Cultural Conversations by Daniel Blackaby January 19, 2023
NHL Player Criticized for Not Participating in ‘Pride Night’ Due to Religion
In the aftermath of the Damar Hamlin incident, the relationship between sports and religion was widely celebrated. Across the sporting world, there seemed to be a shared understanding that faith had an important and valuable place in the community. Now, another recent event is causing people to debate that relationship with renewed fervor.
On January 17th, during his team’s annual LGBTQ+ Pride Night, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov elected not to participate in the pregame warm-up in which players wore Pride-themed jerseys and rainbow tape on their sticks. The jerseys would later be auctioned for charity and the proceeds given to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
After the game, Provorov explained his reasons: “I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.” In answer to a follow-up question, he clarified that his religion is Russian Orthodox.
Provorov received support from his head coach, John Tortorella: “He was true to himself and to his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy; he’s always true to himself.”
The league also released a statement, clarifying that participation in such initiatives is not mandatory: “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.”
Nevertheless, criticism from the sports media was swift and severe. Many hockey journalists quickly took to social media to declare Provorov a “homophobe,” “bigot,” “disgrace,” “an awful human being,” and scold him not to “hide behind religion.” Perhaps the most fervent and viral reaction came from NHL Network senior reporter E. J. Hradek, who went on-air to imply Provorov should leave the country and join the Russia/Ukraine War if he doesn’t want to participate in the Pride event:
“Ivan Provorov can get on a plane any day he wants 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. If this is that much of a problem for him, to maybe assimilate into his group of teammates, and in the community and here in this country, that’s OK. Listen, you can feel any way you want. But the beauty is, if it bothers you that much, there’s always a chance to leave, go back to where you feel more comfortable — I understand there’s a conflict of sorts going on over there, maybe get involved.”
The long-term impact, if any, remains to be seen, but the incident has once again revealed the often-tenuous association between religion and sports and the challenge faced by religious athletes to practice their personal religion in the public eye.