Team USA hockey coach John Tortorella made headlines this week when 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." In the wake of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's "sitting protest" during the anthem regarding concerns about civil rights of minorities, Tortorella expressed a zero tolerance policy for players who refuse to participate in the U.S. national anthem during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament.
Tortorella has a son who is deployed in Afghanistan for the third time as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, making this matter even more personal for team USA's coach.
He can be critical of his players' conduct, particularly during the World Cup, where they will represent not just a single team or league, but the entire country as a whole. If his players choose to exercise their constitutional rights by sitting for the anthem, he has no problem exercising his right as a coach to bench them throughout the game.
The World Cup of Hockey is scheduled to begin on Sept. 17, 2016, and will last through Oct. 1, 2016, in Toronto, Canada. The tournament features competitors from countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia. This is only the third World Cup of Hockey. The U.S. team won the inaugural tournament in 1996, and Canada won the previous event in 2004.
Tortorella seemed taken aback Wednesday by reactions to his comment related to the national anthem, but he did not alter his stance, reports ABC News. "I'm not backing off," Tortorella said after the team's on-ice workout Wednesday.
"I'll tell you right now. Try to understand me. I'm not criticizing anybody for stepping up and putting their thoughts out there about things. I'm the furthest thing away from being anything political. No chance I'm involved in that stuff," Tortorella said.
The Columbus Blue Jackets coach said he remains unequivocal in his belief that the flag and the anthem should be sacrosanct.
"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," he told reporters.
"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 [expressing] yourself. That's what's so great. Everybody does. But no chance when it comes to the flag and the anthem. No chance."
Tortorella, 58, said a number of the players on Team USA came to him after his comments were made public and supported his views on respecting the anthem and flag.