When the Flyers took their pregame skate Tuesday before facing the Anaheim Ducks, one player was absent on the ice.
Ivan Provorov, the 26-year-old defensemen, refused to wear the Flyers’ LGBTQ+ Pride Night warmup jersey during the skate, where players also wrapped their sticks in rainbow tape.
Provorov told reporters after the game that he declined to participate in the warmup because he had “to stay true to myself and my religion.” Provorov, a Russian national, identifies as Russian Orthodox, part of the larger communion of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
“I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said. The Flyers organization later released a statement reiterating its commitment to inclusivity and advocacy for the LGBT community — though not outright referencing the defenseman.
The Eastern Orthodox Church takes a hard-line stance against same-sex relationships, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Founded in 1980, the campaign is a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group working to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
» READ MORE: Ivan Provorov shuns LGBTQ+ community as Flyers miss a chance to make a difference on Pride night
What is the Eastern Orthodox stance on LGBTQ relationships?
The Orthodox Church believes homosexuality is a sin and does not perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions,” the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops stated. “Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not.”
In Russia, where 70% of the country identifies as Eastern Orthodox, the church’s top official has doubled down on its anti-LGBT policies. In 2017, the church’s head, Patriarch Kirill, likened gay marriage to Nazi Germany, and earlier the church had supported a law enacting harsh fines to combat “homosexual propaganda aimed at minors.”
The church’s stance on gay marriage, however, is not supported by a majority of U.S.-based Eastern Orthodox members. According to a recent survey, 58% of this group supported same-sex marriages and 67% supported nondiscriminatory protections for LGBTQ people.
What has the response to Provorov been?
“Provorov obviously does not respect ‘everyone,’” Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic’s senior NHL columnist, tweeted Tuesday after the game. “If he did respect everyone, he would have taken part in warm-up and worn the Pride Night jersey. Don’t hide behind religion.”
Greg Wyshynski, a senior NHL writer at ESPN, said Provorov “owes them a donation,” referencing the team’s charity auction of the rainbow-themed jerseys and sticks.
“The sale of pregame jerseys and rainbow sticks benefit Flyers Charities and efforts to grow the game in diverse communities,” he said.
Rod Dreher, a writer for The American Conservative, commended the defenseman for honoring his religion.
Meanwhile, left-wing podcast host Keith Olbermann criticized Povorov’s comment about respect for everyone.
“If his is a religion of discrimination and exclusion, he can light it on fire for all I care,” Olbermann said.
What did the Flyers and NHL say?
A Flyers spokesperson had this to say following the game:
“The Philadelphia Flyers organization is committed to inclusivity and is proud to support the LGBTQ+ community. 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.”
While Povorov wasn’t specifically mentioned, Flyers head-coach John Tortorella told reporters he respected the defenseman for being “true to himself.”
“With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion,” Tortorella said. “This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that.”
In response to The Inquirer’s request for comment, the NHL said:
“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. 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.”
What is the Flyers’ Pride Night?
The Pride Night event was part of an annual initiative by the Flyers. Beyond the rainbow-themed warmup, the team hosted a pregame skate for local LGBTQ+ youth and officers from the Greater Philadelphia G.O.A.L organization, which advocates for LGBTQ+ first responders and military members.
Players James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton held a meet-and-greet with the guests after the game, according to the Flyers.