News & Politics

Team USA Hockey Coach Will Bench Any Player Protesting the National Anthem

Columbus Blue Jackets' John Tortorella gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The World Cup of Hockey is scheduled for later this month and coach John Tortorella has made it clear that any player who fails to stand when the National Anthem is played will be sitting on the bench during the game.

“If any of my players sit on the bench for the National Anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game,” Tortorella told ESPN’s Linda Cohn on Tuesday.

It’s unknown if any players on the USA hockey team were planing on sitting in protest.

It’s unclear if any American hockey players were planning on exercising their constitutional right to protest, but Tortorella’s stern warning makes it clear that he doesn’t want any part of it during the World Cup. It seems unlikely that anyone will go against his wishes, but if it happens, it’ll be interesting to see if the coach follows through with his threat to bench the protesting player(s). It’ll also be interesting to see what kind of media firestorm ensues if he does.

Tortorella’s threats follow the NFL controversy centered around quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the National Anthem during his preseason games. Kaepernick also came under fire for wearing socks decorated with pigs dressed like police officers.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” said the quarterback. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The Team USA hockey coach explained to Kevin Allen at USA Today, “It is hockey, but I also think it is a huge platform for us to represent our country, especially in today’s world, with everything [that’s] going on.”

Brian Burke, Calgary Flames president of hockey operations as well as a senior adviser to Team USA, said a sports competition is not the place to make a political statement.  Burke said athletes have the right to “express opinions, vote, attend political rallies and make political contributions. … But I don’t believe the field of competition is a place to make political statements.”

Kaepernick’s NFL coach is of a different opinion. Chip Kelly said, regarding Kaepernick protesting the National Anthem, that it is “his right as a citizen” and that “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”

Tortorella’s attitude might be influenced by his son, Nick, who is an Army Ranger and is currently serving abroad.

“I know these are hockey games … but I do look at it like it’s for my country,” Tortorella said. “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.”