Doubling down on comments he made to ESPN on Tuesday, Team USA hockey coach John Tortorella said on Wednesday that he would not tolerate players sitting during the national anthem.
On Tuesday, Tortorella said, “If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.
Tortorella’s comments were in response to a question regarding his thoughts on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Kaepernick has opted to sit or kneel during the national anthem in recent weeks in protest of the treatment of African-Americans by law enforcement.
Despite calls from commentators such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to resign, Tortorella said on Wednesday that he was not “backing off.”
“I am not criticizing anybody for stepping up and putting their thoughts out there on things,” Tortorella said at a press conference. “I am furthest thing away from being political. This is your anthem, this is your flag. That shouldn’t come into play for a second.”
Tortorella’s son is an Army Ranger and is currently deployed. Tortorella also brought in a member of the United States military into the Team USA locker room before Wednesday’s practice.
“These people that give us the opportunity to do the things we want to do; there is no chance that the flag and the anthem should come into any type of situation where you are trying to make a point,” Tortorella said. “It is probably the most disrespectful thing you can do as a US citizen is bring that in because that is our symbol.”
Team USA is practicing in Columbus, Ohio this week in preparation for the World Cup of Hockey, which begins next week. Tortorella is also preparing to begin his first full season coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto that he has no problem with Tortorella’s edict. Jones is one of hockey’s most prominent African-American players.
“I think it’s fair… He has a right to believe whatever he wants. I have no problem,” Jones said. “You’re not going to see anything from any of us with Torts, so I have no problem with that.”
Meanwhile, Smith called Tortorella’s comments “shameful.”
“I would go as far to say that it is un-American,” Smith said on his program "First Take. “If this is the coach of Team USA and he is taking that position, then he should be stripped of his duties and he should not be allowed to represent the United States of America.”
Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk.Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook.