Colin Kaepernick’s NFL activism inevitably spilling over to other sports and forcing hard questions and answers

Team USA hockey coach John Tortorella latest one drawn into the football fray over patriotic behaviour

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 1:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 September, 2016, 12:07pm

It’s the Michael Corleone syndrome all over again. Just when we thought we were out, they pull us back in.

Of course, to think we had a clean exit from the Colin Kaepernick national anthem flap is pure folly and arrogance. This thing is not going away.

The San Francisco 49ers activist quarterback has been under such a harsh spotlight and it is only getting brighter.

With the NFL season starting this week, there will be at least 16 more weeks on Kaepernick watch before every game to see if he stays down for the national anthem.

The 49ers might be interested in cutting their second string quarterback and first string distraction but probably figure they will have no peace this year if they do.

For some this is just another issue that has spilt the country. But have you been following the presidential election? The country is already split wide open and with or without Kaepernick it is only getting bigger.

You can also count on Kaepernick and his stance becoming a campaign issue when the presidential debates start on September 26th.

He is basically omnipresent right now in America in a way that makes him, and more importantly the issue of police brutality of blacks and freedom of expression, impossible to contain.

“If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will be sitting there for the rest of the game,” said Team USA hockey coach John Tortorella, who also doubles as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With the World Cup of Hockey opening next week in Toronto, ESPN naturally asked the volatile Tortorella what he would do in a similar situation to Kaepernick and they pretty much knew they would get a salty sound bite to spin a few more news cycles.

Tortorella’s son is a US army ranger who has been deployed in Afghanistan and while he says he is all for freedom of speech, not when it comes to disrespecting the anthem.

Virtually every coach in North American sports will be asked at some point how they would handle this anthem issue.

Most will be diplomatic but not Tortorella. It is not who he is or ever has been. He has coached four different teams and been fired three times despite winning the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. At every stop he has positioned himself in the middle of everything and never hesitated to publicly berate a player who is performing poorly or a local scribe whose prose rubs him wrong.

Now everybody knows he is an unabashed patriot as well, even those who hardly knew him before. After all, this is hockey we are talking about here and it is fairly far down the radar in most parts of the US.

It’s also not exactly a sport known for its radical activism. There is virtually no chance that a player from Tortorella’s team or any of the other seven squads in the tournament will sit or kneel for the anthem. No chance.

When Team Canada coach Mike Babcock was asked his opinion he simply replied: “Why are we even talking about this?”

Well, because for better or worse Tortorella has suddenly made it an issue, while simultaneously drawing the ire of a number of commentators who wonder how the coach of the national team can be so strident in suppressing freedom of expression.

The only way to simplify such a complex issue is to understand the distinction between private and public. Team USA is full of American NHL stars whose operations in the tournament are funded by the NHL.

Despite some public funds to build arenas, the NHL is a private company and teams can cut a player for virtually any reason. You are free to speak your mind and the team is also free to release you if they don’t care for the sound of your mind.

It’s the same thing with the San Francisco 49ers. They could release Kaepernick tomorrow and not offer any sort of explanation. They have that right and no amount of high pitch rancor can change that.

If the people who run Team USA in the World Cup don’t agree with Tortorella’s methods they are free to replace him.

But the next day he doubled down on his comments and has no intention of changing his opinions towards the respect for the anthem. Everybody now knows where they sit and stand so enough of Tortorella and the inane enquiries.

We are also free to ignore him as well as ignore Kaepernick and his stand. It won’t be easy but at least everybody is free in the land of the free. Kind of.