Former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka spent most of Tuesday being raked over the coals for saying Monday night that he was unaware of any racial oppression in America over the last century. Tuesday night, he apologized, but also said his remarks had been taken out of context.
The apology and clarification
"I want to clarify statements that I made in an interview with Jim Gray last night," Ditka said to WGN-TV in Chicago. "The characterization of the statement that I made does not reflect the context of the question that I was answering and certainly does not reflect my views throughout my lifetime.
"I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years and I am completely intolerant of any discrimination. The interview was about the NFL and the related issues. That’s where my head was at. I was quoted in the interview stating, 'You have to be color-blind.' I stated that you should look at a person for what they are and not the color of their skin. I’m sorry if anyone was offended."
What he originally said
Ditka now says he only meant he hadn't seen oppression specifically in the NFL over the last hundred years. Although that isn't explicit in his comments, he claims the context of the conversation contradicts the way it was received in the mainstream.
You can be the judge of what you think he meant. Here are the original comments:
When asked about benching players who kneel during the national anthem:
“Yes, I don’t care who you are, how much money you make. If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football. If you had to go somewhere else and try to play the sport, you wouldn’t have a job. If you don’t respect this flag and this country, then you don’t know what this is all about. I would say, adios.”
When asked about the injustices the athletes are protesting:
“I don’t know what social injustices [there] have been. Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. Is everything based on color? I don’t see it that way. You have to be color-blind in this country. You have to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces — not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything.
“But, all of a sudden, it has become a big deal now — about oppression. 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. I think the opportunity is there for everybody — race, religion, creed, color, nationality. If you want to work, if you want to try, if you want to put effort in, you can accomplish anything. And we have watched that throughout our history of our country.