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NHL stands by diversity effort despite Ivan Provorov incident

BUFFALO — As Day 3 of the controversy surrounding Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov wound down, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman asserted that the incident has not overshadowed the league’s messaging around inclusivity. 

“Not when you look at, overwhelmingly, what our players do and what our clubs do and what the league does,” Bettman said ahead of a ceremony honoring former Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, whose number was retired before Thursday’s match between Buffalo and the Islanders. “A handful of players don’t define what we’re doing as a whole. You know what our values are. The Flyers have the same values and individuals may have their own reasons for doing what they do. And you have to talk to him about that.” 

Provorov, who refused to participate in warm-ups ahead of Pride Night in Philadelphia on Tuesday, citing his Russian Orthodox religion, has become the biggest story in the league. 

Provorov, who was drafted by the club and has been with it since 2016, addressed reporters briefly on the matter following the game Tuesday, but has otherwise refused to take questions on it. That has in turn left his teammates as well as coach John Tortorella to answer for him, which the latter has done repeatedly. 

Gary Bettman
Gary Bettman doesn’t want the Ivan Provorov controversy to overshadow the NHL’s initiatives.
Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images
 Ivan Provorov
Ivan Provorov refused to participate in warm-ups during the Flyers’ Pride Night.

“Provy did nothing wrong,” Tortorella told reporters Thursday in Philadelphia. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.” 

Tortorella compared the incident to his own stance against players kneeling for the national anthem in 2016, which he later reversed, saying that although he disagrees with the form of protest, he would be wrong in forcing those beliefs on someone else. 

“Same situation here,” Tortorella said. “Provy’s not out there 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 [Flyers forward Scott Laughton, who has been a strong advocate for LGBTQ causes]. Went through the whole process there. [Provorov] felt strongly with his beliefs. And he stayed with it. And this was discussed, prior up to that.” 

Laughton and teammate James van Riemsdyk’s efforts, which include hosting members of the LGBTQ community at Flyers home games and hosting a skate for nonbinary teenagers in conjunction with Pride Night, have mostly gone unnoticed in the wake of Provorov’s actions. 

“At the end of the day, I think everybody knows what the league stands for in terms of our values, what the Flyers stand for in terms of their values, but in the final analysis, individual players are gonna make their decisions and follow their beliefs,” Bettman said. “Having said that, when you look at all of our players and the commitments that they’ve made to social causes and to making our game inclusive, let’s focus on the 700 that embrace it and not one or two that may have some issues for their own personal reasons.” 

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