Mike Ditka backtracks on oppression comments, says he misspoke
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, criticized after telling a radio interviewer earlier this week “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” said Wednesday he misspoke.
“The term I used was inappropriate,” said Ditka, who starred at Pitt and Aliquippa. “A hundred years is silly. I didn't mean it that way, but it came out that way. I don't really have a lot to say on the issue anymore because no matter what I say, I'm going to be wrong, regardless, so it doesn't matter.
“Things get twisted. Listen, I don't always say everything the way I intend it to come out. They don't always come out the way I intend it, but I intended the right thing. It just came out wrong. ... You can spin it any way you want to, whether you like me, you don't like me. It doesn't matter.”
What Ditka, a staunch opponent of players taking a knee to protest racial discrimination during pregame performances of the national anthem, said he had hoped to stress instead was that the demonstrations are bad for the NFL and he is unsure the demonstrations are effective.
“I know if you've got a bunch of guys protesting, doing this and doing that, that's not the best thing (for the NFL), and what do you get out of it, really?” he said. “What are you going to change in society? I don't know.
“I understand the protest idea, but I don't think anything is going to change because of it. I don't know. I think there's a time and a place for everything and it's not the time and not the place on the football field.”
Ditka's statement Monday about oppression came in response to a follow-up question from sportscaster Jim Gray about athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Tommie Smith and John Carlos who demonstrated against social injustices.
“All of a sudden, it's become a big deal now, about oppression,” Ditka told Gray on Westwood One's pregame show ahead of the Bears' “Monday Night Football” loss to the Vikings. “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I'm not watching it as carefully as other people.”
A statement released late Tuesday through a public relations person on Ditka's behalf said the way his comments were characterized “certainly does not reflect my views throughout my lifetime,” noting he has “absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years, and I am completely intolerant of any discrimination” and he was “sorry if anyone was offended.”
Ditka was widely criticized as ignorant of history, oblivious to social conditions through his lifetime and cited by some as a prime example of someone being blind to conditions that don't directly affect him or her.
“Look up the meaning of oppression,” former quarterback Joe Namath said Tuesday on Fox News' “Fox & Friends.” “Look up the definition of oppression, and you understand that it's obviously taken place.”
Namath stopped short of saying he would join NFL players who have kneeled during the pregame playing the national anthem in protest of racial discrimination.
“I'm not there,” Namath said, “but I've never walked in a black man's shoes either.”
Ditka on Wednesday said the “100 years” remark eclipsed what he was trying to say about players respecting the game, the flag and the country, the only place where a person can make a living playing football.
People are “looking at the wrong angle on it,” Ditka said, but added, “I'm a very conservative person. There are a lot of people out there who don't like that, but that's who I am.”
To Gray's question about Ali, Owens and other athletes who have used sports to make statements about social injustices, Ditka began by saying:
“I don't know what social injustices have been. Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. I mean, you can say, ‘Are you (saying) everything is based on color?' I don't see it that way. I think that you have to be color blind in this country. You've got to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces, not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything.”
Ditka then made his statement that “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years” and added, again as reported, that he sees opportunities for everyone in the United States, regardless of race, religion, creed, color, nationality “if you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort into yourself.”
In closing the segment, it was reported Gray joked Ditka had been at a loss for words.
“No, I'm not because I'm getting old, Jim, and I'm to the point right now, I'm fed up with a lot of it,” Ditka said. “I mean, I don't see all this, the social injustice that some of these people see. I don't.”