Dear Mr. Ditka,
You and I have one thing in common: we attended The University of Pittsburgh. That’s where our similarities — for the most part — end.
You are a heralded football player, coach and TV personality — well-respected for your exploits around the gridiron. I am a corporate guy who lives in the Middle East and delivered the 2015 commencement speech to the business school’s graduating class. We left different marks on the University, your’s undoubtedly more recognizable than mine — I looked upon your retired jersey in the rafters with pride and honor when I went to Pitt games. However, that does not mean that your impact or my impact is any more or less important — they just touched different people.
From that, I can draw a parallel to your comment, “I don’t see all the atrocities going on in this country that people say are going on.”
You and I have had different experiences growing up in this country, being that you are 41 years my senior. But let me remind you: You grew up in a segregated Pittsburgh in the ’40s and ’50s where black folks in the Hill and other predominantly black enclaves were excluded or marginalized in the wealth creation of a “Steel Town” — that’s exacerbated today by the blight and lack of investment in black communities in Pittsburgh. You attended the storied Aliquippa High School that has produced many athletic greats from yourself to Darrelle Revis. Tony Dorsett would have been a Quippa alum were it not for “all the racial problems [at Aliquippa at the time].”
So, I’d encourage you to engage your fellow Aliquippa and Pitt alum who are black. Ask them if they see those atrocities you say don’t exist. And then reflect as to why you don’t see them. It’s because you have never been on the receiving end of it. Or you could ask me about the time I was pushed up against a car at a Pitt tailgate by a University officer because he “didn’t like my mouth.” Or you could ask me about the time I was called a racial slur by city of Pittsburgh police after they verbally accosted an Arab classmate of mine. These instances are mild compared to the stop-and-frisk, economic suppression, prison pipeline, police-state reality that all too many Americans encountered yesterday and still battle today.
So you see, just because you had a different life experience does not negate the life experiences I, or others, have had.
On the University of Pittsburgh’s seal, it says “Veritas et Virtus” which means “Truth and Virtue.” The truth of the matter is you have chosen to dismiss someone’s actions as disrespect and a national betrayal, but you did not take a step back to ask yourself “why” someone would be compelled to act the way they did. Your virtue should be to understand and fight for the least of us who do not experience equal protection under the law.
You are entitled to your opinion, but you are too smart to ignore the facts. Freedom of expression and a desire to make a more perfect union are [things] we should all strive for — through adulation and criticism. After all, you did attend an excellent University with a proud tradition of community and enlightenment. I beseech you to embody Veritas et Virtus.
Pitt College of Business Administration (BSBA) 2003
Pitt Graduate School for Public and International Affairs (MPIA) 2006
Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University (MBA) 2011
Member of Pitt Business Alumni Board of Directors
Pitt Business Commencement Speaker 2015