While the forces of WOKE march resolutely across the world of sports, darkening our spirits as they thrust leftist slogans into our daily ration of athletic entertainment, some glimmers of hope, some rays of freedom sunshine occasionally manage to break through the miasmic overcast sky. To Canadians, it is perhaps not surprising that they are coming from professional hockey. While the NFL, NBA, and MLB have bowed down to CCP sponsored leftist causes over the past few years, the NHL has largely retained its reputation as the least WOKE of the major North American sports leagues. A dubious distinction to be sure: the least worst in a veritable race to the bottom.
Take for example the recent spate of controversial “Pride nights”at NHL arenas. For reasons which we shall examine, the league instituted LGBTQ+ themed nights at its arenas. Players were expected to wear specially crafted jerseys during warm-ups. The jerseys were then auctioned off to fans. They were also required to wrap their sticks in rainbow coloured tape. There are no data showing that the NHL has a significant gay audience, nor is there a large such contingent to be garnered from those who do not presently follow the NHL. All of this is purely for the benefit of the progressive corporate interests which either own or sponsor the league.
In his revealing book, “Woke, Inc.”, Vivek Ramaswamy makes the case that politics has no place in business, and sets out a new vision for the future of North American capitalism. Ramaswamy posits that there is a new invisible force at work in our economic and cultural lives. It affects every advertisement we see and every product we buy (including sports), from our morning coffee to our new pair of Nike shoes. “Stakeholder capitalism” makes rosy promises of a better, more diverse, environmentally-friendly world, but in reality this ideology championed by business and political leaders robs us of our money, our voice, and our identity.
Ramaswamy reveals the covert truth about stakeholder capitalism as the defining scam of our century. The modern woke-industrial complex divides us as people. By mixing morality with consumerism, corporate elites prey on our innermost insecurities about who we really are. ESG (Environmental Social Governance) sells us cheap social causes and skin-deep identities to satisfy our hunger for a cause and our search for meaning, at a moment when we lack both. Ramaswamy rips back the curtain on the new corporatist agenda and offers a better way forward. Corporate elites want to sort us into demographic boxes, but as one man recently proved, we do not need to stay there.
One such conscientious objector is Ivan Provorov, a Russian born NHL hockey player with the Philadelphia Flyers. He stood alone amongst his teammates to decline participation in the pre-game skate before a recent match versus the Anaheim Ducks, during which his teammates were required to wear LGBTQ+ themed jerseys and to wrap their sticks in rainbow tape. A devout Christian, Provorov had this to say after the game:
“I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices…My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
These are the words of someone who actually supports a pluralistic, free society in which respect does not compel one to participate in another’s delusion. The incident sparked a predictable backlash against him, including calls for a $1M fine and the even more bizarre suggestion that he return to his native Russia to take up arms against Ukraine. ESPN hockey analyst E.J. Hradek streamed his best Don Cherry circa 2019 with his pointed comments:
“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…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 okay…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 where you feel more comfortable. I understand there’s a conflict going on over there, maybe get involved.”
‘Go back where you came from’ is a bigoted remark illustrative of the axiom that if the left did not employ a double standard, then it would have none at all. Hockey is one of the most exciting, testosterone driven sports ever devised. Hockey culture, on the other hand, has been notoriously boring. Rarely does anyone within the sport stray from the herd to say or do something interesting. Journalists occasionally lament this fact, wishing that players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid would speak more freely and show more personality. Long gone are the off-colour remarks of former NHL personalities like Jeremy Roenick, Theo Fleury, or Sean Avery, all of whom endured rapacious cancel culture attacks.
Yet just as in greater society, anyone who says or does anything untoward in the NHL risks censure. Last season, an assistant coach was summarily fired for speaking in opposition to government and league groupthink surrounding the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. Something as simple as an unconventional goal celebration is enough to land a player in hot water. Pundits are often part of the problem, since they opine and verbally joust about any aberration from the norm out of starvation for the controversial. Until now.
That is what makes Provorov’s scenario so remarkable. Just when all hope appeared lost, there came an outpouring of broad private and public support for his freedoms of religion and expression. His coach, the irascible John Tortorella, stood by his player:
“With Provy, he’s being true to himself and his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy. He’s always true to himself.”
Even the NHL struck a note for freedom, stating publicly that players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and that the league continues to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues. A couple of weeks later, at the NHL All-Star game in Toronto, league Commissioner Gary Bettman affirmed that the league neither accepts bigotry or promotes homophobia:
“You know what our goals, our values and our intentions are across the league, whether it’s at the league level or at the club level. But we also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
Despite its stated tolerance of Provorov’s religious protest, there is little doubt that the NHL remains committed to pushing its Diversity, Inclusion, Equity (DIE) agenda. For proof of this one need look no further than its All-Star weekend, which showcased female players in events with NHL superstars, and saw players sport uniforms in LGBTQ+ rainbow hues:
NHL fans delivered a swift verdict in support of Provorov with their wallets. Provorov’s #9 Flyers jersey flew off the racks at on-line stores, with only a few available in men’s extra small sizes just days after the incident. A week later, the New York Rangers—the league’s media darling squad—opted out of their scheduled Pride-themed warm-up, stating afterwards:
“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night…In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Later that week, the rival New York Islanders left their rainbow jerseys and tape in the locker room while the Minnesota Wild ditched the jerseys en masse during their respective Pride nights.
