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USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell explains why Colin Kaepernick deserves a chance to play in the NFL again.

USA TODAY

As Colin Kaepernick began his kneeling protest in 2016, World Cup of Hockey coach John Tortorella said he would bench any Team USA player who didn’t stand during the national anthem.

Four years later, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ head coach has changed his views regarding protests during the anthem.

“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 told The Athletic on Wednesday. 

That’s a far cry from Tortorella’s comments to ESPN four years ago, when he said “if any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.” 

Now, Tortorella understands that the protests are not meant as a slight to the military. He, however, will continue to stand and think of his son, Nick, a 30-year-old Army Ranger. 

“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,” he told The Athletic.

Tortorella told The Athletic he’d like to see a “moment” instituted prior to the anthem for the crowd, players and coaches to contemplate racial injustice in the country. 

“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,” the 62-year-old said. “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.”

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