Steve July 26, 2020

In the wake of months-long nationwide unrest following the police killing of George Floyd and other Black men and women, former Chicago Bears player and coach Mike Ditka again slammed athletes who kneel during the national anthem in protest and told them to “get the hell out of the country.”

Ditka, who has been an outspoken opponent of NFL players’ protest during the national anthem in the past, recently became chairman and owner of women’s football league X League. With a growing number of athletes in many leagues taking decisive action in support of the Black Lives Matter movement ― including by kneeling during the anthem ― Ditka was asked in an interview with TMZ Sports whether his new league would allow this type of activism.

If it were up to him, Ditka said, he would say no.

“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,” he said. “You don’t protest against the flag and you don’t protest against this country who’s given you the opportunities to make a living playing a sport that you never thought would happen. So, I don’t want to hear all the crap.”

Athletes have taken a knee during the anthem not to protest the flag or the country but to decry systemic racism, oppression and police brutality in America. Many professional sportspeople have done so in recent weeks amid widespread unrest following the police killing of Floyd, an unarmed Black man. 

When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first made kneeling protests famous in 2016, Ditka made similar comments, suggesting that those who “don’t like the country, they don’t like our flag ― get the hell out.” He’s been outspoken about his support of President Donald Trump, who has shared similar beliefs on the issue.

Ditka faced harsh backlash and eventually apologized after claiming in 2017 that “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of.”

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