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Lions writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez break down the latest on Matthew Stafford’s injury status.

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka backtracked earlier this week after taking heat for saying there hadn’t been oppression in the U.S. in the last 100 years. Said his quote was taken out of context.

For argument’s sake, let’s believe him.

Believe that he doesn’t tolerate racism and that he’s aware of actual history.

Fine.

But what about his use of the word “our?”

As in: “If you don’t respect our country, then you shouldn’t be in this country playing football.”

Ditka said that, too. He’s not the only one.

In the two weeks since President Donald Trump told an audience in Alabama that NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem were SOBs and should be fired, no word has done more damage.

Our country. Our heritage. Our right to tell you when and where you can protest. Or kneel. Or open your mouth at all.

What “our” really means is shut up and play. Show humility. Be grateful that we let you stay after we freed you.

In the lexicon of these times, “our” has many synonyms. For example, “ingrates,” which is the word used to describe kneeling players on a Facebook site calling for a boycott of the NFL. And, “millionaires,” which is the word former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to defend Trump’s original criticism.

And “spoiled” and “rich” and “lucky” and “degenerates,” the last of which was favored by the head of the Michigan State Police, Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue.

All of these words are variations of the same theme, designed to question the legitimacy of black folks’ citizenship. Whenever someone says you can (or should) leave this country, what they mean is that it’s not your country in the first place.

That’s what Ditka was saying. And that’s what underlies so much of the blowback the NFL and its players have faced in the last two weeks.

Ultimately, this is what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is saying, too.

It took him a while, but he finally came to that conclusion this week when he sent a memo to all 32 teams stating the league thinks “everyone should stand for the national anthem.”

To toss the players goodie bags, the commissioner also said the league would come up with a plan to address the original reasons for the protests, which center on police brutality and social justice. Goodell argued that message got lost.

Related:

He’s right it did. On purpose.

Trump stepped into the issue to whip up false patriotism and fervor. And to show himself as a winner in our heated culture wars.

It worked. The proof is in Goodell’s memo.

Now, you can argue that it’s just business on the part of the NFL and its owners. That the protests during the anthem are a distraction. From their view, this is true. The protests have been the biggest story in sports for weeks.

Business owners get nervous when they see video of their customers burning their products, as some fans have done by torching NFL jerseys in a kind of pro-authoritarian backyard ritual. They get anxious when they hear the word boycott, and learn that a Louisiana sheriff is refusing to buy Ford vehicles anymore because the motor company sponsors the NFL.

It remains to be seen how much this story is hurting ratings. On some level, though, the NFL owners must think it is. Or Goodell would not have sent the memo.

And that’s disheartening, because it’s mollifying those who use the word “our.” Those who think of NFL players as an “other.” Those who refuse to believe the players when they repeatedly say they meant no disrespect to the flag or to the folks who’ve fought and died for it.

But it’s not surprising. The military co-opted the NFL a long time ago. There’s a reason the league’s logo conjures images of the American flag.

Right now, this country is struggling to separate the two. Struggling to see football players as anything more than entertainers.

Ditka said it clearly. And spoke for plenty when he did.