A Bump In The NHL’s Road Toward Inclusivity

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Soapbox | 22 comments

It’s been a week since Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear a rainbow jersey in a pregame skate against the Anaheim Ducks as part of his team’s Pride Night in support of the LGBTQ+ community. The fallout continues to resonate around the NHL.

Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, cited his religious beliefs for his decision during a post-game press scrum. “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” he said following the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Flyers coach John Tortorella supported his blueliner. “Provy did nothing wrong,” he said days later. “Just because you disagree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

The Flyers and the NHL released statements expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community but also for their players’ right to make their own decisions. That didn’t sit well with a number of pundits and fans as they publicly condemned Provorov, Tortorella, the Flyers and the NHL.

This is what happens when human rights bump against freedom of religion and the right to one’s opinion. It is a complex issue that evokes strong words that too often are based on tribalism rather than serious discussion or debate.

It was a no-win situation for the Flyers and the NHL. Condemn and suspend Provorov, and they make him a martyr to those who oppose “cancel culture” and fear the trampling of individual rights. Support his right to his opinion and beliefs and they would be seen as shielding him while harming their relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.

For the record, I don’t support Provorov’s position. I believe in equality for LGBTQ+ people and feel they’re as worthy of the same rights and freedoms that I enjoy as a white heterosexual man. I don’t have any problem with special events or campaigns that support them. Some of you will agree with me, others won’t. So be it.

Provorov has the right to his opinion and to his religious beliefs in North American society. However, they don’t shield him from the consequences of his decision.

His critics have the right to question his opinion and religious beliefs, particularly because the latter casts LGBTQ+ issues as sinful and immoral. The same belief, by the way, still runs through most Christian denominations.

LGBTQ+ people have suffered for centuries, forced to hide their true selves or face humiliation, condemnation, beatings or death. They’re still facing those fates in many parts of the world.

It’s only been in recent years that they’ve received a growing measure of acceptance in North American society. Nevertheless, many of them are still striving for the same rights, freedoms and acceptance that others take for granted.

A number of Provorov’s critics called him a homophobe, accused him of hiding behind his religion, demanding his suspension or the termination of his contract, with some even suggesting he leave the country.

Citing religious beliefs could be construed as Provorov’s tacit support for his church’s position regarding the LGBTQ+ community. However, he didn’t excoriate LGBTQ+ people or engage in hate speech toward them. He stressed that he respects other opinions but had to be true to himself and his faith. Those remarks didn’t seem to justify the volume of criticism he received.

Provorov’s supporters, meanwhile, question the need for “Pride Nights” or any sort of support for the LGBTQ+ community. There are also hockey fans with no opinion on the subject who decry political or social issues intruding into the sports world which is their solace from the daily strife of the real world.

Keeping such issues out of sports is impossible. Athletes and fans are human beings from all walks of life. Their emotions, beliefs and causes inevitably seep into the sports world whether we want them to or not. That means we have to face them even if they make us uncomfortable or emotional.

Provorov’s critics believe he’s set back the NHL’s direction toward inclusivity. I disagree. Yes, there remains a long way to go regarding the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in hockey. But let’s not overlook how much progress has been made up to this point.

Twenty years ago, the notion of Pride Nights and “You Can Play” campaigns to support LGBTQ+ players and fans was unthinkable. Homophobia was very much a part of hockey with sexual and gender-based slurs regularly tossed around in dressing-room banter and hurled as insults at opponents on the ice.

Things have improved since then for LGBTQ+ hockey fans and players. Amid the fallout over Provorov’s decision, two of his teammates, Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk, gathered with 50 LGBTQ+ fans in a pre-arranged meeting following the game.

Both players actively support LGBTQ+ causes. Laughton believed that, overall, it was a “great, great night that brings a lot of awareness.”

Perhaps it did. Maybe Provorov’s stance ends up doing more good than harm if it generates more support for LGBTQ+ people in hockey.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he wanted fans to focus on the 700 players who support the LGBTQ+ community rather than one or two that may have issues for their own personal reasons.

Provorov’s stance can’t be ignored nor should it. However, he’s in a tiny minority if Bettman’s numbers are correct. That means the NHL’s efforts to embrace and support the LGBTQ+ community appear to be working throughout the league.

This situation could be merely a small bump on the road of progress. It shakes things up a little and creates some tension but doesn’t stop the journey.


  1. In situations like this, it’s best to focus on the large number of hockey players who took a position to support acceptance and respect for them. It’s not feasible to have everyone’s support.

    • So, tell me what part of my previous comment was untrue? Our freedom of speech and expression, religion has been slowly taken from us. I’m only pointing out provorov’s stance and his rights. We all have rights. But people like you sit on the fence. You publish anything that won’t cause a ripple, but basic rights seems to be a problem with you. I grew up on a reserve in my youth whereas religion was shoved down our throats and speaking our own language was not allowed. A lot of the children were taken and put in catholic schools. I’m sure you’ve read about this from canadian news. So I know a little about our rights being taken away. I just think that people should be able to back the man’s rights when it comes to religion and life choices. But it seems there is not a platform for that. If you publish a article such as this, you should at least publish both sides to be fair.

  2. We do live in a free society. A democratic society. Freedom is paramount, and yet we chastise a person who is exercising his rights of freedom and life choices. We all have the right to make a choice and not expect negative remarks and actions in our beliefs. Just like the lgbtq community wants to be recognized and accepted, and yet they get upset when one’s religion and personal beliefs don’t mesh with theirs. Freedom is just that, Freedom. They are doing the exact same thing they have been dealing with for which seems forever. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Where is provorov’s rights in all this. They have put a target on his back for exercising his rights.

