John Harbaugh on protesting players: “They want America to be great”

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Hall of Fame tight end and legendary Bears coach Mike Ditka continues to express strong opinions about players who protest before games. The real question is why do media members keep asking for his opinion, when we already know it?

“You don’t like the game, get out of it,” Ditka said most recently, via USA Today. “It’s not for protesting one way or the other. What color you are, what you think, this or that. You play football. That’s it. You’re privileged. You got a gift from God that you can play the game because you got a body you can do it with. I don’t really understand what you’re protesting. I played the game. I coached the game for a long time. It makes no sense to me. . . .

“I would tell those players go to another country and play football there. You don’t have to come out. You don’t have to come out if you go to another country. You can’t! Because the game’s only played in this country. And if you can’t respect this country, get the hell out of it.”

Ditka’s opinion is shared by many; it was the first message conveyed by then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, after Colin Kaepernick began protesting during the anthem.

Maybe Ditka and others who think like him would benefit from a conversation with another Super Bowl-winning coach, John Harbaugh. After the Ravens defeated the Browns on Sunday, I asked Harbaugh what we would say to those who inevitably will criticize Ravens players (including quarterback Lamar Jackson), who took a knee with a hand over their hearts during the national anthem on Sunday.

“I don’t know how you can criticize someone for being passionate and for believing in something important to them,” Harbaugh said. “They want America to be great, and to realize the ideals we were founded on.”

Harbaugh explained that he’s a student of history, and that history currently is unfolding before our eyes. “One hundred to two hundred years from now the African-American story will be the greatest freedom story in the history of the world,” Harbaugh said, emphasizing that we all should want to be on the right side of that story, and of that history.