John Tortorella changes stance on protests during anthem after threatening to bench protesting players

Jack Baer
Writer

A coach who was once one of the NHL’s most outspoken critics of racial injustice protests during the national anthem has changed his mind.

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that he would no longer punish a player for protesting. That came nearly four years after Tortorella said he would bench any player who protests during the anthem while coaching Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

“If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game,” Tortorella said to ESPN’s Linda Cohn at the time.

That comment came during the early days of Colin Kaepernick’s protests against racial injustice. To Tortorella, it was a personal issue as his son Nick is an Army Ranger and he was among those that felt the protests were disrespectful to the military.

Now, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the countless demonstrations it sparked, Tortorella made an important concession. The protests were never about the military, or the flag. They were about the injustices the Black community has constantly faced in America.

From The Athletic:

“When I stand for the flag and the national anthem, my reflection is solely on the men and women who have given their lives defending our country and constitution and freedom, along with those who are serving today,” Tortorella said.

“I have learned over the years, listening and watching, that men and women who choose to kneel during this time mean no disrespect toward the flag.”

However, it still doesn’t sound like Tortorella would totally approve if one of his players protested. He told The Athletic he would want to talk out the protest with the player and the team and see if the problem could be rectified:

“I would hope that if one of my players wanted to protest during the anthem, he would bring it to me and we would talk about it, tell me his thoughts and what he wanted to do. From there, we would bring it to the team to discuss it, much like it’s being discussed in our country right now.

“How can we rectify some of these problems?”

If the player’s problem in that situation is racial injustice, it’s hard to see that being solved with a team meeting.

Tortorella also reportedly added that he would be in favor of adding a regular “moment” before the national anthem for fans to reflect on racial injustice.

John Tortorella drew a hard line against peaceful protests in the past. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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