protest and told them to get out of the United States.
The former tight end-turned-Chicago Bears coach spoke to TMZ about the upcoming season and the planned protests. He blasted the idea and said that the players are "protesting against the country" that gave them the opportunity to play professional football. NFL players kneeling as a form of peaceful protest originally began in 2016 with Colin Kaepernick and prompted several other players to take part. Following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, even more players have pledged to protest.
"If you can't respect our national anthem, get the hell out of the country," Ditka said. "That's the way I feel. Of course, I'm old fashioned, so I'm only going to say what I feel. You don't protest against the flag, and you don't protest against this country who's given you the opportunities to make a living playing a sport that you never thought would happen. So, I don't want to hear all the crap."
This is not the first time that Ditka expressed the opinion about players kneeling. He previously conducted an interview in 2017 with radio host Jim Gray prior to an NFL game. He said that a football game is "not a place" for football players to protest. Ditka also told Gray that he would bench a player if they knelt for the anthem.
"I don't care who you are, how much money you make," Ditka said at the time, per NBC News. "If you don't respect our country, then you shouldn't be in this country playing football… So I would say, adios." Ditka declared that "there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of" but later clarified that he was only talking about the NFL. He said that he has seen oppression in society.
Following Kaepernick's initial protests, the league implemented policies to prevent players from kneeling during the national anthem. They were required to stand or remain in the locker room. Commissioner Roger Goodell has since said that the league was wrong in how it handled the protests and "silenced" the players' voices. Now the expectation is that a large group will kneel during the national anthem, and Ditka is expressing his unhappiness.