In a surprising turn of events, professional sports teams have become a source of political controversy. Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose to sit during the national anthem because he felt that he could not support a nation that uses police violence to unfairly oppress minorities. Many people from the NFL and other sports leagues have started to weigh in on the event, so this minor act of protest has sparked many arguments. Coach John Tortorella, a USA World Cup of Hockey Coach, has added his voice to the people speaking out against Kaepernick.
Tortorella says that though he may support Kaepernick’s right to protest, the United States flag should still be respected. According to Tortorella, “I feel very strongly of being able to saw what you want to say… but to bring that flag and anthem into it and drag that down, no way.” Therefore, Tortorella plans to permanently bench any of his players choose to follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps, so if any of the members on his team sit down to protest the national anthem they will be sitting on the bench for the rest of the game.”
Like many of Kaepernick’s critics, Tortorella seems to think that a lack of pride in the United States flag is somehow connected to disrespecting the nation’s troops. Since Tortorella’s son is part of the U.S. Army Special Forces deployed in Afghanistan, he is understandably upset about anyone who would disparage the many brave men and women like his son. However, it is important to note that Kaepernick has expressly stated that he still supports the troops. In fact, after consultation with a member of the United States Armed Forces, Kaepernick started taking a knee instead of sitting during the anthem because that is considered more respectful.
Despite Kaepernick’s respect for the troops, Tortorella still feels that “when there are men and women that give their lives for their flag, for their anthem… there’s no chance an anthem and a flag should come into any type of situation where you’re trying to make a point.” Tortorella may be firmly against this type of protest, but the National Hockey League is more vague. They say that athletes are “encouraged but not required” to stand up while the national anthem is played before games. Any player who joins Kaepernick’s protest will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and there will be no predetermined protest for sitting during the national anthem.
So far, none of the hockey players who are about to take part in the quickly approaching Hockey World Cup have mentioned plans to follow Kaepernick’s protest method during the games. Any players who do decided to sit during the national anthem are not automatically going to be pulled from their game or forced to stop playing. However, the people on Tortorella’s team now know that they will be benched if they do that before a game, so the hockey players will end up having to decide whether it is more important to exercise their constitutional right to free speech by taking a stand against police violence or play in a World Cup hockey game.