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The Flyers let Provorov stand his ground, and everyone lost

A disappointing look for all involved.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Flyers played a game last night. It’s true, and all in all, it was a good one. The Flyers rebounded well to beat the Ducks after getting walloped by the Bruins the day before. Sam Ersson played well in what might be his last game with the Flyers before they have to make a decision about keeping him up. Kevin Hayes led the scoring charge and got himself his first career hat trick, all the way saluting to the sky for his late brother.

There were a number of quite positive points to come out of this game, on the hockey and team levels, but we’re not going to be talking about any of them. How can we?

The biggest story to come out of last night’s game, of course, is Ivan Provorov skipping warmups for the game because he did not want to wear the special Pride Night warmup jerseys which would later be auctioned off for charity, citing religious reasons, and being allowed to play the game in full anyway.

And it goes without saying, but this is a disappointing situation on a number of levels. It’s disappointing that Provorov could not show up for 15 minutes to support inclusion of the team’s LGBTQ+ fans, a group which has been been made to feel unwelcome time and again by the sport. It’s disappointing that this overshadows the excellent work that his teammates Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk have done in the community, and flown in the face of a cause that is clearly close to their hearts.

Provorov has made it abundantly clear that he is not a team player. He has taken an exercise that the whole of the team participates in in order to support an underserved section of their fanbase and made it about himself and his small-minded beliefs. It would cost him nothing to show up for a few minutes for this. He is not the first Russian Orthodox player in the league who was asked to take part in his team’s Pride Night celebrations, and he will not be the last. That all others to date have shown up when he couldn’t is disappointing too.

And the team’s handling of this is, frankly, downright shameful.

Provorov has the freedom to exercise his religion, to do right by it, but that freedom of religion does not go hand in hand with freedom from consequences.

Players can be suspended for not attending the All Star Game. Can be scratched for being late to a meeting. If Provorov felt so strongly about this so as to prevent him from warming up for the game and taking part in something that the team has deemed essential, he should not have been granted to privilege of playing in an NHL game (yes, despite the messiness of this season and our feelings about the team, playing in the NHL is first and foremost a privilege). Taking that selfish route should not earn you the highest ice time of all skaters on the team.

And now the team is in an impossible bind of their own making: how can they say that they support the LGBTQ+ community and inclusivity initiatives, as they strongly did before even making John Tortorella and Provorov available to the media post-game, when they allow one of their players to directly undermine those efforts, and when their coach pats him on the back for sticking to his guns in doing so? The team dedicates one night out of the whole of the season to unequivocally supporting this community, to make them feel seen and accepted, and this year, we couldn’t have even that.

And while the team is likely hoping that this all fizzles out soon, this is a stain that is going to stick with them for a while. Because while the team continues to support Provorov, the sincerity of their future efforts towards inclusivity will come into question. Because truly, you cannot in the same breath support inclusivity and the player who wishes to undermine it.

So the Flyers lost here. They tried to straddle the line and keep everyone happy, and they failed. They have a mess to clean up because they allowed this to happen. Provorov has been made to look bad, to say the least. If it’s true that he’s looking for a change of scenery, that’s going to be harder to facilitate for the time being, and what’s more, blowback is even reaching his internet famous dog who is surely trying to hold on to their sponsors.

But frankly, it’s hard to sympathize with either the team or Provorov at the moment. Where our sympathies do lie is with the LGBTQ+ fans who were hurt by this. Who were deprived of the one night when they could be the story, the focus, the loudest voice in the room. That’s the hardest bit to swallow out of all of this.

Because it’s true, then, it seems. That hockey is for everyone. Even those who wouldn’t have it be so.

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