Before the Philadelphia Flyers’ home game against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night, players wore rainbow-accented uniforms for warmups as part of the team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night — a custom that has become commonplace in the NHL.
However, defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear the jersey and did not join warmups, telling the media after the game that he wanted to “stay true to myself and my religion.” He identified as Russian Orthodox.
“I respect everyone, I respect everybody’s choices,” he said.
Flyers head coach John Tortorella did not scratch Provorov from the lineup for taking the stand, citing the same sentiments of staying true to self and religion.
In 2016, in response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest, Tortorella famously said that he would bench any American player who did not stand for the national anthem — but has since softened on that stance.
The incident with Provorov sparked intense backlash online — but one of NHL’s official LGBTQ+ advocacy partners is preaching patience and understanding in this case.
“I would encourage a little bit of grace, especially when reading his own statement,” You Can Play co-founder Brian Kitts told Front Office Sports. “He said that he respects everybody and he might. So I don’t know that he’s a hateful guy.”
Kitts adds that when You Can Play works with athletes who have been caught on camera using slurs, for example, none of the players are deeply homophobic, but rather, were usually socialized to use such words from a young age.
In Kitts’ mind, the fact that there has been such an uproar in response to Provorov is actually a sign of serious headway.
“We’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and 10 years ago, we barely would’ve been having this conversation at all,” says Kitts. “And now we’re to the point where a Pride Night is expected and your team is expected to show up.
“I think that’s why the response [from the NHL and Flyers] is measured, because there’s been tremendous progress.”
The Flyers have been of the league’s leading LGBTQ+ voices, and two of Provorov’s Philadelphia teammates — James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton — have been huge supporters of YCP, with the former recording the organization’s very first athlete support video.
The rainbow warmup jerseys were auctioned off to support Flyers Charities, which support growing the game in diverse communities.
You Can Play COO Kurt Weaver told ESPN that, “Visibility and proximity is what breeds understanding and inclusion, and those things were negatively impacted by this. It’s disappointing to see that’s the outcome from this.”
All the same, while there are still those in the NHL like Provorov who aren’t ready to embrace the LGBTQ+ community, not all is lost.
“I think it has the chance to refocus things in the right way,” Kitts says.