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Opinion: Mixed Messages at Flyers Pride Night

Mike Stephens discusses Ivan Provorov's decision to skip the Philadelphia Flyers' Pride Night warmup due to his religion.
Ivan Provorov

The Philadelphia Flyers held their official Pride Night during Tuesday's game versus the Anaheim Ducks at Wells Fargo Arena, as the team put on an event meant to celebrate and show unity with members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, however, declined to participate in the event, citing his religious beliefs as a Russian Orthodox Christian. 

"I respect everyone. I respect everybody's choices," Provorov told reporters of his decision following the game, seemingly labelling identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community a choice.

"My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion."

All in all, Pride Night was a relatively understated affair from the perspective of most of the players, except for two. 

Forwards James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton have gone above and beyond in their efforts to build productive relationships within the LGBTQ+ community by partnering with several non-profit initiatives to host youth and their families at every home game. They also invited non-binary identifying 13-year-old Trin Stephens as their guest of honor on Tuesday, for example. 

The rest of the team was asked to wear a specially-designed jersey and hockey tape for the team's 15-minute pre-game warmup that sported the rainbow Pride flag. 

Provorov refused to wear that jersey. Instead, the 26-year-old opted not to join his team on the ice for warmups ahead of their inter-conference matchup but was still permitted to play that night by coach John Tortorella. 

"With Provy, he's being true to himself and to his religion," Tortorella told reporters following the game of Provorov's decision not to wear a jersey meant to celebrate and welcome a community of people who have, for so long, been excluded from the game they love. 

"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."

Tortorella, one of the NHL's most notoriously hard-nosed bench bosses, has made his thoughts known on individual player protests before one of his own staged one on Tuesday. 

In 2016, Tortorella, then the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, said there would be consequences for any player of his who sat during the national anthem as a means of protesting racial injustice in the United States.

"If any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game," Tortorella told ESPN in September 2016. 

It's important to note, though, that Tortorella has since softened his stance on the matter of anthem participation, a form of individual protest, in recent years. In 2020, he told the Athletic the widespread protests against racial injustice and violence changed his mind on the matter. 

"I would hope that if one of my players wanted to protest during the anthem, he would bring it to me and we would talk about it, tell me his thoughts and what he wanted to do," said Tortorella at the time. 

"From there, we would bring it to the team to discuss it, much like it's being discussed in our country right now,"

It's unclear whether or not Tortorella did indeed bring Provorov's decision to protest the Flyers' team-sponsored LGBTQ+ Pride Night to the rest of his players upon learning of it and speaking with Provorov himself, to discuss it together as he said he would do with these matters back in 2020. 

Either way, Provorov defied the collective actions of his team for individual reasons on Tuesday night, declined to join his teammates in a routine part of their job, and yet was still permitted to suit up against the Ducks despite Justin Braun, a veteran of 824 NHL games who actually took Provorov's place in the Flyers' line rushes during warmups, being available to step into the lineup. 

That a coach whose reputation has been built upon drawing hard lines in the sand when it comes to his players – Tortorella made headlines just last week for banning iPads from the Flyers' bench because he thought they were impacting team performance – allowed one of them to receive the privilege of participating in an NHL game after putting his own interests over the team's, is interesting, to say the least. 

After Provorov briefly explained his stance post-game, he said he would only answer hockey-related questions for the remainder of his availability. Flyers PR shut down any others that pertained to Provorov's decision, which, regardless of intention, publicly spurned support of a community that hockey has so often left marginalized. 

On Wednesday morning, the NHL addressed the matter at hand itself, releasing a statement that did not include a single mention of the player, team, or community involved in it. 

"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 work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans," the NHL's statement read. 

"Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when, and how – with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues."  

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