By Dan Bernstein
His team won a single Super Bowl 32 years ago, and he might only now remember it because people keep reminding him by giving him a check to say something stupid or supportive of their product or service.
But as long as Mike Ditka continues to shamble on this side of the earth, it apparently will remain a perfunctory exercise to place a microphone in front of whatever he has become, record what falls out of his mouth and subsequently broadcast it to the detriment of us all. It has to stop.
The latest exercise allowed the apparently sought-after cultural critic to decry NFL players following Colin Kaepernick’s lead in protesting racial injustice. Ditka is as confused as many others about both the method and aims of the demonstration, going so far at to declare “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of. Now, I’m not watching it as carefully as other people. All of a sudden, it’s become a big deal now.”
Let’s allow for the fact that he could be telling a kind of truth, or could at least be considered legally insane. The phrase “that I know of” provides latitude for complete ignorance and white privilege that allows him to not acknowledge what he cannot or will not care to see. That’s certainly a reasonable possibility. The problem with that is his history in the NFL alongside numerous black teammates in the turbulent 1960s and ’70s especially. And it’s even noted by the Chicago Tribune‘s Phil Rosenthal that the Bears’ Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were famous for being the team’s first interracial roommates — a relationship chronicled in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song.
He may also not be lying when he says “know” instead of “knew,” because he’s very likely brain-damaged. His speech has become increasingly slurred, with his remaining thoughts scatter-shoooting around Fox News talking points. It is possible he once knew that oppression existed, but ceased to know it over time due to repeated blows to the head and the ravages of time and vice. The sobering results of recently released forensic studies of the brains of former NFL players — particularly those selected for such cognitive warning signs — are a reliable common-sense guide to what we are likely to be seeing.
But that only lets the cretinous Ditka off on a technicality, because he has given us enough of a body of work in the public and political arena that we know better. His reflexive support for the dumbest and meanest possible political candidates at every level, his bizarre fever-dream that his own senate run could have derailed the curse that was the Obama presidency and his outspoken public campaign against Chicago’s smoking ban are just the start.
He thinks and says this because he has never been able to consider much past his next payday, almost always to pitch something to the white people (now old white people) who make up his remaining base. Companies must believe that his imprimatur still has value in selling car insurance, Italian beef sandwiches, personal-injury attorneys and hearing aids, but it’s not the same message as before.
What was once the mustachioed icon of fist-faced machismo has degraded into something wizened and bedraggled, sputtering either banal sales pitches or racist ramblings that are increasingly difficult to understand.
Mike Ditka looks and sounds like some gibbering old coot living under a viaduct, and we’d be just as well off hearing from one.