This post is about something personal, so it’s taken me time to find the words. For that I apologize. As most of you know, I’m a queer woman, part of the LGBTQ community. I’m bisexual, and I’m a hockey fan. Those are two things that don’t often mesh well. As a whole, the NHL tries to appeal to straight white men as their target demographic. Last week, Ivan Provorov proved why.
Last week, the Flyers hosted their Pride Night. Every team hosts a slew of community based nights, highlighting particular groups within their communities. Things like Lunar New Year, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Military Night – and yes, Pride Night. For all these nights, typically the team will wear a special warmup jersey or do something special for their sticks – and those items will be auctioned off and the proceeds given to related charities.
Hockey Is For Everyone
I’ve written about this before, but the NHL introduced Hockey Is For Everyone as a PR movement. It said that everyone was welcome, and the only action taken was that teams would have to have one night set aside to support these underserved groups, to highlight them and make it clear that Hockey Is For Everyone. To support the LGBTQ community, the NHL partnered with an organization called You Can Play. These nights began as a general HIFE night, usually combining several underserved groups in one night – but teams would wrap their sticks with rainbow tape, and auction those off. It’s only been within the last two seasons that we’ve seen dedicated pride nights.
In such a homophobic sport (note: we aren’t arguing this. It is), it’s no surprise that there’s been quite a lot of push back.
The Year The Stars Didn’t Try
One year, the Dallas Stars were scheduled for a HIFE night, and just didn’t do anything. They didn’t advertise it, there was no charity auction. I believe they had a table for donations and that was it.
Because this initiative is more about appearance than any meaningful change, there were no fines. There was no statement from the NHL saying they were disappointed. Just a lot of angry and upset fans. There were other years that they focused more on the disabled community, and put out press about sled hockey. In fact, teams had to pick a You Can Play representative to work with the group – and there were numerous teams used it to PR-wash problematic players (like Andrew Shaw who had used a homophobic slur in a game), rather than players who actually cared. The notable exception is Braden Holtby, who marched at Pride in DC, created t-shirts that raised money for LGBTQ groups.
It’s wonderful if teams want players with histories of homophobia to learn and grow. But forcing them to do work for a community they don’t respect, and possibly putting people in those communities near them – isn’t a great decision.
The Russia Problem
It would be remiss of me not to mention the role that Russia could play in all of this. In the past few years, Russia has been getting more and more conservative – and more dangerous for the LGBTQ community. There have been laws banning the LGBTQ community, support, etc. This has never had much of an impact on the Russian players in the NHL, given that these players also needed to be good ambassadors while here.
However, after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has become a lot more vocal and pushing back on the players who go to North America to play. Quite a number of young athletes left the country suddenly over the summer to ensure they weren’t forced to complete their mandatory military service. (This is something that Russia has rarely enforced. Even back in the Soviet days, the hockey team were playing to honor the USSR with their performance – so they didn’t actively server. Russian hockey players, whether they played in the Superleague or the NHL were also ambassadors of Russia, and as such didn’t serve. Things shifted with the war, and with the reaction from the West)
Which leads us to Ivan, who said that he would not be participating in the warm-ups, because supporting the LGBTQ community goes against everything he believes, being Russian Orthodox.
He had no issue playing the game itself, despite the fact that Gritty was out there waving a pride flag through much of the game. Or any issue with Gritty appearing at Philly’s Pride parade. He’d had no issues with previous years – it was just suddenly a problem for him.
John Tortorella, the head coach, had no issues. Which came as a surprise to many, since he’d been on record saying that he wouldn’t let players sit out in protest, which it came to the players who kneeled for BLM. He claims that he’s learned more since then, but clearly he hasn’t learned much. Since Ivan’s protest isn’t about protecting his religious beliefs, but about saying it’s wrong to support an entire group of people. (Where BLM was about uplifting an entire community)
Other players on the team walked that PR line where they said they’re allies, but you know it’s up to him to decide what to do.
Failure of Allyship
You cannot consider yourself an ally to the LGBTQ community if you get wishy washy when a coworker says they think that an entire group of people just trying to exist are morally wrong. That’s the thing – there are those who are anti-LGBTQ who bring up groups that are actively harming other people, and wonder why LGBTQ allies are against those groups. And it’s because the LGBTQ community aren’t trying to groom people. They aren’t trying to harm people. They’re just trying to live their lives and exist.
I saw some reporters speaking up for the LGBTQ community, and that meant a lot. I saw a lot of people in the comments who said that all the reaction was overblown, that queer people don’t like hockey or matter. And “religious freedoms” etc, etc.
But here’s the bottom line. All those bigots love to talk about how hockey is a team sport, and it doesn’t matter who a person is, because it’s a sport. But the moment one player doesn’t want to support a group of people, that’s ok? No. Either you believe that a professional hockey player is a team player and should represent their team rather than pursue individual goals, or you don’t.
And frankly, Ivan sitting out warm-ups wasn’t much of a protest either. He sacrificed nothing, other than exposing who he truly is. He didn’t sit out the game, and forfeit the pay for that game. Which, if he TRULY felt it was offensive, he’d be asking not to take the ice at any Pride Night the team might play in. Like most bigots, he found the “protest” that required very little discomfort. In fact, it was clear that he assumed nobody was going to talk about this.
Why Does This Matter?
Right now, there’s a significant uptick in violence against the LGBTQ community. Whether we’re talking about mass shootings, armed people showing up to family friendly events, individual cases of harm. Or the constant introduction of legislation designed to alienate the LGBTQ community. It’s all orchestrated to either drive us into hiding or to lead to deaths.
There’s an uptick in antisemitism as well. Two of the groups targeted in Nazi Germany were the Jewish population, as well as the LGBTQ population. Nazis destroyed the research by Magnus Hirschfield, a Jewish doctor at the forefront of research about gender and sexuality. He fled Germany and his research was burned. The LGBTQ community were also forced to wear badges and also sent to concentration camps. (If you’re familiar with the pink triangles used during the AIDS crisis, the community was taking them back) So the rise of hate against both groups is not a coincidence at all. It’s intertwined.
And frankly, there are queer fans of hockey. We exist, and we deserve to be able to feel safe at one game a year for our favorite team. That’s the very least that we should expect. If you have a problem with that, well, you’re just part of the problem. You aren’t defending hockey. You aren’t doing anything other than trying to uphold your own bigotry.
Screw Ivan Provorov. And frankly, screw anyone who tries to make excuses for him. It’s 2023. If you can’t handle a rainbow flag on your jersey or in your line of sight- are you tough enough to play hockey?