On Jan. 17, the Philadelphia Flyers played the Anaheim Ducks. This game was the Flyers recurring “Pride Night,” which consisted of players wearing rainbow jerseys and using rainbow stick tape during warmups. Ivan Provorov, number nine and alternate captain for the Flyers, did not come out on the ice for warmups, yet still played in the game.
After the game, Provorov cited religion as his cause for sitting out.
Provorov is Russian Orthodox, and according to the Human Rights Campaign, his religion does not officially support the LGBTQ+ community. He wanted to represent his faith by not participating in the “Pride Night” festivities.
Both the NHL and Flyers’ coach John Tortorella have supported Provorov’s decision.
In his postgame comments, Tortorella told CBS that he respects Provorov’s decision because it had to do with his religious beliefs.
“One thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself,” Tortorella said in the article.
The NHL’s response was not much better.
“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues,” the league said in a statement released the day after the game.
After refusing to come out for warmups, Provorov should not have been allowed to dress or even sit on the bench during the game. Instead, he was allowed to play. As a queer hockey fan, I am absolutely disgusted by the behavior surrounding this whole situation.
Provorov did not face any repercussions for his actions. Furthermore, his coach respects what he did: Using his religion to justify his homophobia. That is something I cannot stand for.
The NHL didn’t handle things well, either. Pride nights, like the one Provorov snubbed, are a part of the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone Initiative,” in which the league aims to create a more inclusive environment for everyone.
If the NHL truly cared about inclusivity, then they would have condemned Provorov’s decision in order to try and make hockey a safe space for queer people and fans. Instead, the NHL proved that initiatives like “Hockey is for Everyone” are just for show. The league continues to do the bare minimum for the LGBTQ+ community. When a player in their league is homophobic, they remain complicit.
According to an article in the Washington Examiner, fans also came to Provorov’s defense, with his jerseys being sold out on both Fanatics and the NHL Shop just days after the Pride Night controversy.
It is overarchingly clear that the apparent reason why Provorov’s actions were justified is because his religion and his opinion played a role. People are too scared to call out individuals whenever religion is involved and that has allowed for the sustained use of religion as an excuse for homophobia. Since it was also his choice to not participate, and individuals are entitled to making their own decisions, people think Provorov’s choice was legitimate. Even his coach agrees.
“Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong,” Tortorella said to The Athletic.
Except what Provorov did was, in fact, wrong.
It is not an opinion to dislike a group of people because of who they love, nor is that supposed opinion something people have to be understanding of. When an opinion invalidates the existence and experience of a population, it immediately becomes a form of hate. It doesn’t matter if the reason behind the opinion is religious; it’s 2023 and it should no longer be acceptable to use religion as a reason to justify homophobia. That’s what this is: blatant homophobia disguised by religion.
In more of his postgame comments, Provorov said to CBS that he “respects everybody’s choices.”
Except it isn’t a choice to be gay. People do not choose who they love, and it is completely unfair to act like they do. After all, if straight people don’t choose to love the opposite gender then why is it assumed gay people do?
This whole situation was handled horribly. If it succeeded at anything, it was ostracizing queer hockey fans and possible players.
Sportsnet verifies that the NHL has yet to have an openly gay player. I highly doubt the league will have one anytime soon if behavior like Provorov’s is accepted.
All Provorov’s act of ignorance, his coach’s respect and the NHL’s complicity show is cowardice. Tortorella was too cowardly to condemn his player and the NHL is too afraid to admit that they only support the LGBTQ+ community for show. Provorov himself? Hiding behind his religion is his preferred form of cowardice.
It’s honestly sad that a man who, according to Spotrac, makes $4.75 million a year couldn’t participate in warmups. It’s even sadder that he won’t own up to his homophobia.
People like Ivan Provorov cannot get away with being homophobic and coaches cannot get away with defending that homophobia. The NHL has a long way to go if they ever want a genuinely inclusive community. Even the league’s current programs to foster inclusivity are failing. Hockey is not currently welcoming to anyone other than straight, cisgender men and that is no longer permissible.
Queer fans and players deserve to feel supported, because like the NHL says, hockey is for everyone.