How One Hockey Player’s Stand for Faith Rocked the NHL

By Joseph D'Hippolito Published on April 5, 2023

Given how humanity, especially in the United States, seems to be careening toward the abyss at the speed of light, perhaps you believe that you can’t do a thing as one individual, let alone express views based on your faith, especially in a time when cancel culture seems to be the new state religion.

Meet Ivan Provorov.

Provorov refused to wear an LGBTQ jersey for his team’s Pride Night because of his faith. As a result, the Russian defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers ignited a chain reaction that’s forcing the National Hockey League to reconsider its approach toward LGBTQ issues.

League Commissioner Responds

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman admitted as much March 27 in an interview with CTV, Canada’s largest privately owned television network. (The government owns CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). CTV’s Patricia Boal asked Bettman about the recent spate of players refusing to wear rainbow-themed Pride jerseys.

“This is the first time we’ve experienced that,” he said. “I think it’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate in the off-season. This is one issue where players, for a variety of reasons, may not feel comfortable wearing a uniform as a form of endorsement.”

Those players include Provorov, the San Jose Sharks’ James Reimer, the Florida Panthers’ Marc and Eric Staal, the Buffalo Sabres’ Ilya Lyubushkin and the Vancouver Canucks’ Andrei Kuzmenko, that team’s leading goal scorer.

Bettman added that their individual protests deflect attention from the NHL’s LGBTQ outreach efforts.

“But I think that’s become more of a distraction now because the substance of what our teams and we have been doing and stand for is really being pushed to the side for what is a handful of players, basically, who have made personal decisions,” he said, “and you have to respect that, as well.”

Other Christian athletes refused to wear Pride-themed jerseys or uniform embellishments, or expressed biblical views on homosexuality — sometimes, at great personal cost, as The Stream has reported. But those scattered efforts haven’t forced a professional league to re-examine its policies the way a few NHL players have.

One Man Against the Rainbow Tide

Pride Nights have become NHL staples. Teams wear rainbow-motif jerseys during warmups before changing into their regular jerseys for the game. Some players use rainbow tape on the blades of their sticks. Those same teams place the jerseys on auction to raise money for LGBTQ organizations, and sell rainbow-themed variants of their game jerseys and other merchandise to fans.

Provorov took his stand on January 17. During their pre-game warmup, the Flyers wore black jerseys with numbers and names in rainbow hues. Provorov refused to wear the jersey, so he was barred from participating in the warmup. Still, Provorov played nearly 23 minutes in a 5-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks.

When asked about his decision, Provorov responded succinctly.

“I respect everybody and everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion,” said the Russian Orthodox Provorov. “That’s all I’m going to say. If you have any hockey questions, I would answer those.”

Coaching Support

Flyers’ coach John Tortorella supported Provorov.

“That’s one thing I respect about ‘Provy;’ he’s always true to himself,” Tortorella said. “‘Provy’ did nothing wrong. Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

When asked whether he considered benching Provorov, Tortorella rejected that idea.

“Why would I bench him? Because of a decision he’s making on his beliefs and his religion?” Tortorella asked rhetorically.

The Tide’s Foam

Reporters were not amused.

“But Provorov obviously does not respect ‘everyone,'” tweeted Pierre LeBrun, NHL analyst for The Athletic and the Canadian sports network TSN. “If he did respect everyone, he would have taken part in warm-up and worn the Pride Night jersey. Don’t hide behind religion.

Gord Miller, who also works for TSN, tweeted this response:

1. Ivan Provorov had the right to refuse to participate in the Pride Night activities in Philadelphia. 2. The Flyers should have responded by not allowing him to play in the game. 3. Freedom of expression doesn’t give you freedom from the consequences of your words or actions.

Never mind that had the Flyers responded that way, Provorov could have sued for workplace discrimination.

A co-host of CTV’s morning program even said the NHL should fine the Flyers $1 million.

“Nothing scares me more than any human being who says, ‘I’m not doing this because of my religious beliefs,'” Sid Seiseiro said. “Because when you look at people’s lives who normally say that publicly, you’d throw up at what you saw. That is insulting what happened in Philadelphia.”

ESPN’s E. J. Hradek went so far as to say Provorov should go back to Russia and fight in the war against Ukraine if he felt that strongly.

Nevertheless, Provorov’s jersey sold out within days on the NHL.com and Fanatics websites. Meanwhile, the NHL issued this statement the day after Provorov made his stand:

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.”

Thanks to that policy, events began cascading.

The Tide Starts to Turn

On Jan. 28, the New York Rangers cancelled plans at the last minute to have their players wear LGBTQ-themed warmup jerseys for Pride Night. The Minnesota Wild followed suit March 8, as did the St. Louis Blues on April 4. None of the teams provided explanations. But the Chicago Blackhawks cited the safety of their Russian players in their March 26 announcement.

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In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law extending a ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” from minors to adults. That ban involves movies, plays, books, advertising and online resources. The NHL has a higher percentage of Russian athletes than any other North American sports league, and some fear retaliation against themselves or their families for wearing “Pride” warmup jerseys.

That law provided the rationale for Lyubushkin and Kuzmenko to opt out.

Christian Conviction

Yet Russian law didn’t matter to Reimer and the Staal brothers. Reimer took his stand March 18, with the two Panthers doing likewise March 23.

“After many thoughts, prayers and discussions, we have chosen not to wear a pride jersey tonight,” the Staals said in a statement. “We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey. Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs.”

Reimer’s statement, which the Sharks posted on their Twitter account, makes compelling reading:

For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian — not just in title but in how I choose to live my life daily. I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and to follow him. I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness.

In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life.

I strongly believe that every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.

The Next Step

Now that a handful of NHL players acting independently of each other showed they influence league policy, the next step is obvious, especially with “Pride Month” coming in June and with transgender fanaticism on the rise.

Major-league baseball players, Christian and otherwise, should refuse to wear any LGBTQ-themed uniforms or accessories unless LGBTQ organizations take concrete steps to defuse militant fanaticism and to hold activists accountable. This is even more crucial since March 27, when a transgender perpetrator murdered three adults and three children at a Christian school.

In addition, major-league clubs should refuse to sell LGBTQ-themed merchandise, and should make any future charitable cooperation contingent upon the response of LGBTQ organizations to such fanaticism.

Imagine the uproar if an athlete said or posted something like this:

“I have no hate in my heart for LGBTQ people, and I welcome them into our team’s stadium. But I refuse to support groups that remain silent in the face of the murder of the innocent or encourage further bloodshed.”

Imagine the uproar if a club — or even a league — crafted a statement like this:

“Our team welcomes LGBTQ people into our stadium and encourages them to support our team. However, as an organization, we refuse to support groups that remain silent in the face of the murder of the innocent or encourage further bloodshed.”

Such statements would push narcissistic LGBTQ activists and their equally narcissistic “woke” allies beyond rage. But such statements could generate widespread and profound support — as Provorov’s jersey sales illustrated.

Such a scenario would seem impossible in today’s mad climate. But one principled individual standing against a fanatical mob can achieve more than anyone might think.

Ask Ivan Provorov.

 

Joseph D’Hippolito has written commentaries for such outlets as the Jerusalem Post, the American Thinker and Front Page Magazine. He works as a free-lance writer.

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