It’s no secret that Christians are experiencing increased hostility in the United States today. Look no further than the National Hockey League.
Many NHL teams have begun holding “Pride Nights,” which they claim are meant to celebrate people who identify as LGBT. Instead, some fans and sports journalists are using these nights to shame anyone who dares to hold Christian beliefs regarding gender and sexuality.
The NHL oversees an initiative called “Hockey is for Everyone,” which it says is meant to promote diversity and “achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans.” While the league says each team is free to “decide whom to celebrate, when and how,” the not-so-secret expectation is that every team holds an LGBT “Pride Night” at some point during the season.
Since “Pride Nights” are not officially regulated by the NHL, each team can choose what it does during the themed celebrations. Some teams have players use rainbow-colored tape on their sticks, while others create custom “Pride” jerseys that the players are expected to wear during warmups. But these means of celebrating “Pride Night” are where some religious players have drawn the line.
Standing for your faith on “Pride Night”
One of the first players to stand up for his faith during the 2022-23 NHL season was Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov. In January, he chose not to participate in warmups because he did not want to wear a jersey promoting views of gender and sexuality against his own.
Provorov made it clear that while he “respect[s] everybody’s choices,” he won’t promote something he disagrees with. Provorov is Russian Orthodox.
Predictably, he received plenty of backlash from the same people who preach “acceptance.” But something else happened too.
Flyers head coach John Tortorella defended Provorov’s freedom to choose which messages he expresses. He did not bench Provorov for the game, as some critics had called for, and he further defended Provorov at a press conference later in the week.
"[Provorov] did nothing wrong," Tortorella said. "Just because you don't agree with his decision doesn't mean he did anything wrong."
Whether he knew it or not, Tortorella was summarizing the rationale behind the First Amendment with that one statement. And the support for freedom in the NHL didn’t stop with Provorov’s stand and Tortorella’s comments.
Other NHL players following suit
About two months after Provorov stood up for his faith, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer did the same. He declined to wear a warmup jersey promoting views of gender and sexuality he disagreed with, and he explained that the decision was based on his faith in Jesus.
"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,” Reimer said. “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.
“I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness. 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 were still people who verbally attacked Reimer and called him obscene names, even though he went on to say that everyone “should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.” But more importantly, the San Jose Sharks shared Reimer’s statement, including his brief synopsis of the Gospel, on their official Twitter account.
For every person who became enraged at Reimer for living out his beliefs, perhaps there was a fellow Christian who was encouraged by his faith. Furthermore, hockey fans who saw Reimer’s statement on the Sharks’ Twitter account might have even been curious about Jesus and researched His story for themselves.
Just days after Reimer declined to wear the jersey, brothers Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers chose not to wear “Pride” warmup jerseys before a game, citing their Christian faith.
"We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” the brothers said in a statement. “Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs.”
More NHL players are following Provorov’s lead, choosing not to wear jerseys expressing messages that violate their beliefs. Despite calls to bench or otherwise punish them, teams are respecting the freedom of players to choose what messages they express. Some teams have even opted out of wearing “Pride” jerseys altogether.
No matter how much backlash these players receive, Christians should be encouraged and inspired by their bravery. Their bold stand for Truth proves that there is a place for everyone in sports, and that includes Christians.