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Ditka Talks NFL Protests Before Monday's Bears Game: ‘No Oppression in the Last 100 Years'

"If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football"

Mike Ditka has been known to speak his mind on a thing or two in his career - and that's certainly what the former Chicago Bears coach did before the team's big Monday Night Football game. 

Appearing on Westwood One with Jim Gray during a pregame show, Ditka spoke heavily on his opinions surrounding the recent protests during the national anthem, saying he doesn't believe oppression has been an issue in the United States for at least a century. 

"There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of," he said. "Now maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people. I think the opportunity is there for everybody — race, religion, creed, color, nationality. If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in to yourself, I think you can accomplish anything. And we have watched that throughout our history of our country."

Ditka has long been vocal of his disapproval over the protests that have mostly recently taken the NFL by storm amid a clash between President Donald Trump's administration and NFL players taking part in the public demonstrations.

“Is that the stage for this?” Ditka said. “If you want to protest, or whatever you want to protest, you have a right to do that. But I think you are a professional athlete. You have an obligation to the game. I think you have to respect the game. That’s what I think the most important thing. I don’t see a lot of respect for the game. I just see respect for their own, individual opinions. Opinions are like noses, we all have one. Some are good, some are bad.

“So when I look at this as a whole thing, I’m not condemning anybody or criticizing anybody. Respect the game. Play the game. When you want to protest, protest when the game is over. Protest whatever other way you want to. Football has been so good to these guys - it's been so good to me. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. I don’t think it’s the stage for protests, I’m sorry.”

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The issue has been making headlines since the season began, with several players and teams kneeling, others linking arms and some even staying inside the locker room during the anthem. 

Vice President Mike Pence left the 49ers-Colts game after about a dozen San Francisco players took a knee during the national anthem Sunday.

Right around kickoff, Pence wrote on Twitter: "I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."

The White House also issued a statement from Pence, in which he said Americans should rally around the flag. Pence said: "I don't think it's too much to ask NFL players to respect the Flag and our National Anthem."

Trump has called on NFL owners to fire players who don't stand for the anthem and urged fans to boycott games in a series of tweets after he first criticized the demonstrations during a Sept. 22 rally in Alabama. 

When asked if Ditka would bench players who didn't stand for the anthem if he was coaching, Ditka, who has been a vocal supporter of Trump, said he would. 

“Yes, I don’t care who you are, how much money you make,” he said during the radio show. “If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football. If you had to go somewhere else and try to play the sport, you wouldn’t have a job. So that would be my take. If you don’t respect this flag and this country, then you don’t know what this is all about. So I would say, adios.”

But when asked about other athletes who stood against social injustice, like Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens, Ditka said he doesn't "know what social injustices [there] have been."

"Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived," Ditka said. "I mean, you can say, are you talking 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. But, all of a sudden, it has become a big deal now — about oppression."

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It's not the first time Ditka has weighed in on the issue.

At the start of this year, the former coach said he has "no respect for Colin Kaepernick," the player who started the national anthem protests initially when he sat, then kneeled, during the national anthem months earlier.

Ditka added Monday that he thinks current protests are targeting "maybe an individual" and "that's wrong too," making an apparent reference to Trump.

“You have a ballot box, you have an election. That’s where you protest," he said. "You elect the person you want to be in office. And if you don’t get that person in office, I think you respect the other one. Period.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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