Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella has done a complete 180 on his stance against national anthem protests ... saying he now finally understands why players would choose to protest.
Remember, Tort was one of the most outspoken sports figures against any sort of anthem protest in 2016 ... telling ESPN, "If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game."
Now, the CBJ coach says he's had some time to listen to the reasons behind kneeling or sitting ... and he hopes it creates a conversation among his players.
"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 The Athletic.
"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 -- whose son, Nick, is an army ranger -- says he will no longer punish players for protesting ... and even suggests adding a moment before games so those in attendance can put a focus on racial injustice.
"I do believe in our right to peaceful protest," Tort continued. "Why do we have to choose sides during this time? Can we not share a moment of unity and reflection prior to the national anthem dedicated to protesting the racial injustice in our world?"