The famed Chicago Bears coach came under fire for making the comments during a radio interview on Monday about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. He issued an apology the next day, saying he was talking about professional football and not society as a whole.
“I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years,” the Hall of Fame tight end and Super Bowl-winning coach said in statement to WGN-TV in Chicago. “The interview was about the NFL and related issues. That’s where my head was at.”
The interview aired before the Chicago Bears played the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
The 77-year-old old Ditka has previously made harsh comments about players who take a knee, which has sparked fierce debate about issues such as patriotism and protest. He said he would bench players who didn’t stand during the anthem.
Ditka went further on Monday, saying he didn’t know what “social injustices” players are protesting.
“There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” he said.
Ditka’s comments triggered a quick backlash, with many chastising him for seemingly ignoring or not knowing about Jim Crow Laws that enforced racial segregation and the lynching of African Americans that occurred well into Ditka’s lifetime.
“Great coach … clueless person,” tweeted retired NFL player Steve Smith.
Even in Chicago, where Ditka is revered, the reaction was critical and incredulous.
“It’s so ridiculous, it’s hard to have a conversation about it,” Carmen DeFalco, an ESPN radio host in Chicago, told Chicago television station WLS-TV. “I don’t know how you could grow up in this country — especially when he did — and be completely unaware of something as significant as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.”