Former Bears coach Mike Ditka said late Tuesday his comments do not "reflect the context" of the radio interview in which he said "there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of," and he apologized "if anyone was offended."
He had added in the broadcast that the place to protest was at "a ballot box," and that people should "respect" the winners of elections.
The 77-year-old was speaking with Jim Gray on Westwood One. After a brief discussion of the Bears, Ditka was asked about Vice President Mike Pence walking out of an NFL game Sunday because of anthem protests and about the pregame demonstrations in general.
"Is this the stage for this?" Ditka said. "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.
"I don't see a lot of respect for the game, I just see respect for their own individual opinions. ... Respect the game, play the game, when you want to protest, protest when the game's over, protest whatever other way you want to."
With Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones making news for saying that his players would either stand for the anthem or get benched, Gray asked Ditka if that would be his policy, as well, were he in charge of an NFL team.
"Yes," Ditka replied, "I don't care who you are, or how much money you make, if you don't respect our country, you shouldn't be in this country playing football. Go to another country and play football. If you had to go to somewhere else and try to play this sport, you wouldn't have a job."
"If you can't respect the flag and this country, then you don't respect what this is all about, so I would say: 'Adios.'"
ABC 7 reported that Ditka released a full statement at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday through a public relations representative: "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."
Ditka has not been shy in the past about expressing political views, and he was an early supporter of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Starting well before the election, Trump has taken frequent shots at former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the anthem protests last season, and Ditka has followed suit, saying a year ago that he had "no respect" for the player.
"My choice is that I like this country, I respect our flag, and I don't see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on," Ditka added at the time.
The Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during the anthem and has worked toward helping create better relations between police and community members, offered an explanation Monday of some of the concerns felt by NFL players. "I think we've made that very clear that what we are demonstrating about has nothing to do with the flag but everything to do with social injustice, racial inequality and the things that Jerry Jones and other owners who are making statements have yet to address," the safety said to NBC Sports Philadelphia.
"And so I'd love to hear their takes on that part of the conversation, what these players are trying to draw attention to," Jenkins continued. "Their thoughts on, you know, police brutality and racial inequality, education gap, the economical gap in these communities that they make money in. And I'd love to hear that part of the conversation so that it's not so argumentative, so that it's not isolating the players who are trying to do the right thing with the platform that they have."
"I think that you have to be colorblind in this country. You've got 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's 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 into yourself, I think you can accomplish anything," Ditka said in the interview.
When Ditka was reached briefly by phone, ABC reported, 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 the country."