John Tortorella doubles down in defense of Ivan Provorov: 'He did nothing wrong'

"Just because you don’t agree with his decision, doesn’t mean he did anything wrong."

John Tortorella came to the defense of Ivan Provorov again on Thursday. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
John Tortorella came to the defense of Ivan Provorov again on Thursday. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella doubled down on his defense of Ivan Provorov’s refusal to participate in the team’s designated Pride Night.

Tortorella addressed reporters Thursday after Provorov elected to sit out during the warmup prior to Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, where the team wore Pride-themed jerseys. Provorov rejoined the team prior to puck drop. The outspoken head coach backed his defenseman, who is Russian Orthodox, when questioned by reporters after the game, saying he respected him for staying true to his beliefs.

Here is his full comment, as reported by Giana Han and Olivia Reiner of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

As I said, Provy did nothing wrong. Just because you don’t agree with his decision, doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.

Let me put it to you this way, in my experience. I think it was back in ‘16 when I was asked a question about the flag. That’s when [former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin] Kaepernick was sitting. He wasn’t kneeling. He was just sitting at that time. They asked me, if a player sits, what would you do? And what did I say, I said the player would sit the rest of the game. I was wrong. I learned a lot through that experience. My feelings toward any type of protest toward that flag, during that anthem, it disgusts me. To this day, it disgusts me. It shouldn’t be done. I can’t push those feelings onto someone else. So I was wrong in saying that back then. Didn’t realize I was. But I went through it all, it was ‘who I am to push my feelings onto someone else?’

Same situation here. Provy’s not banging a drum against Pride Night. He quietly went about his business. Him and I had a number of conversations to how we were going to do this. You have the team, you have him, you have all this going on. Talked to [Scott Laughton]. Went through the whole process there. [Provorov] strongly felt with his beliefs. And he stayed with it. And that was discussed, prior up to that.

But I’m trying to make a correlation to how I was wrong. You asked me if I was going to bench him? Why would I bench him? Because of a decision he’s making on his beliefs and his religion? It turned out to be a great night for Pride Night. Players were involved. The building was filled. There was awareness and everything. Provy didn’t actively seek out and try to make a stand against it. He just felt he didn’t want to take warmup. I respect him for his decision. I thought the team handled themselves well. I thought our whole organization handled itself well to make sure we didn’t lose sight of that night.

The NHL doesn’t have any sanctions or policy in place to fine someone for not taking part in team-mandated initiatives. The league released a statement Wednesday, effectively stating that it supports all players in their right to choose which initiatives they participate in.

Provorov's teammates, forwards Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk, said they don't hold the defenseman's decision against him. Laughton and van Riemsdyk are heavily involved in initiatives that support the LQBTQ+ community, partnering with local nonprofit organizations and hosting members of the LGBTQ+ community at every home game.

"I don't hold anything against anyone," Laughton said Tuesday. "It's nothing like that. It was an awesome night, and I'm very happy we got a win on a night like this."

"I think ultimately I'd like to look at the positives from the night," van Riemsdyk said Thursday. "We were able to host a few different groups and meet with them after the game. I think that's where I'd like to keep the focus on, about the good things that happened. Ultimately, when you play a team sport, and there's lots of different people from different backgrounds, there's different causes that people support."

In an ostensible effort to curtail acts of homophobia, the NHL partnered with social initiative You Can Play Project in 2013. Many players have endorsed the end goal of You Can Play, which is "to ensure the safety and inclusion for all who participate in sports, including LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches and fans." Winnipeg Jets forward Sam Gagner and Colorado Avalanche forward Andrew Cogliano were among players who reiterated the importance of inclusivity and initiatives that support the LGTBQ+ community following the Provorov situation.

You Can Play issued a statement via Twitter on Thursday that defended Provorov's decision to not participate in Pride Night, which they later deleted after receiving backlash.

"There is plenty of room in hockey, & sport for those in the LGTBQ+ community & allies & advocates. There is also room (and must be) for those who do not wish to participate as an ally," the statement read. "There is no room, however, for those who hate & exclude anyone; and we must know the difference."

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