Mike Ditka on Colin Kaepernick: ‘No respect for this country’

The flag will be unfurled Sunday.

Colin Kaepernick will kneel.

The 49ers quarterback will protest police brutality in a city where five people have been shot and killed in incidents with Chicago Police officers in November alone. Eleven have been killed this year, more than all of 2015.

He’ll kneel in a place where blue ribbons are tied around trees to promote officer safety and fans cheer, full-throated and raucous, during the playing of the national anthem.

In a country whose president-elect said this week that he supports jail time or the revocation of citizenship as punishment for burning the flag.

In a stadium, Soldier Field, named to honor those who protected the nation.

Stepping into that complex backdrop, Kaepernick said Wednesday that he hadn’t thought about the reception he’ll get when he plays against the Bears.

Others, including Chicago’s most famous coach, have.

‘‘I’m old-fashioned,” Mike Ditka said. “I believe if you don’t respect the flag and you don’t respect the country, then you’ve got an option. You’re not going to change it, so leave. You have a chance to leave.

‘‘It’s not too complicated. If you think it’s better somewhere else, you’re really nuts.”

Ditka adores Kaepernick’s on-field performance.

“I just don’t have a lot of empathy,” he said, “for somebody who has no respect for this country.”

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Kaepernick can’t research issues affecting every city the 49ers visit — extolling Fidel Castro’s virtues to Miami reporters two days before the Cuban dictator’s death might have proved that last week — but he said he has had contact with a few Chicago groups.

As part of a campaign to donate $1 million, he gave to the local chapter of Black Youth Project 100 this month.

“They’re on the ground level doing work in those communities to try to create a better environment and to try to create change,” he said. “To really empower the youth and give them opportunities to succeed and not be targeted.”

He said he’s looking at more Chicago communities to help, too, as well as others across the country.

“It’s going to take communities coming together, creating the change that needs to be made,” he said. “And the country coming together and creating the change.”

Despite perception to the contrary — he wore socks with pigs in police hats in August — he said he’s neither anti-police nor anti-military.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning that I’m against systematic oppression,” said Kaepernick, who first sat during the anthem in the preseason, then began kneeling. “Police violence is just one of the symptoms of that oppression. For me, that is something that needs to be addressed, but it’s not the whole issue.”

It’s among the most pressing, though.

“I think you attack [causes] as they come, and you attack them as you see significance in them as far as coming to the forefront of a situation — police brutality being one of those,” he said. “It’s very significant in costing people lives and breaking up families, things of that nature.

“Being able to have your safety before you even try to empower people is a huge step.”

He has tried to keep apart his stances — and the attention given to him — from his duties as a starting quarterback the last six games.

“He keeps that separate from what we do here,” coach Chip Kelly said. “It’s not an issue in the locker room; it’s not an issue with the team.”

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When outside linebacker Sam Acho looked at the Bears’ schedule, the 49ers game caught his eye.

“Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to holler at him before the game,” Acho said. “Because with all of these situations, you want to know the heart behind it.”

He doesn’t expect an outsized reaction from Kaepernick — or those who oppose him.

“Obviously, you gotta show some respect for somebody who’s willing to stand for something that he believes in,” Acho said. “In all reality, I applaud Colin Kaepernick.

“Agree or disagree, what he’s doing is really bringing awareness to a serious issue.”

By contrast, Bears players were hesitant to even comment on Kaepernick’s presence.

“I’m just here to play football,” Pernell McPhee said.

Asked about Kaepernick’s cause, Willie Young paused before saying very little: “I just, man, I don’t know, man.”

Some said privately that, while they have opinions on his cause, they weren’t comfortable airing them on company time.

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who spent four years with Kaepernick in San Francisco, said he “didn’t know him on a very deep personal level like that” and couldn’t have predicted whether he’d become outspoken.

“It doesn’t bother me to answer the questions,” he said. “I really don’t have the answers, not being there.”

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The football coach in Ditka wants Kaepernick to focus on social issues after football — “When you’re that talented, you don’t have to worry about the other things right now,” he said — and not use the field as a bully pulpit.

He called the violence issue a noble cause without a clear answer.

“Do you blame that on the country or do you blame it on the individuals?” he said. “Do you blame it on their upbringing? You can spin it anyway you wanna spin it, but you can’t just say, ‘OK, if we do this, then this country is gonna be perfect.’ It’s never gonna be perfect. No country is.”

Kaepernick would agree. That’s why he protests.

On Sunday in Chicago, its most famous coach won’t be the only one with an opinion — on either side — about him.

Kaepernick is prepared.

“There’s always going to be backlash when you fight for different ideologies and different beliefs and different rights,” he said. “That has been proved throughout history. For me, it’s not something I’m concerned with.”