CHICAGO, Illinois - Former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka faced criticism Tuesday after comments he made during a pregame interview Monday night.
In a six-minute pregame interview, Ditka was asked about the protests of social injustice by NFL players.
"All of a sudden, it's become a big deal now, about oppression," Ditka said. "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."
Former Bears coach Mike Ditka: 'No oppression in last 100 years'
He was asked how he would handle the situation if he were coaching now.
"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," Ditka said.
When the host steered Ditka to other issues, he returned the controversial topic.
"I don't see all the social injustice that some of these people see," Ditka continued.
"It's so ridiculous, it's hard to have a conversation about it," ESPN's Carmen DeFalco said. "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."
"You just knew he was factually wrong and he just had his head out over his skies," ESPN radio host John Jurkovic said.
Otis Wilson, who played under Coach Ditka's leadership, said players should be allowed to express their concerns and opinions.
"Everyone should be treated equal, everybody should be treated fair, and everybody should be treated the same. And it's not that way unfortunately," Wilson said.
This topic will be addressed next week when the NFL owners have their annual meeting in New York.
When ABC7 reached Ditka briefly by phone, he said: "You know, I'm getting too old for this. Get someone younger to talk about this. I respect the game, I respect the flag, I respect our country."
Ditka released a full statement at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday through a public relations representative, saying, "I want to clarify statements that I made in an interview with Jim Gray last night. 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."
Fast Facts about Mike Ditka
Here's a look at the life of Hall of Fame football player and coach Mike Ditka.
Personal: Birth date: October 18, 1939
Birth place: Carnegie, Pennsylvania
Birth name: Michael Keller Dyczko Jr.
Father: Michael Ditka Sr., steel mill worker and railroad union organizer
Mother: Charlotte (Keller) Ditka
Marriages: Diana (Trantham) Ditka (July 8, 1977-present); Margery Dougherty (January 28, 1961-September 21, 1973, divorced)
Children: with Margery Dougherty: Michael III, Mark, Megan and Matthew
Education: Attended the University of Pittsburgh, 1958-1960
Other Facts: Surname was changed from Dyczko to Ditka when he was young.
Nicknamed "Iron Mike," "Da Coach" and "The Hammer."
Five-time Pro Bowl player (1961-1965 seasons).
NFL tight end with the Chicago Bears (1961-1966 seasons), the Philadelphia Eagles (1967-1968 seasons) and the Dallas Cowboys (1969-1972 seasons).
NFL head coach of the Chicago Bears (1982-1992 seasons) and the New Orleans Saints (1997-1999 seasons).
One of only two coaches to win the Super Bowl as a player (1971 season), assistant coach (1977 season) and head coach (1985 season). Tom Flores is the other.
Was part-owner of the Arena Football team, the Chicago Rush.
Owner and operator of the restaurant chain Ditka's.
President of the nonprofit Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which assists retired NFL players medically and financially.
1961 - Selected first round, fifth overall by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Draft; and also selected first round, eighth overall by the Houston Oilers in the AFL Draft. (At the time, the AFL and NFL had separate drafts). Ditka signs with the Bears for $12,000 plus a $6,000 bonus.
December 1961 - Named the NFL Rookie of the Year.
April 26, 1967 - Traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
January 27, 1969 - Traded to the Dallas Cowboys.
January 16, 1972 - Catches a 7-yard touchdown pass in the Dallas Cowboys' victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24-3.
1973 - Retires as a player and becomes an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
January 15, 1978 - Assistant coach when the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII, 27-10.
October 14, 1985 - Arrested near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. He is later convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, fined $300 and ordered to attend alcohol abuse classes.
January 26, 1986 - Coaches the Chicago Bears to a 46-10 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
1986 - Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
July 30, 1988 - First tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
November 1988 - Suffers a minor heart attack.
1989 - Founds the Mike Ditka Foundation, which raises money for pediatric AIDS research and Misericordia, a Chicago-based organization supporting individuals with developmental disabilities.
1982-January 5, 1993 - Head coach of the Chicago Bears, until he is fired following a 5-11 season.
1993 - Becomes an NFL studio analyst with NBC.
1997-2000 - Head coach of the New Orleans Saints until he is fired in January 2000.
2000 - Becomes an NFL studio analyst with CBS.
2004-present - Football analyst with ESPN.
July 2004 - After being approached by a group of Illinois Republicans, announces that he has decided not to run for the open US Senate seat in Illinois.
2011 - Invests in the Elite Football League of India, originally comprised of eight teams from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka playing American-style football.
November 16, 2012 - Suffers a minor stroke.
May 24, 2013 - The Bears announce the upcoming retirement of Ditka's number 89, and that it will be the last number they retire. The ceremony takes place December 9, 2013, during halftime at their game against the Dallas Cowboys.
September 12, 2016 - In response to NFL players not standing for the National Anthem, in a radio interview Ditka remarks, "they could do whatever they want but they'd never play another down for me."
CNN contributed to this report.
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