Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warm-ups when the team wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.
The 26-year-old Provorov didn’t take part in the pregame skate with his teammates before their game against Anaheim on Tuesday night, when the Flyers celebrated their annual Pride night in celebration and support of the LGBTQ community. He played nearly 23 minutes in Philadelphia’s 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.
Flyers 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.
On Wednesday, the NHL said players are free to decide which of their team’s initiatives they 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,” reads the NHL statement. “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.”
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, the 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.
Even though Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine in part as a defence of the Moscow-oriented Orthodox church, leaders of both Ukrainian Orthodox factions are fiercely denouncing the Russian invasion, as is Ukraine’s significant Catholic minority.
However, an executive with an LGBTQ advocacy group says he doesn’t want the actions of Provorov to overshadow all the good that’s happening in hockey.
Kurt Weaver, the chief operating officer of the You Can Play Project, said his organization told concerned fans to “look at the sport that is there.”
“If you focus in on one item that’s not there, it’s going to be a tough day, no matter what you’re doing,” Weaver said. “Look at what’s happening. Look at the positive. Look at an arena full of people celebrating.
“A full team, coaching staff, and front office staff, who are supporting and celebrating outside of one individual. All I can ask you to do is focus on that part.”
The NHL also 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.
You Can Play co-founder Brian Kitts said in a statement on Twitter that “religion and support for fans and teammates aren’t mutually exclusive.”
“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.”
The jerseys and sticks were being 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 pregame 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, US$40.5-million 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.
The Wells Fargo Center was decorated Tuesday night 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.”
With a report from The Canadian Press