NFL hall-of-famer Mike Ditka believes athletes who protest during the national anthem should ‘get the hell out of the country’.
‘Iron Mike’, a three-time Superbowl champion, who played tight end for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys, hit out when asked whether he will allow female athletes in X League football – where he is now commissioner – to kneel during the anthem.
While admitting he doesn’t have powers to ban his athletes from kneeling, he made it clear he ‘doesn’t want to hear any of that c**p’ when it comes to the protests.
Mike Ditka, NFL hall-of-famer and commissioner of the women’s X League, believes athletes who kneel during the national anthem ‘should get the hell out of the country’
Ditka was asked his thoughts as kneeling protests, which began in 2016 with Colin Kaepernick (pictured), have spread and gained prominence – especially in the wake of BLM protests
Speaking to TMZ, he said: ‘If it was up to me, I would say no. If you can’t respect the anthem, get the hell out of the country. That’s the way I feel.
‘I’m old fashioned, I’m only going to say what I feel. I think there’s a way you protest and a way you don’t.
‘You don’t protest against the flag and you don’t protest against this country, that’s given you the opportunity to make a living playing a sport that you never thought would happen. So I don’t want to hear all that c**p.’
National anthem protests have been ongoing in the NFL since 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting out the anthem to protest inequality in America.
Ditka, who played tight end for the Chicago Bears and later managed the team, said he ‘doesn’t want to hear any of that c**p’
He later changed the stance to kneeling after being blasted as disrespectful, and has been copied by dozens of other athletes and teams since.
Megan Rapinoe, captain of the US soccer team, was another prominent figure to take the knee while playing for the US in September the same year.
Ditka was quickly criticised for his stance, including by NFL agent David Mulugheta, who accused him of ‘trading his helmet in for a white hood as soon as he retired from football.’
He later added: ‘Dikta isn’t a racist simply because he believes people should stand for the anthem, it’s because of his many racist beliefs.
‘One example, he claims “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years.” To be clear, segregation ended less than 55 years ago. So yeah he’s a racist.’
Stan Van Gundy, former head coach for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, also took issue with Ditka.
Pointing out the hypocrisy in Ditka’s stance, he tweeted: ‘What should we do with those who don’t respect the Constitution which says we have the rights of free speech and freedom of assembly?’
Kneeling protests have gained new prominence in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the US following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
MLB opening day saw athletes from the Washington Nationals kneel in support of Black Lives Matter, though the protest took place before the anthem played
New York Yankees players also knelt before MLB Opening Day, while several NFL athletes have already announced their intention to kneel during the 2020 season
Prior to each game on opening day of the 2020 MLB season – which got underway on Friday after a delay due to coronavirus – each team knelt while holding a black rope with patches reading ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their arms.
The kneeling protest took place before the anthem was played.
Similarly, the protest has spread to other sports – including England’s Premier League, where players took a knee during games with ‘Black Lives Matter’ written on the backs of their shirts.
Fourteen out of 20 Formula 1 drivers also chose to take the knee ahead of the first race of the season, which took place in Australia on July 10.
During his interview, Ditka also tried to promote X League – which sees scantily-clad female athletes take part in contact football games.
Ditka is now commissioner of the women’s football X League, which he said involves ‘good looking [women], and they knock the crap out of each other’
Megan Rapinoe, captain of the US soccer team, also took a knee in 2016 while representing the country in a game against the Netherlands
‘Women play every sport there is in the country there is, except football, so why not football,’ he said.
While insisting the players were all ‘talented athletes’ involved in genuine competition, he added: ‘Women are pretty, good looking, and they knock the c**p out of each other. We’ll see how it works.
‘It’ll never get more popular than men, but it could still be very popular. I mean, women want to play in men’s sports, and if they’re going to knock the c**p out of each-other, power to them. That’s what people want to see.’