NHL on Provorov’s Pride Night boycott: ‘Players are free to decide which initiatives to support’

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman joins the Jeff Marek Show to discuss whether or not they feel Flyers dman Ivan Provorov should have been scratched for boycotting the Pride Night uniforms last night?

The NHL released a statement Wednesday in response to Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov’s decision to skip warmups on Pride Night Tuesday, stating that “players are free to decide which initiatives to support.”

“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,” the league said in the statement obtained by Sportsnet.

“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.”

Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in the warmups, where the team wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape in celebration and support of the LGBTQ+ community before a 5-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

The 26-year-old played nearly 23 minutes in the game.

“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “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.

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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 jerseys and sticks were set to be auctioned off by the Flyers following the game, with proceeds going to the team’s charity and its efforts to grow the game of hockey in diverse communities. 

The Flyers also hosted a pregame skate for local LGBTQ+ youth. Flyers players James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton have been staunch supporters of the community and launched a program in support of local LGBTQ+ youth in the greater Philadelphia area. 

Laughton and van Riemsdyk met with about 50 people in the LGBTQ+ community after the game. Laughton said overall the Flyers had a “great, great night that brings a lot of awareness.” 

Laughton said there would be more conversations ahead with Provorov, who moved from Russia to the United States as a teenager. He signed a six-year, $40.5 million contract before the 2019 season and won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ outstanding defenceman in his rookie season, the youngest Philadelphia player to receive the honour.

“I don’t hold anything against anyone,” Laughton said. “It’s nothing like that. It was an awesome night and I’m very happy we got a win on a night like this.”

All-Star forward Kevin Hayes, who had a hat trick in the win over Anaheim, said “it’s not for me to answer” when asked how he felt about Provorov’s decision.

The Wells Fargo Center was decorated Tuesday night in rainbow hues representing the LGBTQ+ community through special pride-themed arena LEDs, décor and rainbow-themed team merchandise.

“The Philadelphia Flyers organization is committed to inclusivity and is proud to support the LGBTQ+ community,” the team said in a statement after the game. “Many of our players are active in their support of local LGBTQ+ organizations, and we were proud to host our annual Pride Night again this year. The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity and the LGBTQ+ community.”

The NHL also champions the You Can Play Project, which aims to ensure equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. The NHL has never had an openly gay active player.

With files from The Associated Press

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