At the height of Colin Kaepernick's anthem protests in 2016, John Tortorella, then coaching Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey, condemned the idea of players not standing during "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game," he told ESPN's Linda Cohn at the time of the tournament.
The Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss has changed his stance, he said Wednesday.
“When I stand for the flag and the national anthem, my reflection is solely on the men and women who have given their lives defending our country and constitution and freedom, along with those who are serving today,” Tortorella told The Athletic's Aaron Portzline.
“I have learned over the years, listening and watching, that men and women who choose to kneel during this time mean no disrespect toward the flag.”
Tortorella, whose son is an Army Ranger, proposed that there should be a moment of reflection before the anthem is played.
“I do believe in our right to peaceful protest,” Tortorella said. “Why do we have to choose sides during this time? Can we not share a moment of unity and reflection prior to the national anthem dedicated to protesting the racial injustice in our world?
“It’s my choice to stand in respect and gratitude to those who have and still serve to protect our country and constitution and the civil rights of all people. This is by no means a show of disrespect. My family and I care deeply about the families who have suffered loss from unfair, unjust treatment. We support the peaceful protest for change.”
Kaepernick initially sat and later kneeled during the anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the United States. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has not played in the NFL since that season, but his protests have attracted renewed attention in recent weeks following the police killing of George Floyd.