A prominent NHL player ignited a debate within the sports and religious worlds when he cited his Christian faith Tuesday in refusing to participate in his team's LGBT Pride celebration.
Ivan Provorov, a Philadelphia Flyers defenseman who is tied for the team lead in games played, declined to participate in pre-game warmups in which his teammates wore Pride-themed rainbow jerseys and carried hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow tape.
"I respect everybody, and I respect everybody's choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion," said Provorov, who was born in Russia and identifies as Russian Orthodox.
Provorov's stance sparked an outpouring of support, with the National Hockey League's official online shop selling out of the most popular sizes for Provorov's replica jersey as of Thursday afternoon. (Extra-small sizes were the only size that remained.)
It's not the first time a professional athlete has declined to participate in a Pride-themed game. Last year, five Tampa Bay Rays baseball team members declined to wear uniforms designating LGBTQ Pride. They said they love everyone and are following the teachings of Jesus.
The Flyers coach stood by Provorov.
"He's being true to himself and to his religion," Flyers head coach John Tortorella said. "It's one thing I respect about Provy, he's always true to himself."
Tortorella later added in a radio interview, "It's his beliefs. I think people need to respect other people's beliefs and not force their thoughts onto other people."
Family Research Council's Joseph Backholm applauded Provorov's stance, telling The Washington Stand, "Nobody should be forced to celebrate a belief system they don't share."
"It's like asking a Muslim hockey player to celebrate Hanukkah and wear a menorah," Provorov said. "The surprising thing is that only one player objected – because we can guarantee there are more players than Provorov who don't agree with the league's extremism. But they're hostages to the culture. So the fact that Provorov did it alone made it even more courageous."
Canadian sports commentator Sid Seixeiro, though, said the NHL should fine the Flyers $1 million.
"The NHL has to do something," Seixeiro said on the television show Breakfast Television. "... Nothing scares me more than any human being who says, 'I'm not doing this because of my religious beliefs.'… Don't feed me the religious beliefs line.'"
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Bruce Bennett/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.