On Sept. 7, John Tortorella, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ coach and Team USA’s coach for the World Cup of Hockey, made a highly controversial statement. This statement was in response to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem aligns with his support for the Black Lives Matter Movement; a movement that advocates against violence towards black people.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick stated exclusively to NFL media. “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 get away with murder.”
Tortorella’s response to Kaepernick’s statement was nothing but ugly, especially for a guy who is coaching in a completely different sport. Linda Cohn, a SportsCenter anchor, asked Tortorella about his opinion on Kaepernick’s protest, and tweeted his response: “If any of my players sit on the bench for the National Anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.”
When I asked Team USA coach John Tortorella about Kaepernick protest he told me "If any of my players sit on… https://t.co/CTEDYRG0zm
— Linda Cohn (@lindacohn) September 6, 2016
His comment was received with many different responses. Some people turned to Twitter to agree with Tortorella and stand by him.
You know what, good for Tortorella benching anthem sitters. If you're too ashamed to stand during the anthem, don't wear USA on your chest.
— Steven Landers (@slanders60) September 9, 2016
— Ryan Stypinski (@ryan_stoops_) September 11, 2016
Meanwhile, people who disagreed with Tortorella also turned to Twitter to express their opinions on his statement.
I can't wait until John Tortorella fades back into the complete obscurity that is coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets.
— Winging It In Motown (@wingingitmotown) September 9, 2016
John Tortorella gets widely booed by #Caps fans in D.C.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) September 13, 2016
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith made a statement on how Tortorella should have been fired for his response to Kapernick’s decision,
“You are saying that if [Kaepernick] chose to exercise his right as an American citizen you representing the United States would then turn around and punish him for the very rights this country has bestowed upon its citizens? If that’s not un-American I don’t know what is. So as far as I’m concerned the problem is not with Colin Kaepernick. It is with John Tortorella who should be stripped of his title as coach of Team USA unless he changes his stance”
People even began to question his eligibility to coach Team USA, especially after Team USA was eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey without picking up a single victory.
It’s honestly mind-blowing that Tortorella was put in charge of this team to begin with. He hasn’t been an effective coach in about 10 years
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) September 21, 2016
JT Brown, a forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning, quoted a tweet about Tortorella’s comment and stated his opinion on this matter from a black man’s point of view.
On the other hand, Seth Jones, a defenseman for the Columbus Blue Jackets, also contributed his opinion on Tortorella’s response. During an interview with Sportsnet’s Fan 590, Jones stated, “I think that it’s fair, that’s [Tortorella’s] way of doing it, and obviously they’re comparing it to the whole Colin Kaepernick thing, but he’s got a right to believe whatever he wants.” You can listen to this here.
No matter how bad the reactions he received were, Tortorella stood by his statement and later on said in an interview with ESPN,
“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, for our anthem, families that have been disrupted, traumatic physical injuries, traumatic mental injuries for these people that give us the opportunity to do the things we want to do, 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.”
Tortorella’s statements have created mix responses from people around the country, but did he go too far? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below!