By Will Burchfield
John Tortorella wasn’t messing around.
When he said on Tuesday he’d bench any American player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, the coach of Team USA meant it.
“I’m not backing off,” Tortorella told reporters on Wednesday.
The issue was broached in light of Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against racial injustice in the U.S., which has seen the San Francisco 49ers quarterback take a knee during the pregame anthem.
Tortorella, whose son is currently deployed in Afghanistan as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, feels that dishonoring the flag is dishonoring those who defend it.
“Listen, 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. 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… 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.”
Earlier in the day, a member of the U.S. Army spoke to Tortorella’s team, prompting the coach to reiterate his respect for the military.
“We are playing hockey. Other people are doing real stuff. This gentleman who spoke to us this morning is doing the real stuff. Life and death. We just want to give to our country in our own little way. Quite honestly we are entertainers. What this man talked about in our locker room and what he does casts a huge shadow over us as far as what we’re doing,” Tortorella said.
The World Cup of Hockey begins on September 17 in Toronto. It is unlikely that Tortorella will be forced to follow through on his rule as a number of U.S. players have apparently approached him to voice their support on his stance.