Thanks to one hockey player’s quiet, nonviolent stand against “woke” activism, the NHL made a major policy change.
That player, Ivan Provorov, cited his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs in refusing to wear a rainbow-themed jersey during his team’s “Pride Night” in January, as FrontPage Magazine reported. Other players and teams followed suit.
“This is the first time we’ve experienced that,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said about such resistance in March. “I think it’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate in the off-season.”
To make a long story short, Provorov won.
Starting this season, players will not wear themed jerseys when teams have special nights honoring various groups and causes. That means players no longer will wear warmup jerseys with rainbow motifs for “Pride Nights.”
“I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s become a distraction,” Bettman told Canada’s Sportsnet in June. The commissioner added that the practice is “taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or another host nights in honor of various groups or causes, and we’d rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction,” he said.
Teams can still hold “Pride Nights” and sell rainbow-themed merchandise, including specialty jerseys.
“Players who choose to model them can do that,” Bettman said. “It’s really just the question of what’s on the ice.”
The ban also included a product called “Pride Tape,” which features a rainbow design. Players tape the handles of their sticks to get a better grip and tape the blades to control the puck better.
“These are tough lines to draw here,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “We don’t want the situation where some players, or a large majority of players, use a certain cause-messaging that other players don’t want to utilize and that puts those other players in a difficult position. We don’t want to put them in that difficult position.”
“Players shall not be put in the position of having to demonstrate (or where they may be appearing to demonstrate) personal support for any Special Initiatives. A factor that may be considered in this regard includes, for example, whether a Player (or Players) is required to be in close proximity to any groups or individuals visibly or otherwise clearly associated with such Special Initiative(s).” (all parentheses in original)
“Pride Night,” in the NHL’s language, is a “Special Initiative,” as are dates honoring Black history and military veterans.
So how and why did the NHL get to this point?
It all started Jan. 17 when Provorov, then with the Philadelphia Flyers, refused to wear his team’s rainbow-themed warmup jersey before a game against the Anaheim Ducks, as FrontPage reported. That decision kept Provorov off the ice for warmups, though he did play against the Ducks.
“I respect everybody and everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion,” Provorov said after the game. “That’s all I’m going to say. If you have any hockey questions, I would answer those.”
Though Flyers coach John Tortorella defended him, Provorov received blistering criticism from activists and hockey reporters. One, ESPN’s E.J. Hradek, even said Provorov should go back to Russia and fight against Ukraine.
Nevertheless, Provorov’s jersey sold out within days, as FrontPage reported. His stance also ignited a chain reaction.
In the next 2 1/2 months, four teams and six players announced they would not wear the “Pride Night” warmups. Three players said doing so violated their Christian faith. Three others, all Russian, refused in light of a Russian law extending a ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to adults. One club, the Chicago Blackhawks, cited the safety of its Russian players for not using the rainbow warmups.
Reaction to the NHL’s ban symbolized the increasingly unbridgeable divide between ordinary fans and neurotic fanatics.
On the one hand, “You Can Play,” designed to help teams accept LGBT athletes, accused the NHL in a statement of “making decisions to eradicate our visibility in hockey” and stunting “the impact of bringing in more diverse players and fans into the sport.”
“It is now clear that the NHL is stepping back from its long-standing commitment to inclusion, and continuing to unravel all its one-time industry-leading work on 2SLGBTQ+ belonging,” the statement said. “We are now at a point where all the progress made, and relationships established with our community, is in jeopardy.”
“Can a team have a drag queen, or a gay men’s chorus, sing the National Anthem, with players on the ice? Can a team now be barred from requiring players be on the ice for the singing of said National Anthem?”
Yet when Sportsnet reported on Bettman’s decision, fans overwhelmingly approved.
“Hockey is for everyone,” wrote one fan. “Any NHL, WHL and U-Sports hockey game I have attended did not prohibit any LGBTQ fan from purchasing a ticket to cheer or boo, buy a beer or two and purchase their favorite team’s apparel. Myself and others were not asked about our orientations prior to getting our ticket scanned. There is no rule in the NHL prohibiting anyone identifying as LGBTQ from gaining employment whether it’s on the ice or off the ice…so why are you so emotionally fragile about rainbow jerseys not (being) able to be worn by NHL players?”
“Hopefully other leagues and institutions follow,” added Ryan Le Craw. “People can support a cause, or any cause, without having to make it front and center at all times, everywhere. People also can disagree, and to force someone to wear something they don’t want to, or else!!…is lunacy, and opposite to the freedom most causes are trying to achieve.”
Jack, a Canadian who describes himself as “Based Gay Man” on Twitter and supports the NHL’s decision, wrote perhaps the ultimate rejoinder to the terrified activists:
“GOOD! I’m gay and yes, I watch hockey (unlike 99% of the people who are freaking out over this) No one’s rights are being taken away. No one is being told they aren’t welcome to attend a game. They (the NHL) did this because the radical left attacked players who chose not to participate. So this is actually the left, and their insane allies, doing.
“The NHL did the right thing here. It’s hockey! Not a pride parade!”