Before the January 17th NHL hockey game between the Phildelphia Flyers and Anaheim Ducks, Flyers’ defenceman Ivan Provorov declined to take the pre-game skate, during which he would have had to wear the team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night warmup jersey and use a hockey stick adorned with rainbows. For that, he found himself in the centre of the culture war.
Calls for his head ensued. Progressive media predictably urged that the player be benched and suspended, and the hockey club fined.
The incident brought to mind former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his political statements during the 2016 season. Kaepernick was celebrated across the progressive left as a hero of social justice for refusing to stand for his country’s national anthem before National Football League games, choosing instead to first sit and then to take a knee on the sidelines.
Kaepernick purported to act out his conscience in a visible sign of protest against the evil that he believed the US national anthem represented. He was immediately cheered and elevated by the progressive left into media appearances, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, speaking engagements, meetings with dignitaries, and to this day he is described as a “civil rights activist” on Wikipedia.
Soon what was strictly a purported act of conscience on the part of Kaepernick came to be perceived as a mandatory act of virtue signalling. Players and teams throughout the sporting world were soon kneeling in nightly displays of political protest. Kneeling became a quasi-religious expression of leftist progressive bona fides, and Kaepernick’s purported act of conscience, arguably a constitutionally protected form of speech and protest, became something more sinister and illegal.
People cannot be compelled into acts of expression against their will. Both the United States Supreme Court and the Canadian Supreme Court are unequivocal that any requirement to compel persons to mouth words against their will is totalitarian and foreign to the legal systems of their countries.
In Canadian workplaces and across much of the United States, an employee cannot be forced to engage in expression or actions that may conflict with deeply held beliefs based in religion or creed, or their political beliefs.
On January 9, 2023, it was reported that a Virginia Tech soccer player who was benched for refusing to kneel for BLM received a $100k settlement of her federal court action against the coach and the University. The federal court had refused to quash her claim and ordered the matter to trial, where the court likely would have concluded that her civil rights were infringed.
After Provorov’s decision not to participate in the Flyers’ political programming, the NHL swiftly issued a reassuring statement affirming both the right of the Flyers’ to engage in their political promotions on the ice, and. Provorov’s right to decline to participate without fear of reprisal from the hockey club or the NHL.
The NHL affirmed Provorov’s rights in a free and democratic society to be free from compelled political speech, and Provorov’s right to be free from reprisal and discrimination on the basis of his religious belief and constitutionally protected speech rights.
While the hockey club and the NHL have properly upheld the law (and what were up until yesterday considered basic tenets of a liberal democracy) the same cannot be said for the intolerant leftist progressive sports media and amongst the hockey press. They are wrong to seek reprisal against Provorov in the same way it was wrong to bench the Virginia Tech soccer player, or to seek reprisal against Kaepernick and his kneeling compatriots.
One can loathe the increasing intrusion of politics into sports and the overt politicization of sporting events by leagues and teams, while recognizing their right to do so. However, they have a corresponding obligation, as the Flyers and the NHL have done to respect the right of their players to dissent, to object, and to decline to participate.
(NOTE: Before the January 27th New York Rangers game against the Vegas Golden Knights, the team declined to wear pride night themed jerseys. The team made a statement that “In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”)