"So, what do you think of Mike Ditka’s comments?"
The question cropped up in more than one conversation the morning after the Bears’ 20-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. It was in reference to remarks from Ditka to Jim Gray on Westwood One’s pregame show Monday night, in which Mike declared, among other things, that he hasn’t seen the social injustice that some athletes have protested, and that "there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people."
The problem here is where to start. Because the fact is that there are too many angles in what Mike voiced (social injustice, protest venues, disrespect) to have just one reaction, and because, perhaps surprisingly even to myself, I honestly don’t have a violent reaction one way or the other.
If that’s what Mike believes, so be it. He’s got as much right to think that as anyone who thinks the last 100 years were replete with oppression and social injustice. Mike did offer the example of Muhammad Ali rising to the top; he didn’t mention, though, that a younger Ali/Cassius Clay was denied service in one of his hometown restaurants even while wearing his Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal. But that’s digressing. Louis Armstrong or Yogi Berra (the original source is debated) famously remarked, “what some folks don’t know, you can't tell 'em."
As far as the protests, which Mike doesn’t think should be taken onto the sidelines, it’s probably not what I would do if I were standing on a sideline before a game. I might link arms with teammates (expressing unity doesn’t qualify as "protest" to me), but regardless of what I feel, I’m not going to disrespect something of immense value and pride to you. That’s just me. My choice.
(One thought/question: If every American throughout Soldier Field and in every other NFL stadium had linked arms after the events of 9/11, would that be derided as disrespectful? I doubt it. But that’s also digressing. "Disrespect" is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Donald Trump saying to Bill O’Reilly, in a conversation about Vladimir Putin being a killer, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country's so innocent?" – I suppose that's showing respect for our nation, flag and soldiers; I'm just not seeing it.)
In fairness to Mike, he explicitly said that you've got every right to protest, and he wasn’t condemning or criticizing anybody. Also in the eye of the beholder.
I tend to second some sentiments expressed by Jack Nicklaus, who told Golfweek, “[Thoughts on the protests] is a very difficult question to answer when you ask me. Everyone who answers that question cannot properly answer it. They don’t want to disrespect the rights of the kids. And you don’t want to disrespect our country. So how do you answer it?”