    • Larry, you are certainly correct that we all have the right to make choices, within the bounds of the law of course. But there is no right to expect that there will be no negative reaction. There is no right to not be criticized. The same freedom that allows us to make our choices allows others to criticize these choices. Obviously, though, criticism should not include interference.

      • My question becomes why religion (a choice) should have any precedence over sexual orientation (not a choice).

        I do disagree with Provorov and anyone who argues that the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t deserve the same rights as cisgender / heterosexual individuals. I am glad to see how far many areas have come and the NHL specifically. It is fantastic that all members of the team (except the 1) committed to contributing and led by Laughton, increasing the steps for this year to support LGBTQ+ rights. It’s a shame that this increase isn’t the focus. It will be a great day when everyone believes that all people should have equal rights, but the sad reality is that we aren’t there yet and the commentary that has come with the Provorov situation only pushes people deeper into their resistance.

        Religion is paramount to a great many people in this world and agree or disagree, people’s religion is heavily ingrained into their beliefs. Provorov chose to opt out of something that disagreed with his religious beliefs. He didn’t make a huge negative statement disparaging anyone, he just sat out; and while I may not agree with his reasoning, he should have the right to do that.

        And as for the one reporters asinine comments that he should go back to Russia, I have two major issues: 1 – they actively encouraged him to aid in an illegal invasion of a neighbouring country, and 2 – they may want to double check the stats in the American south, because the situation isn’t a whole lot better.

  3. Why don’t u report hockey stuff this is a distraction that means nothing . Glad he stuck to his religion. Maybe they should keep their beliefs to themselves like he would like to do . Nhl accepts everyone

    • “Why don’t u report hockey stuff this is a distraction that means nothing”

      1. It’s my site and I’ll write about anything related to the NHL that I believe is worth writing about.
      2. It was hockey news and worth reporting.

      I hope that clears that up for you, Eric. Cheers!

  4. This is his religion beliefs , just like u believe in the lgbtq. We all have beliefs and not sure why u figure his beliefs should be discounted. It’s his religion and what he believes in . Just like ur beliefs are real . Why is it u feel the need to be any more special than anyone else in the hockey world?

    • You’re using the classic masked-man fallacy to try to fool us. The LGBTQ+ community isn’t actively trying to hurt the church. However, the church is actively hurting t he LGBTQ+ community and has done so for as long as religions have existed.

    • Where did I say that Provorov’s beliefs should be discounted? Where did I say that I “feel the need to be any more special than anyone else in the hockey world?”

  5. I think this is misguided anger. We should focus on people who actively hurt the LGBTQ+ community, not a dude who doesn’t wanna wear the rainbow. The real “enemy” is people who beat up homosexuals in the streets, or bully them, or rip up the rainbow flag when it’s hung somewhere. What I’m trying to say is that the orthodox russian church is the culprit here, and by extension every other religion that’s actively hurting the LGBTQ+ community. Leave the NHL alone, it’s actually TRYING TO DO GOOD.

    • Back in the 80’s when Tom Monahan owned the Detroit Tigers, he had his team wear green jerseys for a Spring training game on St. Patrick’s day. Two players , Lou Whitaker and Chet Lemon, refused to wear them because as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they felt that wearing the jersey was honoring A man ( Monahan) and his Irish heritage, and felt it went against their religious principles. It caused no uproar at the time. If Provorov had made any anti gay statements, it whould have been appalling, but the man has a right to his opinions and beliefs and chose to not participate. There have been many athletes who have chosen not to visit the White House after winning a Championship because of their political views and no one blinks an eye. I am not anti gay by any means but I feel Provorov is being vilified may not feel the same way

  6. Treat people the way you wish to be treated. This is the motto instilled by my parents long before this ever was in the forefront of everything

    Regardless of sexual orientation or gender or religion or race. Then wow what a world it would be

  7. To be clear, most people who howl about “religious freedom” care only about their own freedom to use their religion as a reason to run society the way they see fit and make others conform to their notions of morality. They don’t want “respect” (and certainly don’t respect other religions), they want deference and favored status. They don’t give a crap about “individual rights” in any larger sense.

    • This guy gets it.

  8. Re “His critics have the right to question his opinion and religious beliefs, …”

    And in that statement is the root cause of ongoing tensions between fundamentalist Islamic countries such as Iran and Pakistan and large parts of the Western world. E.G., when they treat women badly – in accordance with what they believe are their “religious rights” – we get our collective backs up because we, as a society, believe it’s fundamentally wrong and so we become their “critics.” Are we “right” because that is how we developed OUR western society?

    It’s a vicious circle.

  9. Live and let live.
    Be civil.
    Be tolerant of others who have varying lifestyles and do so without breaking laws.
    You don’t have to support or even respect different folks, but for the love of all that’s good in this world, just try and be kind to one another.
    Life is hard for many people. Don’t make it harder.
    Stay in your own lane because if it doesn’t impact you on a personal level, then why waste time and emotion on it.
    These are my own personal rules to follow. It’s worked for me thus far.

    • Sop

      Cheers to that

    • Nice.

  10. The Taliban also operate under a religious beliefs mandate, so were does the line get drawn? For those excusing discrimination because of “religion”, shame on you.

    • “were does the line get drawn?” Where someone actively hurts someone else, versus “expressing comments”. It’s not that hard to get.

      • Nah, violence can manifest itself in many ways, it’s not that hard to get.