NHL Player Should Be Allowed to Boycott Pride Night

An NHL defenseman is under fire because he’s uncomfortable with those who “play for the other team,” but did he deserve to be benched?


Ivan Provorov is a 26-year-old Russian national who plays for the Philadelphia Flyers. Last Tuesday was “pride night” for a home game, and when the Flyers took the ice for their pregame skate before facing the Anaheim Ducks, players were wearing LGBTQ+ “Pride Night” warmup jerseys and using sticks wrapped in rainbow tape. But Provorov stayed in the locker room; he cited his Russian Orthodox faith.


I’ve talked about the Russian Orthodox church, which is part of the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and its Patriarch Kirill, because of his close association and friendship with Vladimir Putin. The church maintains that homosexuality is a sin and will not bless same-sex unions. In fact, Patriarch Kirill has used homosexuality as a justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


After the game, Provorov was asked about his decision:


“I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Many are saying that Provorov should have been benched for that night’s game and are calling for punishment. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes had this blunt reaction to that:

“So, let’s not complicate the issue. Provorov refused to warm up Tuesday night against Anaheim because he does not support the right of LGBTQ+ people to even exist. He cites his devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church; in his eyes, their life is a sin.

“About that: Patriarch Kirill, the church’s leader in Russia and reportedly a former KGB agent, in may justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because Ukraine allows gay pride parades, and if Russia and other homophobic states do not oppress LGBTQ+ persons, “then human civilization will end there.”

“This is homophobia at its most extreme. If you subscribe to this belief, you are a homophobe. A little rainbow tape on Provorov’s hockey stick wasn’t going to send him to hell.

So yes, if the flyers were staunch in their advocacy, Provorov should have been benched.”


To give you a sense of the widespread public fallout — some have even hurled nasty comments at the Instagram page of the adorable golden retriever belonging to Provorov’s girlfriend. She felt compelled to post, “This is a dog’s page! Please stop sending me hateful messages!”


As is often the case, the facts here are straightforward, but the issue is complicated. It has echoes in several recent cases that have reached the United States supreme court. In December, the court heard the case of a devout Christian website designer from Colorado who didn’t want to make a website for a same-sex wedding – notwithstanding that she hadn’t yet been asked to do so.


This was similar to another Colorado case of the baker who didn’t want to make the wedding cake for a same-sex couple, whom the court ruled in favor of by a 7-2 margin. The website designer is challenging a Colorado “public accommodation” law that prohibits most businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers. She argues that requiring her to create websites for same-sex weddings would violate her right to freedom of speech. And it seemed from the argument that this conservative 6-3 court seems poised to support the designer.


On the one hand, you had justice Sonia Sotomayor saying that allowing the designer to refuse would be “the first time in the court’s history” that it would rule “a commercial business open to the public, serving the public, that it could refuse to serve a customer based on race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.”


But Chief Justice Roberts countered to force the designer to build the website for the same-sex couple, that would be compelling her to “speak.” He then asked, “in what other case have we upheld compelling speech, in other words, not simply just restricting speech, but actually compelling an individual to engage in speech contrary to her beliefs?”


We don’t know the outcome yet. My hunch is that the court is going to distinguish between service and speech; the baker, website developer, and florist will be treated like artists who speak through their work and therefore allowed to refuse business. The guy who delivers tables and chairs, not so much!


My own view is that if you are a baker of wedding cakes, it’s your responsibility to bake a cake for all wedding couples. Same with the wedding website designer. Or the pharmacist who has qualms about distributing birth control.


You signed up for the gig; you cannot now stand behind your religion as a shield when discriminating. Instead, maybe you need a career change.


But I see the hockey player differently. Provorov was hired to play hockey, which he is doing. I personally wish he’d skated with the Pride Night jersey and stick during warmups. But in not doing so – unlike the baker and website developer – he’s not discriminating against anyone. He’s not denying service.


We need to distinguish between discriminatory acts and discriminatory beliefs.


Provorov is free to think what he wants and should not be compelled to wear a hockey jersey with a political viewpoint he finds objectionable. Now, if he decides to take up baking or website design in retirement– that will be a different story.


Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.

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