As Team USA head coach in 2016, John Tortorella threatened any American players who would protest the oppression of Black people. At the time, Colin Kaepernick was taking a knee in the NFL to raise awareness for racial inequality and discrimination.
“If any of my players sit on the bench for the National Anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game,” Tortorella said, though he back-tracked years later. In the case of Ivan Provorov‘s protest, Tortorella was far more lenient. The Russian defender chose to skip warmups rather than wear a Flyers’ Pride jersey. “Hockey Is For Everyone. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜,” the Flyers tweeted before the game.
Unlike his threat over the National Anthem protest, Tortorella did not bench Provorov, who played a game-high 22:45. Afterward, the coach defended his player.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 17, 2023
“I think the organization has sent out a release regarding the organization, the beliefs that we have, and how we feel about it and really a great night,” Tortorella said. “With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy, he’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that.”
Torts was asked by the media if he ever considered benching Provorov.
“No, no,” he said. “I’m not going to answer any more questions because I think it’s unfair. I know you’re probably going to talk to Provy, yeah. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. I think it was a great night in celebrating. Organization has put out a statement. I’m not going to get too deep into the conversation. Those are comments as far as Provy. We talked as a team and with Provy and that’s where we’re at.”
Ivan Provorov didn’t participate in warmups, and head coach John Tortorella confirmed it was because he chose not to wear the team’s Pride-themed jersey on Pride Night.
Full comments: pic.twitter.com/Gdd7035pEg
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 18, 2023
Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, answered one question afterward about the controversy, saying “I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”
— Dan Gelston (@APgelston) January 18, 2023
During the game, the Flyers organization put out this press release that did not speak or condemn Provorov’s actions.
There is word that #Flyers’ Ivan Provorov did not participate in warmups tonight because he declined to wear the team-issued Pride Night jersey, celebrating the LGTBQ+ community.
The Flyers offered the following comment.
Provorov is expected to be available to media postgame. pic.twitter.com/h3XEcwErph
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 18, 2023
The NHL followed up with a similarly vague comment of their own on Wednesday morning:
Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans. Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.
Provorov’s protest gathered all the attention on Pride Night, overshadowing the great work that his teammates, Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk, have done in the Philadelphia community. It also devalued the work the team has done with Gritty, a genderless mascot who has been adopted as symbol of love in the LGBTQ+ community.
Spread your wings
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) January 18, 2023
Being an ally sometimes requires courage, which the Flyers lacked on the night they were supposed to celebrate their LGBTQ+ fans. Provorov’s actions merited at least criticism, if not condemnation. Instead we got carefully crafted, vague statements from PR flaks. And while John Tortorella’s reputation for boldness is well-known, he was uncharacteristically mild here. It’s hard to imagine him being so if a player had performed a similar protest on, say, military appreciation night.
My friends in the LGBTQ+ community face discrimination everyday just because of who they are. I’m straight and white and male, so I will never completely understand what they go through, but I can still recognize hate. I face it and say it does not belong here or anywhere in the hockey community. Until that hate is gone, Hockey Is For Everyone is not a fact, just a lofty aspiration.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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