From the editor’s desk:

The Interim editor, Paul Tuns

In January, something extraordinary happened: a National Hockey League hockey player, Philadelphia Flyer’s defenseman Ivan Provorov, took to the pre-game practice wearing his regular jersey. It launched hundreds of columns in both the sports pages and editorial pages and conversations on radio about the so-called homophobia problem in hockey. Provorov declined to signify support for the team’s Pride Night, part of the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative catering to various “underrepresented” minorities, including people who identify as homosexual or transgender, to (in the words on the NHL’s website) “drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities.” It was clear from much of the reaction that Provorov is not part of their inclusive community.

The rest of the Flyer’s team donned LGBT-themed warmup jerseys and used rainbow tape on their hockey sticks, which were later auctioned to raise money for LGBQT+ causes. Provorov said that he could not show support for a cause that was inimical to his Russian Orthodox beliefs. He defended his actions: “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.” Not a chance that was going to happen. Queue the outrage. Some pundits said it was indicative of precisely why Pride Nights were needed and that an example should be made of the player (benching him) and the team for tolerating his actions (through a large fine). Some went further. Rachael Millanta of the sports betting side BetMGM tweeted, “Stop letting bigots hide behind their cherry-picked religion.” (Never mind that Provorov is doing the opposition of cherry-picking from his religion, considering that he is faithfully refusing to witness against his church’s moral instruction that homosexual acts are sinful; it is apostates who curry favour with fashion that are cherry-picking.) Kurt Weaver of You Can Play, which partners with the NHL on LGBQT+ issues, said that there needs to be “some more direct conversations around what it means to be a teammate.” In the spirit of tolerance, NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek literally said Provorov should return to Russia. The Russian-born Provorov moved to the United States when he was 13.

Notice that Provorov did not criticize people who identify has homosexual or transgender. He simply refused to participate in a show of support by wearing their rainbow colours. For that, he is deemed homophobic and transphobic. For that, he needed to be made an example.

Over the next few weeks, three teams – the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Minnesota Wild – either cancelled their Pride Night or held it without players wearing special jerseys or using coloured hockey stick tape. The reaction was predictable. On one podcast, all four panelists agreed it was “unacceptable” and that the NHL was “hypocritical” in promoting its Hockey is For Everyone theme; one panelist said NHL players not wearing rainbow pre-game practice jerseys was a sign that the  NHL “doesn’t want members of the LGBTQ community to exist.”

Everything calmed down for a month until the San Jose Sharks hosted their Pride Night on March 18 and Sharks goaltender James Reimer (who used to play with the Toronto Maple Leafs) chose not to participate. Reimer, a Mennonite from rural Manitoba, released a statement: “For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian – not just in title, but in how I choose to live my life daily. I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow Him… In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life.”

There was no shortage of pundits ready to explain that Christians should accept homosexuals; Michael Coren wrote one such column on the TVO website, insisting that the Bible can be taken literally or seriously but not both, and accused (to use Millanta’s words) some Christians of cherry-picking their beliefs.

Then there was Brian Burke, the president of the Pittsburg Penguins and founder of the You Can Play Project, which seeks to increase LGBQT+ participation in hockey. Burke told NBC: “I am extremely disappointed. I wish players would understand that the Pride sweaters are about inclusion and welcoming everybody. A player wearing Pride colors or tape isn’t endorsing a set of values or enlisting in a cause! He is saying you are welcome here. And you are, in every single NHL building.” That is on its face wrong; many teams sell off the paraphernalia to benefit LGBTQ+ causes which would be an endorsement or enlistment in the cause.

The Czech dissident Vaclav Havel said that all ideologies depend on affirming rituals. As National Review’s Nathan Hochman wrote about Provorov, the reaction to dissenters of LGBQT+ celebrations “only underscores that Pride Night is about something more than its stated mission of ‘gay acceptance.’ It’s practical purpose is not just to advocate for a pluralist culture that tolerates gay Americans, but to elevate LGBT identity to the marker of a deified class beyond reproach and to delegitimize any object.”

The reaction to Provorov and Reimer sends a clear message: welcome people who identify by their sexual sins and gender confusion, or be unwelcome in the NHL. All must bow to the Altar of Pride; it is the price of participation in polite society. There is a silver lining. Standing up for one’s beliefs is contagious. Now that Provorov and Reimer have done so, may others – both in sports and other walks of life – stand up for what they believe is true.