This morning, Super Bowl winning head coach, and Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka visited a radio show on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Here’s what he said about Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem:
“I think it’s a problem…anybody who disrespects this country and the flag. If they don’t like the country they don’t like our flag…get the hell out.”
“I have no respect for Colin Kaepernick - he probably has no respect for me, that’s his choice. My choice is, 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.”
My first title for this piece was “Mike Ditka is a clueless asshole.”
My second title was “Stupid, Lost Donkey Mike Ditka can eat a bag of warm shit.”
My third title for this piece was “Just how fucking slow and idiotic are you, Mike Ditka?”
My fourth title was: “Iron Mike is Dumb as Shit.”
I settled on something a little less incendiary. Why? Because I don’t hate Mike Ditka. I certainly don’t like Mike Ditka, but I’m not a fan of jumping into the river of malice that seems to happen when people disagree with you. Because then I would be Mike Ditka.
I think I’m right about the fact that if you can’t actually use your freedoms then you’re not actually free.
I think I’m right that if you’ve spent more time a-hollerin’ about a football player kneeling then your fellow Americans being killed in the street (officers and civilians alike) then I think your priorities are a tad out of whack.
But if you disagree with me, I’m going to make an effort to understand why. I’m not going to make it personal and I’m not going to demand that you leave our country.
Because it’s not my country.
It’s our country.
My dad is like Mike Ditka. In my dad’s case, he’s 86 years old and a truly wonderful human being: but misguided and easily manipulated by propaganda and not at all able to navigate the grey areas of politics. For him, you’re either “good” or “bad.” Republicans who appreciate the Bible are “good.” Obama and Hillary are “bad.”
My dad spends every day using his pickup truck to drive all over Massachusetts to pick up furniture donations for his church and then deliver them to immigrants from Nepal and Iraq and Syria and a dozen other countries of origin. He carries microwaves and dishwashers and sofas and up the stairs of rickety tenement houses in the worst parts of his city. He’s like Santa Claus for new arrivals to the United States. They pass around his cell phone number and he’ll get texts that say “bed” and “cabinet” because that’s all the English some people know. He fixes broken appliances and heating units. He helps children with their homework. He fills his car with a half dozen kids who just set foot in this country and he takes them to Boston to see Bunker Hill Monument and Old Ironsides and Concord Bridge and The Freedom Trail. He pays for all of their admission out of his pocket. He feeds them at Faneuil Hall. When the older kids graduate from High School, he helps them fill out applications and find jobs. For some of these families, he’s the only “American” that ever gives them the time of day. He never takes money, but as thanks he’ll often sit with a new family and accept their offer of tea. Or he’ll be invited to a cultural festival with a family and gladly attend. I’ve gone to these homes with him. I’ve seen the gratitude from families who have literally nothing. They have nothing. So they offer you tea, which will just be a small chunk of ginger in hot water. That’s all they have to give.
But he thinks Obama’s history as a “community organizer” is foolishness. He thinks there are two kinds of women and Hillary isn’t the good kind.
My dad joined the Peace Corps when he was 69 years old and served in Kenya for 27 months. An engineer by trade, he spent the entirety of his time there fixing and repairing broken machines. I visited him there and the ingenuity he used was mind boggling. Literally I was in awe. (In fact one of the main reasons he wanted me to visit was so that I could load my suitcase with tools that he couldn’t get in Kenya.)
He would be repairing wells that were eighty and ninety years old — but built with such quality and precision that he could get them going again. He helped local artists start businesses. He helped local craftsmen build machinery from scratch. FROM SCRATCH. Have you ever seen a two ton metalworking lathe built from scratch by a Kenyan with a second grade education who is smarter and more resourceful than a professor here in America? Because I have. My dad helped all these people.
But my dad reads Breitbart and forwards me the articles. My dad refused to watch a minute of the Democratic convention because he “didn’t want to see that crap.”
My dad has helped so many people, all across the world. But in May he told me he was “going to hold his nose and vote for Trump.”
Since then I’ve made it my mission to try to get him to see my point of view. I’ve sent him articles about how dishonest Trump is and the many fraud allegations and lawsuits against him (dishonesty is usually an instant dealbreaker for him). I’ve talked to him about political propaganda and how writers on both sides of the aisle — myself included — can choose words and frame things in a certain light to get you to see things their way.
He didn’t believe me. So I wrote the story of his life, but spun to make him look like a terrorist. I noted how he “may have been “radicalized” in Kenya while he was part of an ultra-liberal governmental organization.”
A low point of his life was that he was in the Navy and volunteered for the Berlin Airlift but he wasn’t chosen because he didn’t know morse code. I wrote that “he successfully avoided combat while accepting taxpayer money.”
