Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka took aim at athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice in a recent interview, saying, “If you can't respect our national anthem, get the hell out of the country.”

Ditka, who recently became the chairman and owner of a women’s football league known as the X League, made the comment after being pressed about whether his new league would permit similar protests from players during an interview with TMZ Sports released on Sunday.

“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,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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,” he continued.

Kneeling protests during the national anthem picked up steam in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest racial injustice and police treatment of people of color.

In the weeks following the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died earlier this year after a white police officer was recorded kneeling on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis, professional players in other sports have resumed the kneeling protests as widespread demonstrations against racial inequality have continued across the nation. 

The comments by Ditka, who has been vocal in the past about his support for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MOREanother opponent of kneeling protests during the national anthem, come several years after the former coach drew backlash in 2017 for claiming 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," he also said in an interview then. 

Shortly after, Ditka, who had also knocked kneeling protests at the time, issued an apology and claimed the “interview was about the NFL and the related issues.”

“I have absolutely seen oppression in society in the last 100 years and I am completely intolerant of any discrimination,” he also said.