Sidelines: Ivan Provorov and inclusivity in sports


Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers sparked controversy when he did not participate in the team’s Pride Night. (Photo courtesy of NBC News)

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Philadelphia Flyers celebrated Pride Night. Well, all except one of them did. 

Ivan Provorov, a defenseman for the Flyers since 2016, declined to participate in the team’s warm-ups that night, during which players were sporting special rainbow jerseys and used rainbow tape on their sticks. 

In his post-game interview, Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox beliefs as the reason for his absence from warm-ups. “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices,” he said. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

This was a disappointing turn of events that undermines the purpose of Pride Night. I truly understand that people have a right to espouse and stand by their religious beliefs, however much I may disagree with this one in particular. I also understand that wearing rainbow jerseys doesn’t solve the homophobia and transphobia in this country. 

Neither of those statements is the point of this column. The crux of the issue is that Provorov’s actions essentially send the message that queer people are unwelcome in the NHL — both on the ice and in the stands. The purpose of Pride Night is to send the message that “hockey is for everyone.” Provorov’s actions indicate the opposite. 

To put it clearly: by refusing to take the ice for Pride Night warmups, Provorov said that he did not believe in the message of the evening, which is essentially stating that he would not want to share the ice with a queer player. The Flyers weren’t asking him to walk up to a microphone and say, “I support marriage between two men.” They were asking him to show that the space was welcoming to all types of people, and it clearly is not. 

I love the Philadelphia Flyers and I have always liked Provorov — his ice time is always minutes above anyone else on the team — but they missed the mark here.

The reaction to this event is also a prime example of the toxicity of the sports community that makes it harder for me to be an active fan every time something like this comes up. The comments on every news story about this controversy are full of people, mostly men, writing “new favorite player” and “on my way to buy his jersey,” plus a slew of much more explicit and vile things I won’t repeat in my beloved Lafayette newspaper. 

The same thing happened with the Trevor Bauer story when the MLB player was suspended for two years after an investigation into several accusations of sexual assault. When a network reported any updates, thousands of comments victim-blamed, called his accuser a liar or a gold-digger and hoped Bauer would come to their team.

How are women, queer people in the case of Provorov or honestly anyone who isn’t a straight man supposed to be fans when the messages from players and fans alike are begging them to stay away?