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John Tortorella Says He Would Bench American Players Who Protest National Anthem

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2016

Jan 8, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA;  Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella looks on from behind the bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA hockey coach John Tortorella is not on the side of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when it comes to his stance on "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," Tortorella told ESPN's Linda Cohn on Tuesday.

Tortorella, who coaches the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, is speaking from a unique place. His son is a member of the Army Rangers, and he recently spoke about the pride he takes in representing the United States as a coach in the World Cup of Hockey.

"I know these are hockey games…but I do look at it like it's for my country," Tortorella said, per Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. "What [his son] 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."

Tortorella did not speak specifically on Kaepernick, who sat or kneeled during the national anthem during each of the 49ers' preseason games. Kaepernick said he plans on continuing to do so as an act of protest against racial discrimination.

"People don't realize what's really going on in this country," Kaepernick said, per Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. "There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren't being held accountable for. And that's something that needs to change. That's something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it's not happening for all right now."

San Francisco teammate Eric Reid and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane have joined Kaepernick in protest. USWNT star Megan Rapinoe also drew headlines for taking a knee while the national anthem played before her National Women's Soccer League match Sunday, a sign of solidarity with Kaepernick.

Brian Burke, a senior advisor for Team USA, told USA Today's Kevin Allen he respects the rights of players to "express opinions, vote, attend political rallies and make political contributions." However, he added, "I don't believe the field of competition is a place to make political statements."

Even if the players want to protest, their opportunities will be limited. International competition typically sees national anthems played after games rather than before. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said earlier this year that national anthems will not be played after most World Cup games and might only happen in medal-round contests.

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