Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pre-game warmups when the team wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.
The 26-year-old Provorov boycotted the pre-game skate with his teammates before Tuesday night’s contest against Anaheim as Philadelphia celebrated its annual Pride night in celebration and support of the LGBTQ+ community. He played nearly 23 minutes in a 5-2 victory.
“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.”
Provorov declined to answer follow-up questions about his decision.
Religion and support for fans and teammates aren’t mutually exclusive, according to You Can Play co-founder Brian Kitts.
The NHL champions the You Can Play Project, which aims to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. The NHL has never had an openly gay active player.
“The Flyers have been among the first and most consistent teams in sports supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion,” Kitts said. “There is still work to be done to change hearts and minds and the You Can Play Team looks forward to continuing our efforts.”
Said You Can Play chief operating officer Kurt Weaver: “Let’s say it’s 20 years ago, I think we have at that point maybe three people who would wear Pride jerseys. So now we’re going to have 19 of 20 wearing them. [That’s] a huge amount of progress. I think for us to expect every player, every time, to do this is probably unrealistic.”
Flyers ‘committed to inclusivity’
The Wells Fargo Center was decorated in rainbow hues representing the LGBTQ+ community through special pride-themed arena LEDs, decor and rainbow-themed team merchandise.
“The Philadelphia Flyers organization is committed to inclusivity and is proud to support the LGBTQ+ community,” the team said in a statement after the game. “Many of our players are active in their support of local LGBTQ+ organizations, and we were proud to host our annual Pride Night again this year. The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity and the LGBTQ+ community.”
The NHL and its players first partnered with You Can Play in April 2013 on activities fighting homophobia in sports, along with removing stereotypes related to gender, ethnicity and disabilities.
The You Can Play campaign was born in 2012 following a 2010 car accident that took the life of 21-year-old Brendan Burke, the youngest son of Brian Burke, currently president of hockey operations with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Wearing Pride colours, or other displays in support of social justice, shows respect for fans, staff and athletes who support a team’s mission to win,” Kitts told CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.
“The focus is on including everyone who can display the heart, talent and commitment to teamwork, regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, religion and other things that make us unique as athletes, fans and people.”
You Can Play, added Kitts, has reached out to the Flyers to offer support “on this continuing educational journey.”
To all the tweeters….<br>Being LGBTQ+ isn’t a lifestyle. <br><br>Cottaging is a lifestyle, fitness is a lifestyle, religion is a lifestyle, travelling is a lifestyle, partying is a lifestyle. <br>These are choices you make. <br><br>LGBTQ+ isn’t a choice, it’s who we are and how we were born.
Flyers head coach John Tortorella said Provorov “was true to himself and to his religion.”
“It’s one thing I respect about Provy, he’s always true to himself,” Tortorella said.
John Tortorella’s comments on Ivan Provorov declining to wear Pride Night jersey in warm-ups <a href=”https://t.co/s2MllcHYdx”>pic.twitter.com/s2MllcHYdx</a>
‘Players free to decide which initiatives to support’
In a statement Wednesday, the NHL said teams decide whom to celebrate, when and how, with league counsel and support.
“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,” read the statement.
“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, leader of Russia’s dominant religious group, sent a strong signal last March justifying his country’s invasion of Ukraine, describing the conflict as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission to their ranks.
The jerseys and sticks were set to be auctioned off by the Flyers following the game, with proceeds going to the team’s charity and its efforts to grow the game of hockey in diverse communities.
The Flyers also hosted a pre-game skate for local LGBTQ+ youth. Flyers players James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton have been staunch supporters of the community and launched a program in support of local LGBTQ+ youth in the greater Philadelphia area.
Laughton and van Riemsdyk met after the game with about 50 people in the LGBTQ+ community. Laughton said overall the Flyers had a “great, great night that brings a lot of awareness.”
Laughton said there would be more conversations ahead with Provorov, who moved from Russia to the United States as a teenager. He signed a six-year, $40.5-million US contract before the 2019 season and won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ outstanding defenceman in his rookie season, the youngest Philadelphia player to receive the honour.
“I don’t hold anything against anyone,” Laughton said. “It’s nothing like that. It was an awesome night and I’m very happy we got a win on a night like this.”
All-star forward Kevin Hayes, who had a hat trick in the win over Anaheim, said “it’s not for me to answer” when asked how he felt about Provorov’s decision.