NFL Hall of Fame coach Mike Ditka has blasted San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his protest against the U.S. national anthem. The former Chicago Bears coach suggested that Kaepernick should leave the country.
On Sept. 23, 76-year-old Ditka criticized Kaepernick’s snubbing of the anthem during a sit-down at a Houston radio station.
“I think it’s a problem, anybody who disrespects this country and the flag,” Ditka said in a KRLD radio interview. “If they don’t like the country, if they don’t like our flag, get the hell out. That’s what I think.”
The Hall of Fame coach added that he has no respect for Kaepernick.
“I have no respect for Colin Kaepernick -- he probably has no respect for me, that’s his choice,” Ditka continued. “My choice is that I like this country, I respect our flag, and I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on.”
On Aug. 27, Kaepernick ignited national controversy when he stated that he would be snubbing the national anthem during football games to protest police brutality against people of color.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football… There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The quarterback’s protest has sharply divided both the NFL community and its fandom. While Kaepernick’s supporters have praised him for taking a stand against racial injustice, his critics assert that he is disrespecting U.S. military veterans.
During his radio interview, Ditka flatly dismissed the message of Kaepernick’s protest, stressing that he does not believe systemic racism even exists.
“I see opportunities if people want to look for opportunity. Now if they don’t want to look for them, then you can find problems with anything, but this is the land of opportunity because you can be anything you want to be if you work,” Ditka said. “Now if you don’t work, that’s a different problem.”
Ditka was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. His career highlight was perhaps his 11 years coaching the Chicago Bears. An outspoken conservative, the Illinois-native stated that his biggest regret in life was not running against President Barack Obama when he won his U.S. Senate seat in 2004.
“Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn’t be in the White House,” Ditka said in a 2013 Dickinson Press interview, The Guardian reports.
The former NFL coach added that he believed Obama “is a fine man… He’s not a leader.”
While Kaepernick clearly does not have Ditka’s support, he has been defended by one of his former teammates: New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long.
“I support my peers in exercising their right to protest,” Long, a white man, told ESPN. “This is a wonderful country, and I think everyone agrees on that, but there are things in our country that can improve.”
Long added that if his peers “identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line, creating controversy, I’m going to listen to those guys.”
The Patriots defensive end added that while he would personally never kneel during the national anthem, “I respect Colin. Colin has really put his reputation on the line … I don’t think he did it for the publicity.”