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Mike Ditka‘s not lightening up on NFL players who don’t stand for the national anthem … unless calling them disrespectful troublemakers nobody will remember is considered lightening up.

We asked Da Coach how he feels about anthem protests on the 16th anniversary of 9/11.

Iron Mike concedes players have the right to do what they want to do … but thinks 9/11 is different and believes most will stand for Old Glory.

As for the “malcontents” … Ditka says just let them be and move on — they’ll be forgotten.

He’s come a long way since wanting to kick them out of the country.

catch the video HERE

Courtesy of TMZ