By Mike Fisher

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DALLAS (105.3 The Fan) – Nobody in radio gets big guests to say big things better than “Shan & RJ’’ on 105.3 The Fan, and it happened again this week when they asked iconic tough guy Mike Ditka for his thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling civil-rights protests during the National Anthem.

“I think it’s a problem,” Ditka said. “Anybody who disrespects this country and the flag: If they don’t like the country, they don’t like our flag, get the hell out.’’

Ditka is well within his rights to play the “Get-Off-My-Lawn’’ card here. But as is the case with many who think their version of “patriotism’’ must be shared by all Americans, Iron Mike has it backwards.

Why should peaceful protesters “get the hell out’’? Why shouldn’t the angry objectors to the peaceful protesters be the ones who should “get the hell out’’?

The reality is, there is room within the U.S. Constitution for both our Kaepernicks and our Ditkas; indeed, that’s largely the point of our Constitution. Peaceful protests against racial inequality don’t automatically “not like our country’’; to the contrary, they love America enough to stand up for their beliefs, to absorb verbal abuse for their beliefs (from the legendary Ditka and countless others), to absorb even physical abuse for their beliefs.

Violence, from any side of this “war,’’ is unlikely to fuel progress. But a series of “peaceful protests’’ — which is all I’ve witnessed NFL players engage in — has already raised awareness and forged a stage for discussion.

“Freedom,’’ though, is a tricky thing. Kaepernick has a right to his opinion, no matter how outrageous you think it might be. Ditka has the exact same rights — not greater rights, not lesser rights. Exactly the same.

“I have no respect for Colin Kaepernick,” Ditka told our guys “Shan & RJ.” “He probably has no respect for me, that’s his choice. My choice is that I like this country, I respect our flag, and I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on.”

Yes, even the awareness or lack thereof of “atrocities,’’ and even the definition of whether tragedies involving police officers and black citizens are properly defined as “atrocities’’ is up to each of us. But a desire for “change in America’’ should’t be misunderstood as “hatred of America.’’ You are not a patriot simply because you enjoy the status quo, and you are not a “thug’’ or a “rebel’’ or a “traitor’’ because you wish to motivate advancement.

Consider the wise words of Cowboys veteran leader Jason Witten, who recently answered my Kaepernick-related question thusly:

“Certainly we have that freedom in this country,’’ Witten said. “We’re fortunate to be able to (choose). There’s been a lot of guys taking stands and you look at what (the Cowboys) did with police families and victims families, that was something we put our efforts into, and we felt that was important. There’s been a lot of talk about it. I love what different guys have said and done. Unique perspectives. Everybody does have a different point of view.”

Anyone arguing against Witten’s right, or my right, to express the above views is not, in fact, an advocate of “free speech.’’ The greatest test of “freedom of expression’’ doesn’t come when you agree with the principles of the speaker.  If we truly agree with the concept of “free speech” we’re especially in favor of free speeches with which we disagree.

That goes for Ditka, even if you’re troubled by his view.

That goes for Kaepernick, even if you’re troubled by his view, too.

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