A strongly worded letter to Mike Ditka and anyone else who thinks oppression is over.

NFL legend Mike Ditka may have had the worst take of all time this week when he said, "There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of."

The former coach and star tight end of the Chicago Bears appeared on Jim Gray's national radio show ahead of Monday Night Football, Oct. 9 to talk football, protests, and apparently his rudimentary knowledge of American history. Gray even tried to help Ditka out of the hole he dug for himself, citing the social activism of athletes like Muhammed Ali and Jesse Owens. Instead, Ditka doubled down (emphasis added):

“I don’t know what social injustices [there] have been. Muhammad Ali rose to the top. Jesse Owens is one of the classiest individuals that ever lived. I mean, you can say, ‘Are you (saying) everything is based on color?’ I don’t see it that way. I think that you have to be color blind in this country. You’ve got to look at a person for what he is and what he stands for and how he produces, not by the color of his skin. That has never had anything to do with anything.

The color of someone's skin has never had anything to do with anything. Let me put that in bold so you can really see the foolishness of this take: The color of someone's skin has never had anything to do with anything.


Mike Ditka testifying during a congressional hearing on NFL compensation. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Well, Mike Ditka, I've got some news for you. There has, in fact, been oppression against people of color in the last 100 years.

Lynchings, Jim Crow laws, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, the 1994 crime bill, gentrification, gerrymandering, ICE raids, police shootings, and more. But hey. I get it. How could we expect someone like Mike Ditka to recall a century's worth of discrimination, hatred, and bigotry, what with all those concussions he (probably) incurred, coupled with the insular world wealthy white men of advanced age tend to create for themselves.

Ditka and his ilk may feign ignorance about the history of this country, but their willful ignorance doesn't erase the systemic oppression happening right this second.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

So if 100 years is too much to consider, here are nine examples of oppression against people of color from the last 100 days.

And, frankly, most of these are from the past month. Just because it's not happening to you, doesn't mean it's not happening. Take a seat, Ditka. I'm about to drop some knowledge.

1. The public skewering of Jemele Hill

ESPN journalist Jemele Hill was suspended from the network over tweets calling out Jerry Jones for threatening to fire any players who kneel during the national anthem. She's been publicly attacked by the president, who she called a white supremacist. Meanwhile, Hank Williams Jr. was recently invited back to ESPN after seemingly likening President Obama to Hitler and outright calling him "the enemy."

2.  Terror and fear in Charlottesville

White supremacists terrorized the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend of Aug. 11-13. They brought lit tiki torches and weapons and marched menacingly — supposedly to protect the city's Confederate monument. Counter-demonstrators came out to protest the presence of hate groups and intimidation in their community. A black man brutally attacked at the rally was recently arrested because he allegedly injured one of his attackers during the brawl (presumably in self-defense). When asked about the violence and tumult in Charlottesville, President Trump said there was "blame on both sides."

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

3. Destruction is met with heartlessness in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Most people on the island are still without water or electricity. The president criticized the mayor of San Juan for her "poor leadership," then he took his time getting supplies and resources to residents and threw paper towels into the crowd. His administration also briefly hid data about the recovery effort.

Residents wait in the rain to register with FEMA in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

4. The relentless stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric and vandalism

In the last month, there have been acts of anti-Muslim vandalism in Farmville, Virginia; Portland, Oregon; Bellingham, Washington; Raleigh, North Carolina; and more. 2017 is on track to be one the worst years ever for anti-Muslim hate crimes.

5. The co-opting of the NFL protest against inequality

Kneeling during the national anthem began as a silent way to protest police violence and inequality against against black and brown people. Athletes and fans choosing to kneel have been met with racial slurs, death threats, and threats to their employment. A black fan seated during the anthem at a pre-season Lakers game was reportedly attacked by two white women. At the same time, Terrelle Pryor, a black NFL player, says he was called the n-word so much during a game, he had to have an NFL employee step in to assist. (In case you're curious, he didn't kneel during the anthem, but maybe he should have).

