homepage logo

Comer: NHL player shows public commitment to faith


By Ryan Comer - | Jan 28, 2023

Matt Slocum, Associated Press

Philadelphia Flyers' Ivan Provorov plays during an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Philadelphia. Flyers coach John Tortorella continues to defend defenseman Ivan Provorov following his boycott of the team’s Pride night festivities.

Faith and sports intersect in so many situations, and the last couple of weeks have provided yet another example.

Ivan Provorov, a member of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, was in the news because he wouldn’t wear a pride jersey on the Flyers’ Pride Night. He said he respects everyone and their choices but that he was staying true to himself and his religion, which he said was Russian Orthodox. Provorov was rebuked, perhaps no more harshly than by senior reporter E.J. Hradek on the NHL Network.

“Ivan Provorov can get on a plane any day he wants and go back to a place where he feels more comfortable, take less money and get on with his life that way if it’s that problematic for him,” he said. “If this is that much of a problem for him, to maybe assimilate into his group of teammates, and in the community and here in this country, that’s OK. Listen, you can feel any way you want. But the beauty is, if it bothers you that much, there’s always a chance to leave, go back to where you feel more comfortable — I understand there’s a conflict of sorts going on over there, maybe get involved.”

Persecution for standing up for beliefs is definitely not new. We see examples of it in the scriptures. The most obvious that comes to my mind is with Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. Repeatedly, their commitments to God were challenged. On one occasion, they refused the king’s meat and wine. On another, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego refused to serve King Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or worship a golden image. In yet another example, Daniel prayed despite a decree that it was illegal to make a request from any god or man except for the king.

How easy it certainly would have been for them to break their commitments just so they could assimilate into the crowd and avoid persecution, but they refused to succumb, and in all situations, they were ultimately rewarded for their faith.

Photo supplied

Ryan Comer

The words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were inspiring: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) They had faith that they would be delivered, but even if they knew they wouldn’t be, they would still not break their commitments. In all three of those examples, the faith of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had an impact on those around them.

Thankfully for Provorov, his coach, John Tortorella, came to his defense.

“Provy did nothing wrong,” Tortorella said to reporters. “Just because you don’t agree with his decision doesn’t mean he did anything wrong.”

The really great thing about how Provorov handled this situation was that he didn’t attack or try to stop anyone for thinking differently from him. Said Tortorella: “Provy’s not out there banging a drum against Pride night. He felt strongly with his beliefs, and he stayed with it.”

Provorov’s cause also got a boost from the sales of his jerseys. It was reported that his jersey had sold out following the controversy. It reminded me of how many years ago people flocked to Chick-fil-A, creating extremely long lines, after the company was criticized because its president voiced support for traditional marriage. I remember going to the Chick-fil-A location on Antelope Drive in Layton one evening to see what the scene looked like and the line stretched all the way around the store.

It’s hard to stand for religious beliefs when you know there will be derision. But over and over again, I realize that a large number of people appreciate those who stand for their faith and their values and are not ashamed of them. There’s a verse in the epistle of Paul to the Romans on that topic. I would imagine there are also a lot of people who support Provorov — and who supported Chick-fil-A — not necessarily because they agree with the religious beliefs that were expressed, but because they appreciate the strength that was evidenced by holding to those beliefs when so many disagree and it would have been easier to simply go along.

One instance from my childhood that emphasizes this point is an experience I had in an algebra class my freshman year of high school. One day, we were sitting in class working on an assignment and a girl sitting behind me and to my right started asking me about Joseph Smith and temples. She had done some research on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and discovered some things she thought were strange, and when she found out I was a member of the church, she wanted to ask me about them. I answered her questions as best as I could and although I could tell she remained skeptical, she expressed a certain admiration for the church. I could tell she appreciated my willingness to talk about the issues she was concerned with, and it felt like she gained a certain amount of respect for me that I was unashamed of my religion.

As hard as it is sometimes to live according to your faith, it’s helpful to have examples of people who are unwavering in their devotion. Provorov was definitely that, and I hope people of faith everywhere can be inspired by it.

Ryan Comer can be reached at rcomer@standard.net.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)