Photo by Andy Gorel

From the Center

With the NHL season a little over halfway through, things are starting to heat up, especially the Philadelphia Flyers – in more ways than one.

Philly is in the hunt for a playoff spot after surging to win eight of ten consecutive games, despite low preseason expectations and several integral players dealing with injuries. And while one key defenseman, Ivan Provorov, has played in every contest so far, it was his recent absence from warmups on the team’s Pride Night that has everyone talking, and led to some examples of media bias. 

Just hours before, head coach John Tortorella had announced there would be no lineup changes from the previous game. Fans vented speculation on forums like Twitter and Reddit. Maybe it was an equipment malfunction. Maybe Provorov fell ill. Maybe there was an emergency in his personal life. Having only missed three games in his career so far, and none willfully nor due to injury, all eyes were on the situation.

Provorov played the game despite skipping the pre-game skate. By the end of the game, there were rumblings that his absence was to avoid wearing the special Pride jerseys the Flyers wore Tuesday night during warmups.

In Provorov's post-game press conference, the Russian defenseman told the media his decision was because of his Russian Orthodox religion. If this truly drove his decision, then the NHL, NHLPA, and 32 member clubs have reason to examine how freedom of speech, religion, and expression intersect with their social initiative agenda and overall brand. 

After Provorov verified the rumor, what ensued was nothing short of a firestorm of bias from the press and peanut gallery.

Many media pundits exclaimed what a disgrace No. 9’s decision was to his team, game, and self. Almost unanimously, some of hockey’s most revered voices jumped on in Orwellian fashion, making suggestions like the Flyers should be fined $1 million, or Provorov should go back to Russia and volunteer to fight in Ukraine.

However, many journalists covering the story committed bias by omission, since few mentioned key context on what could have guided Provorov’s decision as a dual resident of both U.S. and Russia — a new Russian law making the promotion of “LGBT propaganda” or “non-traditional sexual relations” a federal offense.

Of course, there was some dissent as well, mostly from people in online comments sections. (YouTube comment sections tend to be more moderate than platforms like Twitter or Reddit, which seem to bring out polarity.) Several advocated for Provorov’s free speech, or in some cases, unfortunately, against the LGBT community. 

However, what’s most stunning to me isn’t that North Americans are split on freedom of expression in 2023. It’s how the blinders are on for so many, journalists included.

On Dec. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law making the promotion of what Russia deems “LGBT propaganda" or “non-traditional sexual relations” a federal offense. Russia’s new legislation was largely not mentioned in coverage of Provorov, but has already affected the sports world. 

Just last week, Russian tennis player Daria Kasatkina, who came out last summer, explained she fears she will never be able to return to Russia. Since the legislation was ratified, it has been reported that Kasatkina, who is currently ranked eighth in the world, could be registered as a foreign agent in her homeland, presumably for violating Russian law.

I have not seen any journalists acknowledge these developments in Russia when covering the Provorov matter, despite it being relevant context. Those who were quick to brand Russia a wild place of injustice when star hockey player, the pro-opposition Artemi Panarin, took an indefinite leave from the NHL, or when CSKA Moscow goaltender Ivan Fedotov was arrested for draft-dodging shortly after he decided to sign with Philly instead of re-signing in Russia, are now piling on top of Provorov, the Flyers, and head coach John Tortorella. Their commentary on Provorov is biased, and suggests the only possible reason he could have opted against wearing the jersey is that he's homophobic.

It’s worth noting that Penguins’ forward Evgeni Malkin, a Russian native who’s a higher profile player than Provorov, did wear a Pride jersey during warmups on Dec. 12. While the Malkin situation doesn't help Provorov's case with the angry mob, it is mind-blowing that the same media who eagerly promote claims of Russia's lawless and unfair society are now (by their omission of politics and legislation as potential factors) assuming the two as equals. 

Even in the United States, we all know the law isn’t always applied fairly. When the narrative suits media commentators’ existing worldview, which is, of course, liberal and Westernly-hegemonic, they forget the extenuating circumstances quickly.

This is not a dig at the liberal fold, and nor does it relate solely to journalists, but to many North Americans at large. When Brittney Griner was arrested for possession of cannabis in Russia, there was widespread outrage at Russia’s intense drug policy. Yet, there have been few western qualms with the similarly strict substance protocols in the neighboring Republic of Georgia, one of the West’s most desired fruits on the Eurasian vine.

While I personally believe the NHL’s support of Pride is positive, and the greatest game on earth truly should be for everyone, the hypocrisy from some fans and media is not just glaring, but troubling, and even disgusting.

Of course, the NHL is a private organization, and should have the right to reprimand Provorov, should they believe he is not delivering a product up to the standard they desire. However, there is a chance that this issue goes beyond LGBT social liberties. 

By not even mentioning the full range of possibilities, journalists are delivering, in my opinion, a subpar product themselves. Considering what it means to be a dual-citizen or dual-resident of both Russia and the U.S. right now, the media’s framing of the situation is both insensitive and hypocritical.

Andy Gorel is a weekend news curator for AllSides. He has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed by Managing Editor Henry Brechter (Center Bias), Daily News Editor Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left Bias), and Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings Julie Mastrine (Lean Right Bias).