John Tortorella Says He Understands National Anthem Protests After 2016 Comments

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella, center, watches against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said ahead of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that he would bench any player who chose to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in protest of police brutality and racial injustice during the 2016 NFL preseason, and the practice has reemerged as a mainstream topic in the aftermath of George Floyd’s May 25 killing in Minneapolis police custody.

Tortorella has changed his stance during the past several years—particularly after observing recent protests in Columbus, Ohio, per The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline:

“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. 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.”

Tortorella added: “I do believe in our right to peaceful protest. Why do we have to choose sides during this time? Can we not share a moment of unity and reflection prior to the national anthem dedicated to protesting the racial injustice in our world?”

Tortorella’s son, Nick, is an Army Ranger.

Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri spoke out Tuesday urging the NHL to publicly support player protests:

TSN Hockey @TSNHockey

“The league should support its players and that’s the bottom line, being in countries that pride themselves on freedom of speech.”

Nazem Kadri calling on the #NHL to publicly support player protests.

ICYMI from @rwesthead: https://t.co/m7eWhY3tId https://t.co/fiLkQmyxRf

“In years past, leagues were able to prevent players from speaking up about controversial issues,” Kadri told TSN’s Rick Westhead. “Now that everybody is coming together and one voice turns into 10, turns into 100 turns into 1,000, I think we as people and players can use that as leverage.”

Worldwide protests have been ongoing following Floyd’s killing. The 46-year-old black man was pronounced dead at a local hospital after since-fired officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Chauvin is facing second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. The other three officers involved in Floyd’s arrest—Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao—have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. 

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