On Tuesday night, players for the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League celebrated the team’s Pride Night. During pregame warmups, the Flyers players wore special jerseys in support of the LGBTQ+ community. One player did not participate in the warmups. Defenseman Ivan Provorov refused, saying after the game, “I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my (Russian Orthodox) religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Media reaction — particularly among the hockey media — was strong and swift.
Charlie O’Connor, who covers the Flyers for The Athletic, wrote that Provorov’s actions turned the night into a “shell of its intended self and an embarrassing episode.”
Veteran (and very well respected) hockey journalist Pierre LeBrun retweeted Provorov’s quote and wrote, “But Provorov obviously does not respect ‘everyone’. 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, another veteran journalist and respected announcer in Canada, tweeted, “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.”
It was good to see hockey journalists — especially those with powerful voices in the industry — take such strong stances about a sport that has an inclusive motto of “Hockey Is For Everyone,” but has struggled with diversity over the years.
Part of the NHL’s statement said, “Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
Especially powerful were these comments by Sid Seixeiro, who co-hosts “Breakfast Television” in Canada. Seixeiro, in part, criticized the Flyers for allowing Provorov to play in the game. He said, “The theme is not Hockey Is For Everyone dot dot dot unless you don’t believe in gay rights then do whatever you want.”
Seixeiro said the NHL needs to figure out how to have nights like this without offending people when the point is to do the exact opposite of offending people. It’s about embracing and welcoming everyone. Seixiero then asked what the reaction would have been if a player had refused to wear a jersey for military appreciation.
In Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes, a sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote, “There will be some who will equate that asking Ivan Provorov to skate in a Pride-themed jersey Tuesday night was like forcing him to kneel during the national anthem back in 2016. That’s ridiculous, of course. Kneeling protested systemic racism aimed at Black men in the criminal justice system of the United States. Meanwhile, warming up in a jersey with rainbow numbers and nameplates simply supported the right of LGBTQ+ people all over the world to exist without persecution. For anyone, that’s pretty simple. So, let’s not complicate the issue. Provorov refused to warm up Tuesday night against Anaheim because he does not support the right of LGBTQ+ people to even exist.”
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.