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Coach, fans back religious hockey player

Ivan Provorov sits out LGBT pride event


Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov Associated Press/Photo by Matt Slocum

Coach, fans back religious hockey player

Hockey player Ivan Provorov is the latest religious pro athlete to refuse to participate in his team’s demonstrations of LGBT pride.

The defenseman for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers has experienced backlash for his stance. But Provorov has also received public support—not only from his coach but also from fans who snapped up his jersey.

“Provy did nothing wrong,” Flyers coach John Tortorella told reporters on Thursday. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

The flap began on Tuesday night before Philadelphia’s 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Most Flyers skated onto the ice wearing pregame warmup jerseys with rainbow-colored numbers and wielding hockey sticks with rainbow-colored tape wrapped around the blades in a show of LGBT pride. The Flyers auctioned off the jerseys and sticks afterward to benefit the team’s charity.

Provorov, however, skipped the pregame skate, remaining in the locker room. The 26-year-old from Russia was the only Flyers player to do so, and he did it with the blessing of his coach and teammates, Tortorella said.

Provorov did play in the game itself, in which the Flyers wore their regular home black-and-orange uniforms. He saw nearly 23 minutes of playing time—more than any other Flyers player—and Philadelphia surrendered no goals when he was on the ice.

Provorov is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, which teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. Asked afterward about his failure to appear in the Pride-themed gear during warmups, Provorov kept his comments to short and to the point: “I respect everybody’s choices,” he said. “My choice is to stay true to my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”

The team put out a statement saying, “The Philadelphia Flyers are committed to inclusivity and are proud to support the LGBTQ+ community.”

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jason Adam was one of five Rays hurlers who opted not to wear rainbow-colored versions of the Major League Baseball team’s logo and emblems on their uniforms at their team’s Pride Night last June. Like Adam, Provorov made no mention of the word “sin” when discussing his decision. And as was the case with Adam and his Rays teammates, that did nothing to squelch the ire of critics.

“Ivan Provorov can get on a plane any day and go back to a place where he feels more comfortable, take less money, and get on with his life that way if it’s that problematic for him,” the NHL Network commentator E.J. Hradek said. The NHL, incidentally, has partnered with the pro-LGBT sports organization You Can Play to promote LGBT inclusion in the game of hockey.

Others in the media clamored for Tortorella to punish Provorov for taking his stance. Tortorella wasn’t having it.

“Provy’s not out there banging a drum against Pride Night,” Tortorella said. “He quietly went about his business.”

The coach continued: “You asked me if I was going to bench him? Why would I bench him? Because of a decision he’s making on his beliefs and religion?

“It turned out to be a great night for Pride Night. Players were involved. The building was filled. There was awareness and everything. Provy didn’t actively seek out and try to make a stand against it. He just felt he didn’t want to take the warmup. I respect him for his decision.”

In the days since Provorov took his stance, his No. 9 Flyers jersey has been selling out on retail websites such as NHL Shop and Fanatics.

Either way, Provorov is still better off than another pro athlete who took a similar stance: The North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League released former defender Jaelene Daniels (née Hinkle) last October. Daniels skipped the Courage’s LGBT pride game last July and famously refused a call-up to the U.S. women’s national team in 2017 because she would have had to wear a Pride-themed jersey. No other NWSL team has signed her.


Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD Magazine who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.

@RayHacke43

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