Former American Football Player Tells Kneeling Athletes To ‘Get The Hell Out Of The Country’
NFL coach Mike Ditka has expressed some strong opinions towards athletes who kneel as a means of protesting against police brutality and systematic racism in the US.
The former Chicago Bears coach has made his own policy on kneeling crystal clear, telling those who – in his eyes – disrespect the national anthem to ‘get the hell out of the country’.
Former San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick famously kickstarted the movement in 2016, surprising fans when he knelt during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. The act led to Kaepernick experiencing a backlash at the time, but the act has since gained traction across a variety of sports in the US.
The NFL tried to introduce a kneeling ban in 2018, whereby teams would be fined if teammates did not stand up during the national anthem. However, this policy was put on hold, and in 2020 a renewed public focus on racism encouraged NFL to think again about their past actions.
Following the death of George Floyd, players asked the NFL to openly condemn racism. In response, commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the NFL had made mistakes, and stated that players would now be encouraged to ‘speak out and peacefully protest’.
When asked about how he would feel about such protests in his new women’s football league, Ditka told TMZ Sports:
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.
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.
Colin Kaepernick and other players have continually said the protests have nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or the US military, with the demonstrations being about raising awareness for social justice issues affecting America.
Many sports fans have now called Ditka out for his outdated views, criticising him for denying his fellow sporting professionals the right to protest peacefully.
One person tweeted:
Mike Ditka: if you can’t respect our Constitution and it’s freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, get the eff out of the country! #MikeDitka
Dear Mike Ditka: I’m a US Marine who served this Nation with his life. Yet I’ve NEVER felt it my place to tell anyone to ‘get the hell out of the country’. Let that sink in.
PS: Athletes kneel to raise awareness for racial injustice. And you’re exactly one of the reasons why.
Ditka’s understanding of protests in sport does feel rather behind the times, and does not reflect a notable shift in attitudes the sporting world has seen in recent times.
According to a Yahoo! Sports/YouGov poll published last month, a growing number of Americans are now more accepting of NFL sideline protests than they were just a few years back.
In 2016, when Kaepernick first took the knee, just 28% of Americans considered his actions to be ‘appropriate’.
This rose to 38% in 2018 and, following nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, 52% of Americans now agree it is ‘OK for NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police killings of African Americans’.
It was recently announced that the NFL is planning to allow players to place decal stickers on their helmets which bear the names of victims of systemic racism. Players will also be permitted to represent a cause on their cleats for one weekend each season.
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