The news that Mike Ditka will be in the Monday Night Football booth for the second game of ESPN’s opening night doubleheader raises one interesting question: Will Ditka take the opportunity to continue his crusade against NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw? Ditka has spent the past few months railing against Upshaw for what Ditka believes is a failure of the players’ union to take care of retired players who are now in ill health as a result of injuries suffered on the field. With millions of people watching the Monday night opener, will Ditka take the opportunity to get his message out to a huge audience?
Similar questions were brought up last year, when Bryant Gumbel bashed Upshaw on Gumbel’s HBO show. Considering that Gumbel had just been hired as the play-by-play man on NFL Network, the league office was concerned that he might take that opportunity to reiterate his thoughts on the NFL players’ union. As it turned out, Gumbel stuck to the game on the field (a mixed blessing). I suspect that the most likely scenario is that both ESPN and the NFL will convey to Ditka that the Monday Night Football booth is the wrong time and place to express his contempt for Upshaw, and Ditka, as a team player, will stick to the game on the field. But you have to think that Upshaw has to be more than a tad concerned, as the last thing he needs is the possibility of Ditka venting to a much bigger audience.