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

6. Dove's careless advertisement that centered white beauty ahead of everything else

This ad from Dove, which appeared on Instagram, shows a black woman removing her shirt and skin to reveal a white woman underneath. Think of all the people who had to OK this before it got to Instagram. Now ask yourself why so many people thought it was OK to dismiss black women in that way, to ignore how the ad could be seen as portraying black women as dirty, unworthy, or not beautiful?

7. America's dangerous obsession with memorializing the Confederacy

New monuments to the Confederacy have been planned and built, even in Union states. This is not a celebration of history. It's intimidation and propaganda. Or to put it another way: oppression.

Hundreds of protesters demonstrate against a Confederate monument in Fort Sanders. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

8. The legitimization of Roy Moore

Roy Moore is the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama. Real talk: He's an anti-Muslim, homophobic asshole who seems to enjoy terrorizing marginalized people. And he's favored to win.

9. The acquittal of Jason Stockley

In 2011, St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley shot Anthony Lamar Smith five times. While in pursuit of Smith's vehicle, Stockley said, "we’re killing this motherfucker, don’t you know." Stockley didn't apply wound-care even though another officer on the scene testified that Smith appeared alive. Stockley may have planted a gun in Smith's car.  What does this have to do with the last 100 days? Well, Stockley was found not guilty of murder on Sept. 15, 2017. For weeks, people have taken to the streets of St. Louis to protest the verdict and demand justice for Smith.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

OK, Ditka, step aside for a second. Time to talk to the people ready to do something about willfully ignorant people like you.

Just like oppression itself, willfully ignorant people are common and dangerous. They don't understand that "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" is not a solution. It's a myth. This is especially true if you don't have boots (figurative or literal) to start with.

Like Ditka said...

"I mean, I don’t see all this, the social injustice that some of these people see. I don’t. I know my dad worked in a steel mill and he brought home a paycheck and we ate dinner every night together. We didn’t have anything, but we didn’t need anything because we had a family. That was a good time in America. I would like to see us get back to that.”

Ditka was 10 years old in 1949. WWII had just ended four years earlier and Brown v. Board of Education wouldn't rule to integrate schools for another five years. So it's safe to say that wasn't a great time for everyone in America — just people who looked a lot like Ditka.

That's why people like him are so dangerous. They simply don't see the hatred, bigotry, and systemic oppression that our country was built on. And if they can't see it, they will do absolutely nothing to stop it, and they could use their privilege and power to make matters worse.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

What can you do about it? Speak up.

We all know a Ditka: Someone who just doesn't get it and just doesn't want to. Don't let them off the hook. Don't stay silent. Have those tough conversations. Call them out on their BS. Hit them with facts, figures, and the truth. Speak out against acts of oppression, and support candidates and companies that do the same.

Because whether it comes from a windbag of a football coach (sorry, Bears fans) or your dear old aunt, willful ignorance is willful ignorance. And if we want to dismantle systemic oppression, dropping knowledge is a damn good place to start.

via ABC and Bee Gees / YouTube

A year ago a woman in Pearland, Texas helped save her husband's life because of her quick thinking and the sweet, four-on-the-floor disco beat of the Bee Gees.

After finishing a two-mile run with her husband Quan, Ganesa Collins watched him fall to the ground. "We sat on the bench, and he was in front of me," Collins told ABC. "I was standing behind and stretching, and he just went face forward. His head hit the dirt."

She quickly called 911 and the operator said he was having a heart attack.

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via ABC and Bee Gees / YouTube

A year ago a woman in Pearland, Texas helped save her husband's life because of her quick thinking and the sweet, four-on-the-floor disco beat of the Bee Gees.

After finishing a two-mile run with her husband Quan, Ganesa Collins watched him fall to the ground. "We sat on the bench, and he was in front of me," Collins told ABC. "I was standing behind and stretching, and he just went face forward. His head hit the dirt."

She quickly called 911 and the operator said he was having a heart attack.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."