Doug Wolter: Genuine belief requires courage, in sports as in life
NHL player Ivan Provorov, like many other persons of faith, learned recently that there is a price to pay for dissenting with mainstream culture
There are 30 major league baseball teams, and 26 of them hosted Pride Nights in 2022.
That was four fewer than should have occurred, according to LGBTQ advocates nationwide. And until all 30 learn to celebrate the movement, we are reminded there is still much work to do.
But, of course, a new season is a new opportunity. And with the start of the 2023 MLB year just a couple of months away, plans are no doubt under way again to set aside a day to celebrate a lifestyle choice that in this peculiar nation has quickly moved from controversial to commendable.
The fact that not all Americans want to go all-in for that sort of thing, however, continues to be a source of irritation for the professional sports leagues anxious to strike their blows for diversity. And if you happen to be one of those minority voices who prefer not to celebrate along with them, consider yourself chastened.
A few weeks ago, a Philadelphia Flyers player, Ivan Provorov, refused to wear a gay pride warm-up jersey on the team’s Pride Night, choosing instead to adhere to his sincerely held religious beliefs.
The NHL has been increasing its support for inclusivity in recent years, purportedly to soften its image as a tough, rough-housing man’s-man sport. I don’t know if it’s working exactly according to plan, but it does seem that this reach for inclusivity has been a divider, as well.
For standing up for his rights as a human being, Provorov received the predictable backlash from those who believe, with all their hearts, that it’s not good enough to remove oneself from contentious and morally questionable debates, but that people must be compelled to actively participate in them. Provorov, who is Russian, acknowledged the NHL’s right to host such Pride Nights, but he drew the line at being an active celebrant.
His coach sided with Provorov. Many others didn’t, arguing that he should have been suspended, or worse.
In fact, a senior NHL hockey network writer, E.J. Hradek, went so far to say that if Provorov couldn’t join his teammates in honoring Pride Night, he should get on a plane and go back to Russia, intimating that in this country his job is simply to go along with the crowd and keep his religious beliefs to himself. “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,” the writer said.
Hradek unintentionally makes an important point. And that is, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people of faith to hold true to their beliefs in this country, where the Constitutional concepts of freedom of religion and freedom of speech has been so plainly attacked by those who seek to subvert it in favor of a new secular religion -- a religion that would place God in a box, seldom allowing him to emerge.
Professional sports seems to be a weird place to push this new secular religion, but there it is. It’s a part of the NBA’s DNA, and the NFL’s DNA, too.
As for those of us who still adhere to traditional moralities and traditional faith in God, we tend to manufacture an uncomfortable peace with the new way. We continue to follow the sports, and by now we’ve mentally turned off the parts of our minds that were once offended by those who want to tell us how we must think.
So later this year in major league baseball, they will have more Pride Nights, like the one they had in Detroit last year, where ticket sales for the Tigers’ special occasion (at a home game with the Minnesota Twins) benefitted groups funding puberty blockers and trans surgeries for minors.
In contrast, I bring you San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who during his unlikely rise in that organization spoke fervently about the Christian faith that animates him -- a faith that he said will always be the most important thing in his life. Nothing will ever change that, he said.
Those of us who appreciate such courage hope he does not waver. San Francisco can be a tough town for bold, high-profile Christians to live and work in.
But in an era where it’s always safer to keep your head down and shuffle along with the crowd, it’s a cool breath of fresh air anytime someone stands up to be genuine.