Broadway Joe Namath still respects Mike Ditka, but Namath said he was “surprised” by Ditka’s comments Monday during the former Bears coach’s interview with Jim Gray, when Ditka said “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years.”
“I think Mike is brilliant. I was surprised. Being as smart as Mike is, something’s wrong,” Namath told the Daily News Tuesday night at Cipriani 42nd Street, where a dinner was held that raised money and awareness for the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center at Jupiter (Fla.) Medical Center.
Former Super Bowl champion quarterback Joe Theismann and Cody Gifford, the son of the late Hall of Fame Giant Frank Gifford, were also on hand.
“If you look up the definition (of “oppression”), I mean, c’mon,” said Namath.
The legendary Jets quarterback, who helped the franchise win its only Super Bowl title (Super Bowl III), said that his first experience with oppression came not in the deep South at the University of Alabama during the ’60s, when Namath played for Paul (Bear) Bryant and when the civil rights movement churned across the country. Namath said when he was growing up in western Pennsylvania (Beaver Falls), he and a “buddy” of his who was black, went into a local pizza shop owned by a woman.
“When she told my buddy to get out of there and ‘Namath, you can stay,’ no way I was staying,” said Namath. “I went home and told my mother about it. That’s the first time I learned that there was that kind of feeling between people. There are still people that were raised a certain way, that carry dislike for others. To me, it’s not healthy. I wish the people with anger and lack of respect for others, (all) because a way a person looks, walks, talks – get rid of it.”
Namath said that while he personally will “always stand” for the national anthem – “I honor the country, I honor our flag,” he said – he supports NFL players kneeling during the anthem, an issue that has been at the forefront of the NFL 2017 season. Namath added that he thinks when quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his former 49ers teammate Eric Reid knelt during the anthem last year, the two players “weren’t disrespecting the flag.”
“To each his own, in a sense,” said Namath. “Unless you’ve walked in a black man’s shoes, you don’t know what they’ve gone through in a lifetime. Things aren’t always right. There are still the animals out there that hold some kind of resentment. In this modern era, you’ve got to question what’s happening here. Let’s get it straightened out, let’s get some answers.”
But Namath didn’t take umbrage with President Trump, who has lashed out at NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
“He’s entitled to feel the way he wants,” said Namath. “Some people lose their poise a little bit now and then. I’ve lost mine sometimes too.”