Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is known for his outbursts and outspoken nature, so it should come as no surprise that he's at the center of controversy regarding his stance on national anthem protests.
The head coach for Team USA at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey tournament in Toronto indicated that he is not a fan of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is protesting social injustice in the United States by sitting out the national anthem during preseason football games. When asked by Linda Cohn of ESPN how he would deal with one of his players taking a similar stance to Kaepernick, Tortorella did not hold back.
"If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game," he said.
Tortorella went on to explain that his son Nick is currently deployed as an Army Ranger, and that representing his country is second to none. Apparently players exercising their First Amendment rights is much further down on that list.
"I know these are hockey games... but I do look at it like it's for my country," Tortorella explained. "What Nick is doing by far dwarfs what we do. We're entertainers; we're playing a sport.
"But with my son over there—this might sound selfish—I want to team up with him and help my country. I get pretty caught up in representing my country. There's nothing like it."
Brian Burke, a senior advisor to Team USA, also commented on the situation, arguing that there's a time and place for athletes to take a political stance. Burke said that although he respects athletes' rights to express opinions, vote, attend political rallies and make political contributions on their own time, "I don't believe the field of competition is a place to make political statements."
Tortorella and Burke's comments come at a time when just about everyone in the sports world—from former NFL player Rodney Harrison to Canadian hockey personality Don Cherry—is reacting to Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem. Kaepernick has been blamed for being anti-military even though he expressed his reasoning outright, saying, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour."
Although everyone including Tortorella and Burke is entitled to their opinion, that opinion shouldn't be forced upon others, which is exactly what Tortorella is threatening to do. By asserting that none of his players can sit during the anthem, Tortorella is effectively forcing his beliefs on others, which is outright un-American.
Tortorella's stance comes in opposition to 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, who argued that protesting the national anthem is "his right as a citizen," and that "it's not my right to tell him not to do something."
Tortorella should seriously reconsider his threat and take a page out of Chip Kelly's book: stay out of it.