John Tortorella not 'backing off' national anthem stance

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(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Team USA World Cup of Hockey coach John Tortorella will not reverse his stance from his comments on Tuesday when he said he would bench players for not standing during the national anthem.

At a news conference one day after he told ESPN’s Linda Cohn, “If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game,” Tortorella explained why he believes in this opinion.

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Cohn’s question stemmed from a national debate that’s come from the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick has said that he’s not “going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

This has inspired other athletes like soccer star Megan Rapinoe and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane to do the same.

“I know there has been a number of different things said since yesterday. Listen, our country – we’re in a great country because we can express ourselves and I am not against expressing yourselves. That’s what’s great about our country – we can do that,” Tortorella said. “But when there are men and women that give their lives for their flag, for their anthem, have given their lives, continue to put themselves on the line with our services for our flag, for our anthem – families that have been disrupted, traumatic physical injuries, traumatic mental injuries for these people that give us the opportunity to do the things we want to do, there’s no chance an anthem and a flag should come into any type of situation where you’re trying to make a point. It is probably the most disrespectful thing you can do as a U.S. citizen is to bring that in, because that’s our symbol. All for – express yourself. That’s what’s so great. That’s what everybody does. But no chance when it comes to the flag and anthem, no chance.”

Tortorella, who is also the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was then asked if players had come up to him to discuss his stance. He said many people had reached out to him since he made his opinions public.

“I’ve had a number of people come to me, yes. Quite honestly I woke up this morning – yeah I didn’t realize because I don’t listen or read any of your stuff or pay too much attention to it because I’m locked in here, but yeah when I woke up and had my phone – so some players have come to me and yeah – I’m not backing off I’ll tell you right now,” he said. “And try to understand me. I’m not criticizing anybody for stepping up and putting their thoughts out there about things and I am not – I am the furthest thing away from being anything political. No chance I’m involved in that stuff. This is your anthem this is your flag and that shouldn’t come into play for a second. It is – not what these people do.”

Columbus defenseman Seth Jones, an African-American, was asked about Tortorella’s stance by Sportsnet 590 in Toronto.

“I have no problem with that,” Jones said. “I’m sure none of the guys do either.”

Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, who is also African-American, voiced his opinion via Twitter.


Team Canada Coach Mike Babcock was asked about Tortorella’s comments according to ESPN. 

“This is what I know: I’m not going to have to make that decision because that’s not going to happen,” said Babcock, who also coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs. “So I don’t have to worry about that reaction. At that time I guess I would decide what to do. One of the greatest things about this tournament is that most of us get to play for your country, and that’s a thrill of a lifetime in itself. And then when you get to do it on Canadian soil, that’s another thrill.

Added Babcock, “For those of us who have the life we have, and the freedom we have, to repay respects to the people who went before us and made sure that happened; I mean, it’s pretty straightforward and common sense to me. But I don’t know why we’re talking about this.”

Tortorella has received criticism from the sports media world who disagreed with his beliefs.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said he believed Tortorella should be removed from his Team USA.

“You are saying that if he chose to exercise his right as an American citizen, you representing the United States would then turn around and punish him for the very rights this country has bestowed upon its citizens? If that is not un-American I don’t know what is. So as far as I’m concerned, the problem is not with Colin Kaepernick here. It is with John Tortorella who should be stripped as his title as coach of Team USA until he changes his stance,” Smith during a Wednesday episode of First Take. “He has absolutely, unequivocally no right whatsoever to bench any of his players who elects to exercise their First Amendment rights, because when you are a member of Team USA, you are proudly representing the red, white and blue and all that it stands for, not just the parts you like.”

Media personality Keith Olbermann called Tortorella a “boundless embarrassment” for his comments.

Tortorella was asked about his son, who is an Army Ranger, and how that plays into his beliefs.

“I’m not going to discuss my son,” Tortorella said. “I just watch what goes on and what the people do in the military, not just the military period as far as what they do – that plays into it. I’m not going to discuss my son.”

Tortorella also said an Army representative spoke with Team USA on Wednesday. The coach noted that nationalism has played a role in how he wants this team to come together and prepare for the upcoming tournament.

“It’s not wanting them to feel the pride of the U.S. I know they do. Certainly this is a platform with that. We’re playing hockey. Other people are doing the real stuff. This gentleman that spoke to us this morning is doing the real stuff, life and death. We just want to give to our country in our little way and quite honestly, we’re entertainers,” Tortorella said. “What this man talked about in our locker room and what he does casts a huge shadow over us as far as what we’re doing. It’s our situation, it’s what we do as citizens and U.S. people, so we just want to give. It certainly is, in my mind, right from the get-go with this about your country.”

USA Today recently asked several Team USA members what they though of Kaepernick’s stance. Many displayed nationalism towards the country’s flag and anthem, but didn’t go as far as Tortorella with their comments.

“I think as athletes we have a great platform and to use it to influence social change is within our right,” Boston Bruins forward David Backes said according to USA Today. “Whether you should do that during the anthem, which stands for our country and salutes those who have given their lives for our country, allowing athletes to play, is a matter of debate. I have my opinions on that.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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