John Tortorella, coach of the US national hockey team, recently announces that he won’t any of his players to protests during the anthem at the”World Cup of Hockey” (WCH).
In the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s protests, Tortorella told ESPN:
“If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game… 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…
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… We are playing hockey. Other people are doing real stuff.”
Some people might think it’s impertinent for a white man in a predominantly white sport with a history of overt racism
to comment on whether it’s acceptable for African-Americans to protest the national anthem, but clearly John Tortorella is not one of those people.
Since making his statement, he’s been criticized by reporters and players alike, including JT Brown of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mark Madden of The Times
went so far as to say he “can’t cheer a team coached by John Tortorella”, a “knee-jerk kind of guy” with an “emphasis on the jerk.”
Instead, Madden will be rooting or the North American 23-and-under team. There are certainly other fans who will follow in Madden’s footsteps, which is good news for the North American team, but not great news for a US squad that’s already reeling from lack of publicity.
As a coach, Tortorella tends to favor aggressive players. He told CBS that he’d rather have players “make a mistake through aggression” than a squad who were “just testing the waters.”
Those same preferences seem to extend to how he handles himself. In 2014, while coaching the Vancouver Canucks, Tortorella was suspended for trying to fight his way
into the Calgary Flames’ locker room, a decisions The New York Posts
said was “just Torts being Torts”. Once you’ve heard stories like that, Tortorella’s comments are not particularly surprising.
What is interesting is that some reporters, like of Morgan Campbell of The Toronto Star
, believe the coaches rant may have been more successful as a marketing tactic than a political statement:
“It’s not clear why Tortorella’s opinion on Kaepernick’s protest should matter, but his comments on the controversy centered on police brutality unwittingly amplified an NHL marketing message.
Talking hockey wouldn’t have earned Tortorella much media coverage, but talking Kaepernick in his capacity as the U.S.’s World Cup coach allowed him to remind people that the tournament actually exists.”
Unless you’re a huge hockey fanatic – or possibly just Canadian – you probably didn’t know that the World Cup of Hockey is scheduled to start on September 17. Don’t worry, you’re not alone; the tournament is so poorly advertised that USA Today’s recent article about it was titled “What is the World Cup of Hockey and why watch?
It’s not shocking that these events haven’t become part of the cultural zeitgeist, because in many ways, the World Cup of Hockey is just a less-popular extension of the NHL. This is the third time this competitions has been attempted, it only features eight teams and the previous two tournaments were in 2004 and 1996. As a result, this year’s World Cup is largely a trial to see if the event can engage fans.
Kyle McMann, the NHL’s vice president of integrated marketing, told The Toronto Star
: “We’re trying to create familiarity with the game’s greatest players, tying into national loyalties, and put it at a time where more fans can consume it live.”
Unfortunately, aside from EA Sports featured the World Cup of Hockey in their “NHL 2017
” video-game, I haven’t seen much of an effort to make the average person aware of this tournament. According to Chris Peter from CBS
, in order for the WCH to be considered a success they’ll need “every game to sell out in Toronto”, and that has not happened yet.
One issue is that the tournament seems heavily geared towards North Americans. As VICE.com
pointed out, it’s almost offensive that Sweden, Finland and The Czech Republic get their own teams and everyone else is lumped together on a squad that represents the rest of Europe. It doesn’t matter that these other countries competed against each other in the 2014 Winter Olympics or that these nations might have turbulent political pasts. The World Cup of Hockey’s organizers are basically telling these players “you represent that parts of Europe that don’t have enough of a draw to warrant their own team”. It’s choices like that which make it abundantly clear that the WCH is still in test-mode.
Similarly, another major hurdle for the WCH is that it seems abundantly clear Canada is going to win.
While the Canadians are widely considered the best team in the World Cup, Team USA have said they have high hopes. The two teams have already played against one other a couple of times in the pre-Tournament stage, each earning one victory, but their first official matchup will be September 20 at 8 PM on ESPN.