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Former NFL player and head coach Mike Ditka ripped American sports athletes showing a lack of “respect” for the country by kneeling during the National Anthem, suggesting they ought to leave the United States if they’re that unhappy.
“If it was up to me, I’d say no,” Ditka, 80, a college and NFL Hall of Fame player as well as a legendary Chicago Bears coach, told TMZ Sports when asked what he thought about the kneeling.
“If you can’t respect our national anthem, get the hell out of the country. That’s the way I feel. Of course, I’m old fashioned. So, I’m only going to say what I feel. I think there’s a way you protest and there’s a way you don’t protest.
“You don’t protest against the flag, you don’t against this country [that] has given you the opportunity to make a living playing a sport that you never thought would happen,” he continued.
“So, I don’t wanna hear all the crap,” he added.
Earlier in the interview, Ditka also predicted that women would soon play in the NFL, though he admitted he didn’t know how it will come about or how well it will go.
“I think football appeals to so many people, and to see women play the game and play it, not only with, I think with skill, it’ll be fun to watch,” he said after noting that women have begun competing in other physically demanding sports like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and boxing, among others.
As professional sports leagues reopen to mostly empty stadiums and venues following lengthy coronavirus-related delays, players have begun taking a knee during the playing of the anthem, ostensibly to protest “systemic racism” not all Americans agree exists.
“Today, and every day, we come together as brothers,” said actor Morgan Freeman in a prerecorded message played on stadium loudspeakers as coaches and players knelt. “As equals, all with the same goal – to level the playing field. To change the injustices. Equality is not just a word. It’s our right.
Today, and every day, we come together as brothers. As equals, all with the same goal – to level the playing field. To change the injustices. Equality is not just a word. It’s our right!
Today we stand as men from 25 nations on 6 continents.
Today, we are one. pic.twitter.com/vKUGdRfwgQ
— MLB (@MLB) July 23, 2020
“Today, we stand as men from 25 nations on six continents. Today, we are one.”
Two New York Yankees players, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton, knelt again during the anthem ahead of a Saturday game against the Washington Nationals, noting they planned to do so for the rest of the season.
And WNBA players left the court completely ahead of the anthem being played as that league began its season Saturday as well.
As for the NFL, most fans — and former fans — expect that league to follow suit, especially after a video statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell in June apologizing for disallowing kneeling after then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing so.
“We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” said Goodell. “We, the National Football League, believe that Black lives matter.”
In the video, Goodell also encouraged an NFL team to sign Kaepernick, now 32, though he’s been out of the league for three years.
In addition to beginning each Week 1 game playing the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” considered by some to be the ‘black national anthem,’ the NFL is leaning towards allowing players to continue protesting in other ways.
“We anticipate taking the same approach we’ve taken the last number of years,” an NFL source told Front Office Sports. “No discipline will be enacted. No player has ever been fined.”
The report noted that the league is also working closely with the NFL Players Association, the players’ union, to develop “an anthem strategy.
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