The world of sports was set ablaze earlier this month after a seemingly minor decision in the eyes of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov quickly placed the alternate captain in a PR nightmare. While the choice itself may have been ill-advised, his refusal to wear a rainbow-numbered warm-up jersey in honor of the NHL’s observance of Pride Month and subsequent media response have shone a light on the dark underbelly of a small portion of the NHL’s players and fans alike.
“I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion,” Provorov confessed at the Flyers postgame press conference after their Jan. 17 game against the Anaheim Ducks. The response was met with outrage and hilarity on Twitter, while journalists dedicated to NHL coverage provided their own opinions. Some, such as Gord Miller of TSN, were verbally abused and berated if they so chose to speak out in opposition to Provorov’s choice. In one of Miller’s initial tweets, he provides three steps he felt should have been taken in response to Provorov refusing to wear the sweater.
Instantly after being posted, his account was flooded with hateful messages and extremely vulgar accusations to a point where hiding the most disgusting of replies became pointless. With many jumping to extremes on both sides of the coin, public discourse on the issue was virtually impossible.
The conversation continued into the week, with Flyers head coach and UMaine Athletics Hall of Fame inductee John Tortorella defending his own player. “He’s being true to himself and his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy, he’s always true to himself. And so that’s where I am with that,” Tortorella said in a press conference. While a player’s own personal decisions are understandable, those that disenfranchise and indirectly discredit the work these organizations have done by drawing attention away from the cause are always going to be subject to scrutiny.
Since 2013, the NHL has been partnered with the You Can Play Project. The organization fights homophobia across all avenues of sport, and in partnering with the NHL became the first of its kind to partner with a North American sports league. As of last season, over 100 players have publicly voiced their support and represented their gay teammates through the group. In addition to the project, rainbow-colored “Pride Tape” is licensed and used by the league and its players during Pride Month on sticks and socks to show support.
Less than two years ago, Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Luke Prokop officially came out as gay through his own social media accounts, becoming the first player drafted and signed by an NHL team to announce something of this sort. The Nashville Predators prospect himself has been vocal about the need for representation in markets such as hockey, with not many NHL-type heroes or role models for LGBTQ+ youths to look up to on the ice. In fact, Luke’s announcement was the turning point for Utica Comets broadcaster, Jason Shaya, giving him the opportunity and courage to come out later that year.
Even closer to home for Provorov, his teammates Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk are two of the league’s most vocal supporters of the LGBTQ+ community. The duo are connected to multiple organizations involved with the community and were instrumental in the execution and implementation of Pride Night within the Flyers organization, a group that seems to find itself in hot water more often than not.
In 2016, during a playoff series against the Washington Capitals, Flyers fans were so disgruntled with their team’s performance that they began to throw wristbands onto the ice midgame that had been handed out pregame in honor of their recently deceased owner, Ed Snider. The display forced Flyers PA announcer Lou Nolan to famously exclaim, “Show some class fans, this is Philly!” over the arena’s speaker system.
While Provorov’s actions are in the past, the fallout seems to be never-ending. For many, though Provorov is Russian Orthodox and does not support homosexuality as is written in relevant religious texts, the only way the 26-year-old would be able to clear his name would be through a donation or formal apology. With Provorov’s stance and views clear, it seems as if a lot of people are going to be holding their breath for the foreseeable future.