So is the NHL suddenly embracing free speech? In hockey, it seems as though players rejecting WOKE ideology at least get a voice. This respect for individual liberty might be what distinguishes the NHL from other major sports leagues. The NHL is the least WOKE amongst them, which grants them small credit. It is also the least racially diverse: nearly 84% of the players and league employees are white, about 4% are black, 4% are Hispanic, and another 4 % are Asian. Just as many are LGBTQ+, but there are no Latino or Asian nights at NHL rinks. Women make up about 37% of the league’s employees. The racial distribution is easily explained by the fact that hockey is a Winter sport, played on ice. Players thus traditionally originate from nations with cold climates such as Canada, Scandinavia, & Eastern Europe. These places have comparatively few blacks and so they are simply not drawn to the sport. Hockey is also an affluent sport for children to play due to the cost of the equipment necessary to gain entry.
The resistance to gay themes revealed by the Provorov incident can perhaps be attributed to hockey’s working class roots and popularity, as well as the libertarian streak of fans who do not like it when somebody tells them what to do. The typical NHL fan is probably willing to abide the choices of others but rejects ham fisted attempts to tell them what political views to approve or disapprove. For its part, the NHL would like to change that image and broaden its fan base. Every sports league and indeed any business wants to grow by appealing to newer demographics. That said, Pride Nights draw near to force feeding politics into the sports arena, which is offensive to most fans. Former Stanley Cup winner and Olympic champion Theo Fleury told Tucker Carlson in December of last year:
“You know, I think the reason why we all gravitated toward hockey was first and foremost it was fun. Then secondly, you know, there was no politics involved. You know, we played this sport because we absolutely loved it….It doesn’t matter to us who plays the sport, whether you’re transgender, gay or whatever. The reason why we play the game and the reason why the game is so amazing and so great, is it’s for everybody. Right? And the reason why we play the game is it’s an escape from what’s going on in our lives…Unfortunately politics has no place in any sport, whether that’s football, basketball, hockey, baseball. Politics should never be a part of any kind of sport whatsoever.”
All of which begs the question: why are the progressives trying to take over sports? In his book “The Rise of the New Puritans”, Noah Rothman offers a persuasive explanation. He argues that the left was once the party of hippies and free spirits. Today, it is home to woke scolds and humourless ideologues. The New Puritans can judge our moral character by our clothes, our Netflix queue, our fast food faves, the company we keep, and yes—by the sports we watch. No choice is neutral, no sphere private. Not since the Puritans has a political movement grasped at so much power over our thoughts, hobbies, and preferences every single minute of each day. In the process, they are vacuuming the joy out of our lives by politicizing our favourite pastimes, including spectator sports like hockey. Anyone who has had to sit through the WOKE guilt trip that is a pre-game indigenous land acknowledgement knows precisely what Rothman is talking about.
Rothman explains how, in pursuit of their leftist Utopia, progressives ruin the very things which make life worth living. As Ivan Provorov discovered, they have created a society full of verbal trip wires and digital witch hunts. Fusion food? Cultural appropriation. The nuclear family? Oppressive. Hockey? Too violent. Rothman ultimately encourages us to spurn the movement whose primary goal has become limiting joy. He uncovers the historical roots of the left’s war on fun and its hatred of the meritocratic core of elite level sports, which flies in the face of the holiest progressive principle of all: social justice.
There are just two problems with “social justice”: it is neither social or just. It is rather a toxic ideology encouraging division, anger, and vengeance. That said, despite its occasionally ludicrous face, it remains a threat to be taken most seriously. Our politics were once defined by our ideals. That idealism is now imperilled by an obsession with the demographic categories of race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, which purport to constitute one’s “identity.” As interest groups defined by identity alone such as LGBTQ+ command the complete allegiance of their members AND everyone else, ordinary politics give way to identitarian warfare, with each group looking to avenge perceived offences in a net zero sum game where one side rises as another falls.
In a society governed by social justice, the most coveted status is victimhood, which people will go to absurd lengths to reach. But the real victims in such a regime are blind justice (the standard of impartiality once taken for granted) and free speech. These hallmarks of liberty, already gravely compromised by universities, big corporate, big tech, and the mass media, are under sustained attack in our legal, political, and cultural systems.
Applying Rothman’s thesis to the NHL and Provorov, we can only conclude that to champion sexuality and gender inclusion while denying respectful disagreement reeks of leftist hypocrisy. It is a tired tactic of progressives to virtue signal diversity but to crush dissent. Provorov affirming his religious convictions in the manner he did was a hugely regrettable missed opportunity for the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers, and others to highlight the very inclusion they allege is so precious. What a chance this was for hockey journalists to report on something genuinely extraordinary—a hockey player taking a stand based upon his religious convictions! Instead, various reporters climbed into their social media pulpits to proclaim their inability to respect anyone who dares to disagree with WOKE dogma.
Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic tweeted that “Provorov obviously does not respect ‘everyone’. If he did respect everyone, he would have taken part in the warm-up and worn the Pride Night jersey. Don’t hide behind religion”. His colleague, Daniel Nugent-Bowman, similarly opined, “That was a terrible look for Ivan Provorov and the Flyers organization tonight. Hiding behind religion to not be respectful and inclusive is absurd.”
But it was Canadian broadcaster Sid Sexeiro who led this journalistic cancel culture mob down a deep, dark rabbit hole. He mercilessly attacked Christians and insisted that the NHL severely punish Provorov. Sexeiro was strangely infuriated by the incident to the point of distraction, blasting people of faith and insisting that the NHL take serious action and impose heavy fines on the Flyers for violating the unspecified “rights” of the incorporeal LGBTQ+ community. Sexeiro began his rant by reminding his audience that several members of the Tampa Bay Rays also refused to participate in their team’s gay pride propaganda. Sexeiro lamented that Major League Baseball “didn’t do much. It was a story for a bit.” He then found himself unable to understand how Flyers coach Tortorella could possibly have sided with his player:
“John Tortorella, many years ago, when racial injustice—and it still is to this day—when Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling during national anthems, said anyone who does that on my team is going to sit. And he has a son who is an Army Ranger. So it’s not like Tortorella in the past hasn’t spoken on the sensitive issues.”
Sexeiro then blasted the NHL for allowing Provorov to sit out, reminding the league that its recent slogan is “Hockey is for Everyone”. He then suggested that the NHL make an example of Provorov and the Flyers:
“I think you fine the Flyers a million dollars for this. I’m not kidding. Figure this out and stop offending people on nights where it’s not about that. It’s supposed to be about inclusivity. The National Hockey League needs to attack this and figure it out, because what I heard last night was offensive and didn’t make any sense.”
Then, to add the piece de resistance to his WOKE diatribe, he finally got to the point that he really wanted to make, the one which offends his side of the case the most. He proceeded to attack all Christians everywhere:
“And one last point…Nothing scares me more than any human being who says ‘I’m not doing this because of my religious beliefs’, because when you’ve looked at people’s lives who say that publicly, you’d throw up at what you saw. And I’ve seen that a million times in a lot of different ways. So don’t give me that, with respect. Don’t feed me the religious beliefs line, and all of a sudden the NHL’s gonna back off this.”
He concluded by pounding his desk and demanding that the NHL take action, saying “The National Hockey League today needs to fine that organization a million dollars and reevaluate how they support gay rights, ‘cause that is insulting.”
But the objective reality, as opposed to Sexiero’s personal truth, is that Provorov did not hurl slurs toward the LGBTQ+ community or say anything remotely demeaning. He simply held to the conviction of his conscience and did so not as an out-of-touch Medieval whose religion’s software needs updating. Provorov’s dilemma is not isolated. It is acted out daily in virtually every profession and corner of life in Canada. What those who champion inclusion in this way fail to see is that their compulsory inclusion happens only to the exclusion of anyone who dares to disagree with sacrosanct LGBTQ+ dogma. This then only disarms their claims and triggers their animosity and intolerance toward an already volatile issue.
True inclusion says the voices of vegans and meat eaters both matter. It says that a recent parolee, or someone for whom English is not their mother tongue, and a used car salesman all deserve a seat at the table with a perspective that holds value. Regrettably, the beauty of appreciating one another while confidently agreeing to disagree is obsolete. Inclusion which fails to meet the burden of proof of its own definition is fraudulent and has the potential to foment hatred, conflict, and even violence.
Canada was once a marketplace of ideas in which multiple opinions could co-exist on any topic. That is a crucial part of what made us exceptional. But we cannot push for anti-bullying policies in schools while as adults we act like petulant children guilty of the same intolerance. To be inclusive means that all are welcome, not only those with identity asterisks by their names grounded in a rubric defined by “my truth”. If the price of admission to join the “cool club” is marching lock-step to every point or belief, that is fine but it is cult-like and has nothing to do with inclusion. I therefore suggest that whoever within the LGBTQ+ community has pushed for a fraudulent, cloistered kind of inclusion use an altogether different term that correctly reflects their exact intentions; or, on the other hand, begin holding themselves accountable to practice what they preach.
I do not believe that a Utopia can be experienced on this side of Heaven. That is my particular bias. I do nonetheless think that unity without conformity is possible, insomuch as we can appropriately contextualize and distinguish how that might take shape in private versus public dealings. It only gaslights the charity that is possible amid difference if we let our feelings lead the way in decision-making because ultimately emotions by their very nature are fleeting and deceitful.
A closing aphorism from another generation is apt here. It is a golden rule of Biblical interpretation also applied by Judges when construing statutory law:
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.”
—Dr. David L. Cooper (1885-1965), Founder of The Biblical Research Society
It seems to me that this is precisely what Ivan Provorov did, and we are wise to follow his example.