He had a girlfriend in Kenya while he was there. She was one of the loveliest people you’d ever meet. She was Islamic, and from Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya. She was fun and outgoing and always smiling and delightful. She told us that when 9/11 happened, the local mullahs came and woke everyone up in the middle of the night. They drove them into the streets to cheer and yell ‘Death to America.’ She showed me the marks where her mullah hit her with a cane when she wouldn’t yell that. When my dad came back to America, he would send her money from time to time if she needed it. She had started a small company to buy wholesale surplus clothing in bulk and sell them in Nairobi. She wrote my dad letters all the time and he would send her a traveler’s cheque back. And then the letters stopped. To this day we don’t know what happened to her. She was just gone. In my propaganda letter I wrote that “I know for a FACT that he [my dad] financially supported — for many years — a person who was in the mob with people who were cheering in support of the terrorists on 9/11, people who were yelling ‘Death to America.’”
When my dad was a kid in Boston, they used to go up to a street called Blue Hill Avenue, which they called “Jew Hill Avenue” and pick fights with Jewish kids. Remember, this was the 1930s. He’s not proud of it, but that’s “the way things were in those days.” In my letter I wrote that “his history of racism and personal intolerance reached back before World War Two.” And I suggested that “he might be a powderkeg waiting to go off.”
I also noted that his last wife was African, and that in his day to day vocation as a “purveyor of off-the radar items” and “wealth distribution” he spent the majority of it with “refugees” and “Islamists” and “people who don’t even speak the language.” I made sure to point out that 100% of his donations go to “non-whites” and that his many many visits to national monuments could be “possible terrorist scouting trips.”
Lady Castleton wouldn’t even let me email it it sounded so damning. I painted an absolutely airtight picture about how my dad was very likely radicalized and presented a very clear and present danger to America. She was like “print that and then delete it. It sounds so awful. Don’t put that into the world.”
When I read it to my father, he listened quietly to my tale of his life. How his parenting lessons — which I cherish, are the stuff that hatred and radicalization are made of. I pointed out his victories and cast aspersions on them. I made him seem like a bad person. It was quite a shock for an 86-year-old, red-meat eating, apple-pie eating, red-blooded American. He sat there, nodding, and then smiled.
“Okay, my boy. You made your point. Whooo wee, did you make your point.”
Then he gave me a hug and left in his pickup. He had an appointment to pick up a sleeper sofa that he was going to give to a family from Burundi. I literally — just now, Friday morning — just called him to make sure it was Burundi because I thought it might be Burma.
He answered and said “It’s Burundi. I’ll have to call you later, my boy. I’m delivering a chest of drawers.”
“Where’s the family from?” I asked.
“What?” He said. He’s 86.
“Where’s the family from?” I yelled.
“Congo.” He said. “Congo. Why?”
“I got a family from Congo here. The nicest people you ever wanna meet. You have any extra bicycles for them? There’s a little girl here who’s about [my daughter’s] age, and I’ll bet she’d love a bike.” He said.
“Yeah. I have a couple extra bikes.” I said. “You can grab them on Sunday.” (My dad often pops over after church.)
“Okay. Good, good.” He said. “I have a family from Somalia and they need a kitchen table and a dresser and a fridge, so keep your eye out. They just got here and they have nothing.”
“I will.” I said.
That was literally five minutes ago. That’s coming out as fast as I can type. That’s what my dad is doing right this second, as you’re reading this, he’s in the inner city with a family from Somalia who has been here for six days and doesn’t speak a word of English and he’s giving them stuff for free to welcome them to his country — the country he loves with all his heart — because he can. He’s doing it because he’s a ‘good Christian’ and because he wants to get into heaven and because he thinks it makes immigrants appreciate America more and mostly because it’s the right thing to do.
But as of now, he’s probably going to hold his nose and vote for Donald Trump. Despite all the evidence. Despite my profound propaganda piece. Despite the fact that he despises crooks and liars and cheats. Despite the fact that he thinks it’s nearly criminal what a “punk” like Colin Kaepernick is doing to the national anthem.
So I’m not going to sit in my ivory tower and castigate Mike Ditka. I know too many Mike Ditkas who can’t see the forest for the trees. That generation will pass from this Earth and along with a good deal of bigotry and confusion and hatred and the inability to grasp complex macro issues, we’ll also say goodbye to some really tough, hard-nosed sons of bitches.
They’re not all bad. And we’re not all good.
I’m sure we’re on the right side of history. But that’s what they think too.
Mike Ditka is wrong. He’s outrageously, hideously wrong. But he has every right to be wrong in a country that belongs to him as much it does to me.