Joe Namath defends National Football League protesters: 'Look up the definition of oppression'

Mike Ditka as a Chicago Bears player

Mike Ditka as a Chicago Bears player

Before this week's edition of Monday Night Football, NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka weighed in on the NFL political controversy as only the outspoken retired NFL coach and tight end could.

The Bears elected not to comment. "Now maybe I'm not watching it as carefully as other people", Ditka said during the interview. The league has developed a plan to move past the debate over anthem protests, he wrote, and could enact it during the NFL's fall meetings next week.

Former Super Bowl champion quarterback Joe Theismann and Cody Gifford, the son of the late Hall of Fame Giant Frank Gifford, were also on hand.

Namath said he didn't agree with those who said the United States is free of oppression.

The comments took a lot of fire on social media Tuesday, with one lifelong Bears fan writing: "I loved Mike Ditka as a coach and he was ideal for the Bears Super Bowl run". I don't see it that way. "If you want to protest, or whatever you want to protest, you've got a right to do that, but I think you're a professional athlete, you have an obligation to the game", Ditka said. "Muhammad Ali rose to the top".

"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", the former coach of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints said in a statement.

Unsurprisingly, Ditka's comments prompted criticism, with a number of people pointing out instances of oppression endured by the African American community in the USA over the past century. I think you can accomplish anything, and we have watched that throughout our history of our country.

"Yes, I don't care who you are, how much money you make".

"When she told my buddy to get out of there and 'Namath, you can stay, ' no way I was staying", said Namath. "I would like to see us get back to that".

Ditka also said if he was still coaching, he would bench players who kneeled. I mean, are you talking everything is based on color?

The issue was has been dividing fans since last season when then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem to protest police brutality and the oppression of black people in America. Protest whatever other way you want to.

Saying that "you have to be colorblind in this country", Ditka noted that "the opportunity is there for everybody". I think you have to respect the game.

And as Bomani Jones of ESPN rightly noted, kudos to Gray for putting the question to Ditka live on air.

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