Flyers' Ivan Provorov Skips Pride Night Warmups Because of Religious Beliefs. photo- Philly Hockey Now
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The bigger picture about Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov that no one is reporting 

By Andrew Kulyk

It’s been two days since the explosive sequence of events which transpired at the Wells Fargo Center just as warmups were underway to begin that night’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Anaheim Ducks.

It was yet another “Pride Night”, an opportunity for a sports franchise to showcase acceptance and inclusiveness amongst the LGBTQ community. 

We’ve already seen this script dozens of times … scoreboards and ribbon boards are awash in rainbow colors, some local gay musical group is trotted out to perform the anthems, LGBTQ charities are showcased and celebrated as they become the beneficiary of funds raised via the 50-50 draw, auction or sale of merchandise, players wear rainbow themed warmup outfits or patches on their sleeves, and fans are left to debate on social media whether such events are beautiful expressions of love and affirmation, or another step towards a biblical apocalypse.

Rinse and repeat. For the teams, it means another fresh revenue stream of ticket and concession sales from a community not usually wired in to sports and sporting events, and who in far too many cases were marginalized and victimized by the “jocks” during their school days at gym class or attempting competitive sports.

So on this night, a Russian defenseman for the Flyers named Ivan Provorov takes a stand. He abruptly announces that he is not wearing any rainbow jersey, and bailing on the warm ups. All this, just as the teams are skating onto the ice, no doubt to the thumpa thumpa strains of such artists as Lady Gaga or Dua Lipa.

For the Flyers public relations staff and the National Hockey League, it was immediate crisis mode. Hastily prepared statements were emailed out, reaffirming the team’s and the league’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, while at the same time lending to support for any player’s right to individual expression.

Flyers Coach John Tortorella, no stranger to controversy, oafish behavior, and igniting a spectacle across the spectrum of a long coaching career spent with many teams, then made the fateful decision… Provorov would be in the lineup that night after all, that he supported his players and the choices he made, and that Provorov would be made available to the media to explain himself. “With Provy, he’s being true to himself and his religion”, remarked Tortorella.

Mind you, this is the same Tortorella who years earlier had promised to bench any player who had the courage to take a knee, a la Colin Kapernick, during the performance of the Star Spangled Banner. And this begged the question, had any player decided to skip out on the Flyers’ “Armed Forces Night” several weeks earlier, where players’ warm up outfits were themed in army camo, would Tortorella have been equally as gracious?

So while a fresh debate began to simmer and rage as to whether the NHL and the hockey community is or is not truly open and accepting of gay fans, players, staff, media and everyone else into their family, Ivan Provorov stepped to the microphone and faced the media following that night’s game. And this is what he said…

“I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m gonna say.” He then asked if anybody in the media scrum had a hockey related question. No one, but no one, amongst the assembled Flyers reporters, had the courage or temerity to challenge him further.

The “religion” that Provorov cites is the Russian Orthodox Church. More on that in a bit.

Provorov’s journey from his hometown of Yaroslavl, Russia, 180 miles northeast of Moscow, to North America and the NHL did not follow the path of most Russian athletes. Deemed a gifted athlete at a very young age, Provorov moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at the age of 13, billeting with an American family and self learning the English language. His stellar play raised a lot of eyebrows, and he spent three seasons at the junior level, landing first in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and then with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.  He was drafted seventh overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and made his Flyers debut in the 2016-2017 season.

In fall of 2019, Provorov was awarded at 6 year $40.5 million contract extension with the Flyers, which takes him through to the 2024-25 season. He is currently living the American dream, earning $5.7-million annually playing the sport he loves.

So why is the player who has spent now more than half of his life living in the West, wearing the clothes, eating the food, going to the movies, watching TV which is awash with gay themed characters and rainbow bric brac, now choosing this moment to stand and die on his hill of his apparent homophobia, his faith and Russian Orthodoxy?

The NHL community, and almost every member of the media, including such respected national journalists as Greg Wyshynski (ESPN senior NHL writer), Dan Gelston (Associated Press), Pierre LeBrun (TSN), Frank Seravalli (president, Professional Hockey Writers Association),  Mark Lazerus and Charlie O’Connor (The Athletic), Pete Blackburn (Bally Sports), Ian Kennedy and Adam Proteau (The Hockey News), and retired Hockey Night In Canada and TSN commentator Dave Hodge have all come down hard, really hard, on Provorov and his selfish stance. There have been many other voices in the sports media community offering similar critique.

But what almost all have missed in the telling of this story, whilst focusing on the LGBTQ community and the latest kick in the face, is the religion…  The Russian Orthodoxy.

