Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has changed his stance on protesting and kneeling during the national anthem.

Just four years ago while coaching the United States at the World Cup of Hockey, Tortorella told ESPN that "if any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.” This remark was made during the controversy of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the United States.

Now, it appears Tortorella has changed his stance on the matter following world-wide protests against racial injustice following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis last month.

“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,” Tortorella told Aaron Portzline of The Athletic on Wednesday. “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.”

The 62-year-old American, whose 30-year-old son is an Army Ranger, says he wouldn't punish any player that wanted to protest during the national anthem.

“The World Cup is a little bit of a different story; that’s playing for your country,” Tortorella said. “But that isn’t now.

“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. How can we rectify some of these problems?”

Tortorella is in his 18th season coaching in the NHL and fourth with the Blue Jackets.