NHL: Players can decide what causes to support after Provorov opts out of Pride night

An executive with an LGBTQ advocacy group says he doesn't want the actions of Ivan Provorov to overshadow all the good that's happening in hockey.

Provorov didn't warm up with his Flyers teammates on Tuesday night ahead of Philadelphia's game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow-coloured tape during the pre-game activities but Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, said it was against his religious beliefs to support an LGBTQ initiative.

Kurt Weaver, the chief operating officer of the You Can Play Project, said his organization told concerned fans to "look at the sport that is there."

"If you focus in on one item that's not there, it's going to be a tough day, no matter what you're doing," said Weaver. "Look at what's happening. Look at the positive. Look at an arena full of people celebrating.

"A full team, coaching staff, and front office staff, who are supporting and celebrating outside of one individual. All I can ask you to do is focus on that part."

The sticks and jerseys Provorov's teammates used to warm up are being auctioned off by Flyers Charities, with proceeds going toward their efforts to grow the game in diverse communities.

Weaver said that the Flyers are one of the NHL's leaders in terms of LGBTQ inclusivity.

"Let's say it's 20 years ago, I think we have at that point maybe three people who would wear Pride jerseys. So now we're going to have 19 of 20 wearing them. (That's) a huge amount of progress," said Weaver. "I think for us to expect every player, every time, to do this is probably unrealistic."

The 26-year-old Provorov played nearly 23 minutes in Philadelphia's 5-2 victory over Anaheim. He explained after the game why he decided to not participate.

"I respect everybody's choices," said Provorov. "My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That's all I'm going to say."

Provorov declined to answer follow-up questions about his decision.

Flyers coach John Tortorella said Provorov "was true to himself and to his religion."

"It's one thing I respect about Provy, he's always true to himself," Tortorella said.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, leader of Russia's dominant religious group, sent a strong signal last March justifying his country's invasion of Ukraine — describing the conflict as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold "gay parades" as the price of admission to their ranks.

The NHL issued a statement in response to Provorov's boycott on Wednesday morning.

“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the league encourages clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans," reads the NHL statement. "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."

Weaver said that he understood the NHL's position and that in some ways it dovetailed with the approach taken by the You Can Play Project.

"They take the same stance that we do, which is, 'We're going to work our butts off to make the case to you that this is the right thing to do, and that this is a good thing to do,'" said Weaver, who added that his organization reached out to the Flyers to offer Provorov or anyone else on the team education and support.

"Not everybody, of course, agrees with that, even when you make that case. That's got to be reality."

The NHL Players' Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.

— With files from national hockey writer Joshua Clipperton and The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2023.

The Canadian Press