When five Tampa Bay Rays players refused last year to wear rainbow patches during LGBTQ Pride Night, they were rightfully condemned for their intolerance. But blame for the embarrassing episode also fell on Rays management.
As our Cyd Zeigler pointed out, nobody expects MLB players to wear rainbows on their jerseys during Pride Night. It’s great if it happens, and the Rays were undoubtedly just trying to create an inclusive space for their LGBTQ fans.
But once it was apparent that every player didn’t buy in, the idea should’ve been abandoned. The snubs overshadowed the message of inclusion.
The Philadelphia Flyers are learning a similar lesson today. Pride Nights are hollow if they’re purely symbolic. At this point, if teams don’t want to actively promote LGBTQ inclusion, they should stop hosting them.
The empty gesture is insulting.
On Tuesday, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear an LGBTQ Pride jersey during the team’s Pride night game warm-ups against the Anaheim Ducks. Despite his refusal to wear the warm-up, the Flyers allowed Provorov to play in the contest.
“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said afterwards. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.” He said his religion is Russian Orthodox.
Provorov’s decision didn’t catch the Flyers by surprise. Head coach John Torotorella said he never intended to bench Provorov, and respects his right to express anti-gay views.
“With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion,” said Tortorella.
It’s worth mentioning that every other Flyers player skated during warmups, and wore the jersey. Surely, Provorov isn’t the only religious person on the team.
Provorov and Tortorella are using religion as a cover for homophobia.
The Flyers have a strong track record on LGBTQ outreach. They’ve hosted Pride Nights for years, and at least two of their players — James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton — have spoken out about the need for a more inclusive NHL.
But in this case, they whiffed. The Flyers were presented with a binary choice Tuesday: stand up for their LGBTQ fans, or capitulate to one of their player’s homophobia.
They chose the latter. The team’s post-game statement ignored what happened with Provorov entirely.
There is word that #Flyers’ Ivan Provorov did not participate in warmups tonight because he declined to wear the team-issued Pride Night jersey, celebrating the LGTBQ+ community.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) January 18, 2023
The Flyers offered the following comment.
Provorov is expected to be available to media postgame. pic.twitter.com/h3XEcwErph
The NHL’s statement was even worse. The league defended Provorov’s right to promote whichever causes he chooses.
The @NHL has responded to ESPN's request for comment on @NHLFlyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, who declined to take warmups last night because he refused to wear a Pride Night jersey.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 18, 2023
From the NHL: pic.twitter.com/Q6SlKQwmWM
That is the laziest argument in the book. Nobody is saying that Provorov isn’t free to refuse to wear a Pride jersey. The larger question is, how can a team truly express its support for LGBTQ people if it isn’t willing to stand by them?
Over the years, we’ve pulled back on our coverage of Pride Nights for this exact reason. While some teams receive clear full buy-in from players — the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants come to mind — it’s apparent that other clubs want the kudos, and the ticket sales, without putting in the work.
Front office people are great and do a lot of good work; but let’s face it: players drive the conversation. Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams telling me about how he supports his LGBTQ friends carries a lot more weight than quotes from a statement or press release.
The inverse is also true. The Flyers wanted to welcome their LGBTQ fans Tuesday, and instead, Provorov’s homophobia is the big story.
They enabled him, and are now paying the price.