WASHINGTON — Mike Ditka says when athletes kneel as a form of peaceful protest during the national anthem, it's unpatriotic.
During an interview with TMZ Sports, Ditka said, "If you can't respect our national anthem, get the hell out of the country."
The former football pro expressed his strong feelings towards the kneeling protests, which started after football player Colin Kaepernick's racial injustice protest during the national anthem in 2016.
Ditka said, "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.”
Many in pro sports have shown support for those kneeling as a form of protest. New Orleans Saints Quarter Back Drew Brees recently wrote a note saying, "through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been."
The note was directed at President Donald Trump who has frequently voice opposition to kneeling recently tweeting, "any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag."
Last week the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees knelt in unison before the first game of the baseball season. It was part of an opening day ceremony Thursday which had references to the Black Lives Matter movement. Players wore t-shirts saying Black Lives Matter during batting practice.
Major League Baseball tweeted regarding kneeling protests saying players are just using their platforms peacefully to raise awareness.