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The Deafening Silence of John Tortorella

Has anyone seen or heard from John Tortorella?

Public Domain - Air Force photo/Spencer P. Lane

The Deafening Silence of John Tortorella


Estimated Reading Time: 8 Minutes

The National Anthem is back in the news, and this time it’s for a good reason.

Within a week, US Soccer reconsidered its ban on kneeling during the anthem and the NFL admitted they were wrong to not listen to players back in 2016. That’s progress. Late progress, but a good start at least. The big picture is that the Anthem protests are finally being understood by those who were ignorant of their original purpose. Unfortunately, those most obstinate to their message were those in positions of power. Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, and even George Shinn, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets in the 90s, were vocally against the anthem protests.

Now the tide is shifting, and opponents of the peaceful anthem protests are now speaking out in support.

Well… almost everyone.

In 2016, John Tortorella, Head Coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was leading Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. At this point in time, the peaceful protests from Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick, in the fight to end police brutality against minorities, were picking up steam. Well, guess who had an opinion about that kind of gesture.

“If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.”

Not great. That quote obviously sent ripples through the sports networks, leading to Tortorella clarifying his remarks the next day. Well, maybe not clarifying them, but more of a “reiterating his original point into the ground.”

“I’m not backing off. I’ll tell you right now. Try to understand me. I’m not criticizing anybody for stepping up and putting their thoughts out there about things. I’m the furthest thing away from being anything political. No chance I’m involved in that stuff.”

So you almost sense the “but” coming from Tortorella’s mouth here. This is a classic exercise in distancing yourself from the right opinion while trying to make the wrong one sound good. It’s very good, we’ve seen it before.

It should also be said that a member of the U.S. Army came in to speak to the US World Cup team prior to Tortorella making these comments. However, neither Tortotella nor any other player on the team would discuss or describe the conversation.

Anyway, Tortorella continued.

“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.”

So that’s the double-down. Now as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Drew Brees, this is not at all what this movement was about. The peaceful protests of Kaepernick and Reid had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag. Instead, people like Brees, FOX News, Roger Goodell, and Tortorella, made it about the flag. But then in a separate interview with ESPN’s Linda Cohn, Tortorella TRIPLES DOWN.

“On this team here, this World Cup team, there wouldn’t even be a player that would think about doing that because I know the guys well enough. We’ve gone through it. But if I was ever involved in a situation where someone is trying to make a point, and they have a perfect right to do that, but to disrespect our flag and anthem, as I said yesterday, they would not play.

“If that ever happened, there’s no question, it’s just not right. And it’s not black, white, blue, red. It has nothing to do with the politics of all of this. It’s just not right. This is our country. Our people are fighting for our country, our flag, and our anthem. That shouldn’t come into this equation at all. There are other ways of doing things.

“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.”

So there’s a lot to unpack there, and frankly, the fact that you need to sift through any of this to find his meaning other than “It’s against the rules” is enough. While coaching the team that represents “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” Tortorella was making it clear that anyone brave enough to be free from his rules will be punished.

That’s not great. That’s pitiful.

And in the wake of the civil unrest in this country, after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Policeman Derek Chauvin, Tortorella has been silent. Why? Is he ashamed to admit he was wrong? Is he out there “doing real stuff?” Is he trying to protect his job as the coach of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference?

You would think that in a time of palpable injustice and pain in this country, with a clear example of his views being wrong, John Tortorella would say something. But no, John Tortorella is too prideful to make amends, to be an ally, and to stand up for what’s right.

All of this while the NHL forms the Hockey Diversity Alliance. The committee, led by former Calgary Flames right wing Akim Aliu and San Jose Sharks left wing Evander Kane, is on a mission to “eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey” and “promote diversity at all levels of the game.”

Aliu, in a piece for the Player’s Tribune, spoke about the racism he experienced on his way to the NHL. Aliu talks about the torture he had to endure at the hands of teammate Steve Downie, who pushed his fiberglass stick into Aliu’s mouth, knocking out several teeth.

First couple of practices he put Tiger Balm in my jock. Then he took my gear outside and threw it on the roof. And then he began to belittle me in front of my teammates, the coaches, whoever would listen to him. He’d make fun of my clothes, the way I spoke. He was two years older than me and a rising star, and he wielded his power over me like I was nothing — like I was subhuman.”

How can you eradicate racism from the game of hockey with men like John Tortorella, who can’t understand the difference between a peaceful protest and disrespect? How can you heal the league with men like him calling the shots?

John Tortorella is a coward, and he is just as complicit as Drew Brees. As white people across this country look deep into their hearts, reflecting on how they might have helped support the systemic racism in this country, John Tortorella remains silent.

If you needed an example of white privilege, it’s exerting power over someone, infringing their rights, and then being able to walk away. Shame on you, John.

But now, he’s “changed his tune.”

In an interview with The Athletic, who recently laid off over 40 of their writers, Tortorella seemed to reverse his stance on the anthem protests. here are some of his comments:

“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.”

So this part is akin to Drew Brees’ initial statement. “The Anthem to me means…” That’s an interesting opener considering how poorly it went for the Saints QB.

“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.”

This is great. This is the apology. This is him changing his stance, shifting his viewpoint, making a diff-… Oh, there’s more?

“I would hope that if one of my players wanted to protest during the anthem, he would bring it to me and we would talk about it, tell me his thoughts and what he wanted to do. From there, we would bring it to the team to discuss it, much like it’s being discussed in our country right now.”

Wait for it…

“I do believe in our right to peaceful protest. 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?”

So there it is. John Tortorella has NOT changed his stance on anthem protests but instead has clarified his stance. He doesn’t like it when players do it so we should dedicate a separate moment. Say it with me, “The anthem is not the time or the place for this.” That’s some vintage 2016 rhetoric, John. Well done.

Has John Tortorella changed since 2016? It is hard to say, much like “I was wrong” is hard for him to say. Has his stance shifted? Yes, but he’s missing the larger point, much like Brees last week. But the fact that it took him a week and change to say anything is a problem. Because I don’t believe it took him years to form this opinion. I think it took him a few days of distancing to do damage control.

After four years, and some clear explanations, you would think that more than a shift would come. But maybe that’s just me.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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