There’s no way to better put this. The Russian Orthodox Church is hardly a “church” at all, but instead a propaganda and terrorist arm of Vladimir Putin’s genocidal regime. Their spiritual leader is a 76 year old cleric named Patriarch Kirill, who has served as Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church since 2009. He is suspected of being part of the oligarch billionaire class which quietly rules over most aspects of Russian society and commerce, with much of his ill gotten gains allegedly squirreled away in Western banks.

Most of all, Kirill is a full throated ally and supporter of Vladimir Putin. That same Putin has claimed to have been baptized by Kirill’s father, also a member of their clergy.

Kirill has been at the center of almost all of Russia’s many military incursions into foreign territories since becoming head of his church. He blessed the invasion of Russia into Syria and the Central African Republic, calling the death and destruction there a “divine intervention from God”. In 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and the Donbas region of Ukraine, Kirill called the invasion “an anti-terrorist operation”, and offered his services to negotiate a peace on the “Southern Russian lands” while decrying the war being waged by “Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalists” who he claimed were seemingly attempting to wipe out Russian Orthodoxy.

Kirill has been shrill and strident about LGBTQ issues, calling gays “an affront to God” and “a threat to family values”, With his advocacy, Russia has instituted new and crushing punitive laws further marginalizing the gay and lesbian communities, including laws banning the even mention of the word in schools of any age. In 2022, ordinances prohibiting any expression of gender identity or sexual orientation were further codified, with the full support of the Russian Orthodox Church.

As if all this was not bad enough, what has transpired over the past 11 months has been even more gruesome and ghastly, and personifies everything rancid and evil which this “church” has become.

For the already propaganda soaked Russian populace, according to Kirill and Orthodox leadership the war against Ukraine has become a holy mission, with bishops and priests dispatched all across the Russian Federation, blessing tanks and military equipment with holy water, praying with shellshocked and bewildered new Russian conscripts, offering them comfort and telling them that their cause is a just and holy one, and their death will mean a path to God and heaven.

These conscripts then are sent to Ukraine. Many end up as cannon fodder (the Russian death toll is 118,000 and climbing every day. By comparison, 58,220 Americans perished in Vietnam in a conflict which spanned over a decade). Russians then go to towns and villages, rape Ukrainian women, and even young girls and boys while their parents are forced to watch. They brazenly execute innocent families. They loot valuables and applances from Ukrainian homes, even ripping out toilets from their bases and shipping them back to the Motherland. There are killing fields and mass graves being discovered everywhere where the Russians have retreated. Left behind are broken families, destroyed cities and infrastructure, and countless gruesome tales of horror.

And no, The Russian Orthodox Church is not turning a blind eye or looking the other way. Their eyes are very much open, as they repeatedly pronounce all this terror and horror and mayhem as justified and necessary. 

Which brings us back to Provorov, and again the question. Why does a man who is raised and schooled in the values of decency which most of us Americans and Canadians hold dear as a people and as a society, be so committed to a religion which espouses such atrocity which challenges all standards of humanity? 

The NHL has a problem. Their commitment to “diversity and acceptance and inclusiveness” for gays and lesbians has been exposed as a sham. Yes they try. LGBTQ fans are welcome to bring their dollars and support to the arenas. LGBTQ media are given every bit or respect and inclusion (I can boldly state this from personal experience, and our team of people at Sabres media relations are amongst the best). Yet across the spectrum of the NHL and their two affiliated minor leagues, the AHL and ECHL, there are approximately 2000 active players. Add coaches and hockey staff and that figure goes to 2500. Yet not one, not even one, has publicly identified as gay. 2500 men and not even one homosexual? That folks, is a statistical impossibility. And as long as types like Coach Tortorella remain in power to make or break hockey careers, the current dynamic is not about to change.

But the NHL has an even bigger problem. There are currently 58 Russian born hockey players listed on NHL rosters. Presumably, most were born and raised as Russian Orthodox, the dominant religion in their Motherland. Standing up to microphones in NHL media rooms and spewing out support for a sick and twisted religion just doesn’t cut it. Nor should it.

Not one of these 58 players has spoken out against the war in Ukraine. The superstar amongst that list, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, continues to display his photo with Putin on his social media avatar, while standing by his pronouncement in 2017 to help organize “Putin Team”. This, as he barrels forward towards his meeting with destiny as hockey’s most prolific scorer. 

How will the NHL handle all this? How, amidst the screams of anguish and pain from citizens trapped in the rubble of that recently destroyed apartment building in Dnipro, just one of many, many wrecked homes and shattered lives of decent people who never deserved this? How, amidst the countless stories of the rapes? How, amidst the gruesome photos of flattened and destroyed cities all across Ukraine?

How, as we keep asking, through our tears, through our anguish, through our pain, how could this even be happening in 2022 and 2023. The NHL will need to do more than another fluffy press release. If they can fail the LGBTQ community so awfully, their stand on Ukraine rings even much more hollow.

About the author

Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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