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More than just a jersey: A queer fan’s perspective of the Flyers’ pride night

I just wanted a fun little night. Was that too much to ask for?

A group of Flyers players all skating in warm-ups in front of the net, all of them wearing jerseys with pride-themed rainbow letters and nameplates Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

I knew when I walked into the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night that I was planning to write about Pride night.

As a queer, nonbinary hockey fan, Pride initiatives are deeply important to me. I also think that when evaluating the effort that goes into these nights, voices from the LGBTQ+ community are crucial. We are the ones who are impacted the most. Do we feel uplifted? Welcomed? Was the night put together with care, or did it feel like we were an afterthought? Did it feel like something the team would do organically, or did it feel like the team was pushed to do it because they have to check off a box?

I was going to write about how it felt like a mix of both. I was going to write about the genuine efforts shown by players like Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdyk to show up consistently throughout the year by inviting LGBTQ+ fans to games instead of just slapping Pride tape on a stick for one night and calling it a day.

I was going to write about the sheer emotion I felt when I saw they had reached out to Trin Stephens to bang the ceremonial drum to start the game. Trin was one of the first guests to Laughton and van Riemsdyk’s suite, and through meeting the players, they were inspired to start picking up the game of hockey at 13. A young nonbinary fan was inspired to play because of the care these two gave them. And as I sat in the upper levels and watched Trin be introduced to everyone, I nearly cried because nonbinary people like us are never included in hockey like this.

I was going to write about the lackluster effort the social media team put into the night. Now, if I’m being fair, the social media team puts a lackluster effort into most things (see: van Riemsdyk’s 900 games graphic having “Tony DeAngelo” written along the side instead), but it was clear to see what more the team could be doing when comparing it to what the Washington Capitals posted on their account for their pride night on the same day. The Capitals promoted it days before the event, they collaborated with artists in the LGBTQ+ community, they posted pride flag wallpapers, and they shared infographics to educate people. The Flyers waited until the day of to post anything, and it was just simple documentation of jerseys and such. It would’ve been nicer to actually show real activism and uplift the talents of those in the community.

I was going to write about the Flyers’ choice to actually use pride jerseys this time around. I was going to talk about how the design of the jerseys themselves could have been better. After all, teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights, and Seattle Kraken had reached out to LGBTQ+ artists to design highly unique designs for their jerseys — with the Kraken’s jerseys from last season purposely centering trans pride colors — and even then, teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins would update the front logo on the jersey. The Flyers ones looked like they found extra practice jerseys and just slapped rainbows on the back, like they almost forgot to make pride jerseys in time.

However, I was going to write about how it was a major step up regardless. In the past, the Flyers had only used Pride tape on their sticks. Many LGBTQ+ fans have been asking for teams to use warmup jerseys for Pride nights like how teams do for military appreciation, Hockey Fights Cancer, and even St. Patrick’s Day. I was going to write about how great it was for them to finally take this step, because jerseys hold more sway and show more of a unified effort from the team to support the community due to pride tape being optional. Jerseys are something everyone wears.

At least I had thought.

I had thought that no player would ever choose to opt out of wearing a specialty jersey until Ivan Provorov refused to wear the pride jersey and skipped warm-ups because of it.

I thought this because hockey and conformity go hand in hand. Out of all the major men’s sports leagues, there’s this much larger sense of never wanting to rock the boat in the NHL compared to the others. Players don’t want to draw attention to themselves. It’s why so many interviews have the same played-out clichés. It’s why most players show up to the rink in the same plain, unremarkable suits. It’s why the NHL struggles to market players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid to people outside of the sphere of hockey, because they don’t dare to be interesting.

Because this is the overarching mindset of hockey, the assumption I had prior to this was that even if a player didn’t want to be showing support of LGBTQ+ people, they would still go through with wearing the jersey. No one has ever refused to wear a jersey before, so why would anyone want to brand themselves as the first? Why would any player want to be the first one to go against team unity?

Anaheim Ducks v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

After all, these jerseys still had the Philadelphia Flyers logo on the front. This was a team-sanctioned effort. This was saying, “We, as the Flyers, want to show support.” With Provorov saying that he refused to wear the jersey due to his religious beliefs, it wasn’t just making a statement that those beliefs mattered more than supporting LGBTQ+ fans — they also mattered more than being a part of team efforts. That flies in the face of a lot of what hockey culture is about. The team is supposed to matter more than any individual player.

That’s why I never thought it would happen.

I’m certainly not under the impression that most hockey players would actually go out of their way to be loud and proud vocal allies if they weren’t a part of an organization that asked them to use the tape and wear the jersey for a night. Plus, because of what I said about hockey culture’s conformity, using Pride tape or wearing a Pride jersey doesn’t mean that the person doing it is an ally.

However, part of being an LGBTQ+ hockey fan involves a desire to believe that the players you root for will support you back. We go to the games. We wear their jerseys. We cheer when they score goals. We don’t want to find out that the players we show up for might not actually want our support at all.

I went up to the glass for warm-ups, and seeing the rainbow nameplates and numbers on the jerseys of my favorite players filled me up with that feeling of being supported in return. It helped seeing Laughton and van Riemsdyk, too, knowing that they genuinely care. However, for a brief moment, I felt like maybe this dumb sport could love me back.

Finding out Provorov refused to wear the jersey brought the mood crashing back down.

Obviously, he can believe what he wants, but when those beliefs lead to actions that make me feel hurt, I’m allowed to disagree with those actions.

So, instead of writing about things that pride night did right in my eyes, such as inviting groups like Free Mom Hugs to set up a booth or understanding queer music tastes by playing Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” after Brandon Marsh chugged a beer for the crowd — not Callum Scott’s inferior cover that the Phillies used — I have to write about a singular player who tainted the whole experience for me.

I wish it didn’t have to be that way.