When he played, Mike Ditka was a presence on the field. The big tight end made defenses pay every time he ran a route. He took this strong, gruff, no-nonsense approach into his coaching days, building a reputation as a dominant winner during his time in Chicago.
Despite his gruff exterior and scowling presence on the sideline, Ditka was treated as a loveable teddy bear of a folk hero, especially in Chicago. When he made the news, it was either about his team’s performance or due to the latest “Da Bears” sketch on SNL.
Recently, though, Ditka made the headlines – for the first time in a long time – for all the wrong reasons. During a radio interview about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, Ditka said he wasn’t aware of any racial oppression of the last 100 years in the United States. This isn’t the first time Ditka has issued harsh comments about players kneeling during the anthem. He said, if he was coaching, he would bench players for refusing to stand during the anthem. However, in the interview, Ditka took his comments even further, telling the host he didn’t know what “social injustices” players are protesting.
“There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of…”
The comments immediately drew negative reactions from both fans and players. Retired NFL player Steve Smith chimed in, calling Ditka a “great coach” but a “clueless person…”
ESPN radio host in Chicago Carmen DeFalco, broadcasting in the city where Ditka is a living legend, said: “It’s so ridiculous, it’s hard to have a conversation about it… I don’t know how you could grow up in this country — especially when he did — and be completely unaware of something as significant as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.” Ditka quickly apologized, saying he wasn’t talking about the US as a whole but had been thinking about the NFL when he made his comments. “I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years… The interview was about the NFL and related issues. That’s where my head was at.”
Many fans were quick to forgive Ditka, but the situation became a prime example of how quick the wrong comment can come back to bite a public figure these days. Yet again, the lesson here for everyone in the public eye is, be careful not just what you say but in how you say it.
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