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Tow Mike Ditka, Charles Barkley into the 21st Century

OMAR TYREE | 1/12/2015, 4:26 p.m.
In the middle of an American turmoil between the police force and African American men, what I would like in ...
Omar Tyree

(NNPA) – In the middle of an American turmoil between the police force and African American men, what I would like in 2014 is more social awareness, logic and sensitivity from the Mike Ditkas and Charles Barkleys of the world.

Both high-profile Hall of Fame athletes and outspoken commentators came from poor, hard-working families. Ditka, born Michael Dyczko to an Ukrainian family in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, excelled in football to escape working in the Pennsylvania steel mills and factories of the 1950s and 60s. Likewise, Barkley excelled in basketball to escape generations of poverty and racism in Leeds, Alabama, in the 1970s and 80s.

The pair of hard-nosed and tenacious athletes played their respective sports like gladiators with swords and shields in hand. They were manly and proud of it. They had no problem expressing themselves either, saying the type of things that other men would only think about. Ditka and Barkley were able to get away with it, too. That’s why hardened, old-school men love these guys. They allowed Joe Blow and Sammy Washington to validate their own unfiltered and uncompromised opinions. Now we have a nation full of no-named Ditkas and Barkleys all over the Internet on Twitter and Facebook saying whatever the hell they want without enough thought behind it.

What does this have to do with Black America’s issues with the police? Well, if you haven’t heard, Ditka, who calls himself an “ultra-conservative,” recently made comments that the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, used the police killing of teenager Michael Brown as “a reason to protest and go out and loot.” He confessed that he didn’t understand the uproar, and that he doubted the St. Louis Rams football players who flashed a “hands up, don’t shoot” symbol during their introductions in a recent game against the Oakland Raiders “care about Michael Brown or anything else.”

Ditka says that there are a lot of different things in society that athletes can complain or protest about. Why choose Michael Brown?

Well, Tavon Austin, Steadman Bailey, Jared Cook, Kenny Britt and Chris Givens – who all happen to be Black and play professional football for the St. Louis Rams – consider the loss of Black life, coupled with injustice from the local police force, important enough to talk about. And why shouldn’t they? The last time I checked, a human life was more important than anything, including football and basketball.

After playing professional football for 11 years, coaching for a dozen more, and now commentating on hundreds of NFL games and thousands of players, many of whom happen to be Black as well, you would think Ditka would know a little more about African American culture to at least be sensitive to the complexities of American society and race. But evidently, at age 75, with more than 50 years of being a teammate, a coach and a commentator around African American men who are fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles and so forth, Ditka has apparently learned nothing about them. Or, maybe he only cares to think about the ones he knows and likes.