Lightning wing J.T. Brown wants to make one thing clear.
"I have no ill will toward John Tortorella," he said.
Brown, 26, has never met Tortorella, the former Lightning coach and coach for the U.S. team at the World Cup of Hockey.
But the two were linked this week when Brown, who is black, used Twitter to take issue with a statement by Tortorella, who is white, that he would bench any U.S. player who didn't stand for the national anthem. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked a national debate when he decided to sit or kneel during the anthem at NFL preseason games in protest of America's treatment of minorities.
"Wouldn't benching a black man for taking a stance only further prove (Kaepernick's) point of oppression?" Brown wrote on Twitter. The tweet went viral.
Tortorella, whose son Nick is an Army Ranger, said he supports the military and free expression but the anthem and flag "shouldn't come into play for a second."
Brown, who plays a professional sport that's predominantly white, offered his perspective in a statement Thursday to the Tampa Bay Times.
"(Tortorella) sees the situation through his reality, and I see it through mine, as a black athlete in the NHL," Brown said. "I know I'm not on the United States World Cup roster, but I have had a chance to represent my country on other occasions. My tweet was a hypothetical. What if I took a stance to promote awareness for one of the many injustices still occurring in our country and was punished despite there being no rule or law against it? My tweet was a response to that question."
Brown, the son of former NFL running back Ted Brown, has been with the Lightning since 2012, when he got signed out of Minnesota-Duluth, where he won a national title. He signed a two-year, $2.5 million deal with Tampa Bay in June. Brown is one of 30 to 35 black players expected to start the season in the NHL.
"I could have been quiet and just kept my opinion to myself, but I don't want young minorities who love the game of hockey to think that what's going on in America today is going unnoticed by the hockey community," Brown said. "I love America and thank the military for protecting our freedoms, as well as law enforcement for protecting and serving our communities, but that doesn't mean I can't acknowledge that there is still racism today. I am glad my tweet provoked a discussion, because we need to start having a conversation about racism if we want to work towards a better America.
"While I don't plan on sitting during the national anthem, I will look for more opportunities to positively impact my community and bring awareness to racial issues."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]