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Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella, who is never shy with his opinions, had some strong comments on Thursday morning about defenceman Ivan Provorov‘s controversial decision to skip warmups on Pride Night Tuesday.
Both the Flyers organization and Tortorella received backlash for allowing Provorov to play on Tuesday after his boycott, as he was the only member of the team who didn’t support the team’s Pride-themed jersey in the pregame skate.
But Tortorella explained that he never once considered benching the 26-year-old defenceman.
“You asked me if I was going to bench him?” Tortorella said to reporters. “Why would I bench him? Because of a decision he’s making on his beliefs and his religion?”
After the game Tuesday, Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he didn’t participate in the Pride Night festivities.
The Russian Orthodox Church, like other major Eastern Orthodox branches, doesn’t perform or recognize same-sex marriages. Its leader, Patriarch Kirill, has been supportive of moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to implement anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Thursday, Tortorella continued to stand behind the defenceman.
“As I said, ‘Provy’ did nothing wrong,” said Tortorella. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision, doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”
Part of the reason the veteran NHL bench boss feels justified in defending his player, is because he believes Provorov’s actions were not made in a boisterous manner.
“Provy’s not out there banging a drum against Pride Night,” Tortorella explained. “He quietly went about his business. … Provy didn’t actively seek out and try and make a stand against it. He just felt he didn’t want to take warmup. I respect his decision.”
Tortorella also equated Provorov boycotting the celebration of the 2SLBGTQ+ community to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, and oppression toward “Black people and people of colour.” In 2016, the then-coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets 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.”
Four years later, Tortorella admitted he was wrong in an interview with 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,” he told The Athletic back in 2020.
On Thursday, the Flyers’ coach admitted he still doesn’t agree with anyone protesting during the anthem, but said he has learned he also can’t push his own beliefs on anyone.
“I bring up my situation because to this day, I still feel the same way about the flag,” said Tortorella. “You shouldn’t be protesting when the anthem is played and you’re in front of that flag. … But I have no business to push my type of thought onto players at that particular time. Made a huge mistake back then.”
He then implied the same point of view should be applied to Provorov.
“That’s why I’m kind of putting it with this here,” Tortorella said of his anthem comments. “Provy knew he was going to have some blowback here. That’s part of the business. That’s part of what you go through. But I respect him, as far as staying true to himself as I said the other night.”
The Flyers will take on the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday in their first game since Tuesday’s incident.
With files from The Associated Press