LGBTQ+ leaders don’t want Ivan Provorov’s boycott to overshadow an ‘amazing’ Pride Night
Provorov sat out during warmups on Tuesday night in order to avoid wearing the Flyers' Pride Night jerseys. He cited his Russian Orthodox faith as the reason he didn't partake in the festivities.
Everywhere Nicholas Tees looked at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, there was color, fun, and joy. From the balloons to the dance team’s outfits to the presence of Free Mom Hugs, you couldn’t miss it. It was Pride Night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The joy kept growing as Tees, the president of Greater Philadelphia Gay Officers Action League (G.O.A.L.), talked to members of his organization who participated in the pregame free skate and tour of the arena. It built as they watched the Flyers come out in their rainbow warmups. And as they left the building after the Flyers’ 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, G.O.A.L. members discussed how the night was so great, they hope the other teams in Philadelphia, like the 76ers, will replicate it.
Even the most hockey-obsessed among those in attendance didn’t pick up that one Flyer, Ivan Provorov, did not take warmups. It wasn’t until fans left the building that they started to see the news that Provorov refused to participate in Pride Night, specifically skipping warmups to avoid wearing the Pride warmup jerseys.
Kurt Weaver, chief operating officer of You Can Play, a social activism campaign that aims to eradicate homophobia from sports, was not at the game, so he found out earlier as “you started to see the press spill out about something happening.” You Can Play works with the NHL and all its teams to plan Pride games, help with programming and outreach, and provide education. As people started making the connections about why Provorov might not be participating in warmups, Weaver thought, “Please don’t cover up what’s going to be an amazing night.”
Provorov’s decision “put a cloud over the event,” but Tees said that it didn’t affect the fun they had or hide the fact that they accomplished their mission. For G.O.A.L., the mission was to connect to the community and to show youth that the LGBTQ+ community exists among first responders. For You Can Play, it was about showing the LGBTQ+ community that their allies in the sports world respect and care about them.
“The objective was met,” Tees said. “I would hate to say one thing ruined it or give anyone that credit that [they] ruined an event.”
Rather than looking at it as one player refused to participate, Glenn Witman said he’s looking at it as “only” one player refused to participate. It’s more than he could have dreamed of when he co-founded You Can Play in 2012. In the beginning, they were excited to find about 14 allies, including former Flyers Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, in the entire league to participate in their video. Next, the first Pride Night, hosted by the Florida Panthers in 2013, brought them joy. And two years ago, when Witman dropped the puck at the Flyers’ Pride Night, he shed a tear seeing even half the players sporting rainbow tape. Now, teams are trying to outdo each other with their Pride Nights, and it’s a story that just one player refused to.
Flyers forwards James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton, who were heavily involved in Tuesday’s event, also said they had a great time. However, they couldn’t overlook their teammate’s actions since they warmed up without him, played alongside him, and then sat in a meeting with him as he spoke to the team retroactively. When speaking with the media, both tried to emphasize the positives.
“I’d rather not get too into that,” van Riemsdyk said. “I know obviously Provy spoke on it. And I think it’s kind of his place to let his thoughts be known about what his decision was. … I’d like to keep the focus on the good things that happened.”
Provorov did provide a short explanation, as did coach John Tortorella, who knew about the defenseman’s decision about a week ahead of time. However, both Provorov and Tortorella’s explanations worried Tees.
Provorov started out by explaining he respects everyone and everyone’s choice. The word choice demonstrates his lack of understanding, Tees said. Those in the LGBTQ+ community did not choose their identities. Personally, Tees said, if it were a choice, it would have been easier to choose to be straight and not have to live a life of persecution.
Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, then said his choice was made to be true to his religion. Tees, Weaver, and Witman all admitted things get tricky when religion comes into this conversation. But Tees pointed out that just as he could find a million reasons to make a traffic stop, someone could find a million reasons in the Bible to protest something as a sin. In this case, homosexuality happened to be the “sin” to persecute rather than premarital cohabitation or adultery or even tattoos, according to Tees.
You Can Play’s mission doesn’t ask people to change their religion, Witman said. It just preaches respect. As a result, they received letters from people in the Catholic Church who were very impressed with their approach. Pride Night, which You Can Play helped organize, also isn’t meant to make someone go against their religion or make a political statement or adopt a lifestyle.
“[Wearing the rainbow and Pride Night] means inclusion,” Witman said. “It means that you have a professional athlete, all of those athletes that were on the ice, saying to everyone in the stands, especially the young ones, the young kids that were there that feel like no one may love them, that no one cares about them, that actually someone cares about them.”
In a way, it’s good that Provorov shared what he truly believes, according to Tees. Now, they can move forward with a productive conversation as opposed to having him keep his feelings a secret. Tees would have preferred that, rather than just stating his respect for Provorov’s decision, Tortorella would have made a commitment to furthering the conversation.
You Can Play aims to do just that.
“We have reached out to the Flyers and offered education for the player and for the team,” Weaver said. “They’ve already done some team education in the past, some front office education. So we’ll continue that part of it. But we offered that to them and we will continue to do so. But it’s hit and miss whether that would actually be accepted.”
Weaver and Witman don’t expect they’ll ever hit a 100% success rate, whether it’s in the people they interact with in everyday life or in a league that’s never had a single player out as part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s as important to them to celebrate how far they’ve come as to be realistic about where they need to go. And this event highlights more work You Can Play and its ambassadors, like van Riemsdyk and Laughton, can do.
“It sucks for someone to have to do something that they don’t believe in,” Witman said. “And look. It’s hard teaching lessons to adults. But if it’s for the better of the team, if it’s to maybe save someone’s life — even though you may not agree with it — maybe in the future Provorov will be willing to put a jersey on.”
In the meantime, Witman’s message to those who have stood up for the LGBTQ+ community is “Don’t be mad.”
Don’t be mad at the events of the night, and especially don’t be mad at the Flyers organization, which has been one of the leaders in the NHL when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ initiatives and which put lots and lots of work into their Pride Nights.
Instead, focus on the positives, Witman, Weaver, and Tees all said.
“I’m telling you right now that last night, saved someone’s life,” Witman said. “It did. Every time we do events like this, we get letters from parents, from kids, you know, thanking us for this.”