Which Way, Western (Sports)Man?

News: Commentary
by Paul Brock III  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 25, 2023   

Holding the line as a professional athlete

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Today, seeing a man follow his conscience at the expense of his reputation is a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, especially in the corporate world of professional sports. So it was gratifying last week when Ivan Provorov, a defenseman in the National Hockey League, refused to rep team-issued gay-pride paraphernalia, sending the Left into an absolute fury. The cherry on top is that he cited his Christian faith as the reason for his conscientious objection, which enraged the woke mob even more. We need to face reality: Shilling progressive propaganda — particularly in an effort to normalize fashionable sexual perversions — is now a primary focus of the sports industry, so Christian athletes can expect to face nonstop moral dilemmas. The solution is simple though. Do what Provorov did. And then some. 

Flyers players wearing rainbow-themed uniforms

So what happened, exactly? The backstory is straightforward: The Philadelphia Flyers hosted their annual "pride night," wherein the team "advocates for inclusivity and the LGBTQ+ community." As a part of this event, all the players don rainbow-themed gear before the game during warm-ups.

This year, however, 1 of the 20 players on the Flyers, Ivan Provorov, a Russian Orthodox Christian, refused to partake in the team's promotion of homosexuality, and so he skipped the pre-game warm-ups. 

After the game, Provorov's head coach addressed the situation, and he, oddly enough, had nothing but respect for Provorov's decision: "He's being true to himself and to his religion," John Tortorella proclaimed. "One thing I respect about Provy, he's always true to himself." Later, Tortorella even doubled down on his remarks, asserting to reporters in another press briefing, "Provy did nothing wrong. Just because you don't agree with his decision doesn't mean he did anything wrong." 

Propaganda is part and parcel of the contemporary professional sports industry.

When Provorov himself was asked to speak on the controversy, he expressed to reporters, "My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion." Although Provorov did offer a pinch of incense to the idols of political correctness by stating that he "respect[s] everybody's choices," his act of defiance was, nonetheless, a rare example of a man sticking to his guns in the face of social justice warrior intimidation tactics. Ultimately, the modest amount of virtue it took for Provorov to stand his ground garnered him even more respect from his head coach, and certainly his fans, as his jersey sold out after the affair.

Also, Provorov's other coaches and teammates had the privilege of witnessing genuine religious conviction, a virtually unthinkable occurrence in their world. And despite the implicit threats of cancelation for not keeping to the company line of "sodomy good," Provorov is still an NHL player in good standing; he survived to play another day. 

The Evolution of Propaganda in Sports 

If paid athletes could simply be left to play their respective sports without being dragooned into endorsing the latest deviant cause, all would be well. But that's not how things are. Quite the contrary: Athletes are reliably used as political pawns to prop up degenerate campaigns. They'd do well to keep always before their eyes mottos like Laura Ingraham's "shut up and dribble" and Charles Barkley's "I am not a role model." Not likely, but hey, we can dream. 

The professional athletics of the third millennium aren't singularly about sport — they're just as much about business, money and power. (As erstwhile heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder frequently laments, "Boxing isn't a sport; it's a business.") So pro athletes aren't just highly skilled sportsmen anymore; they've been transformed into walking billboards for toxic political ideologies. And the truth is that even if players want to keep their heads down, "shut up and dribble" and just play their sport, they can't. Ivan Provorov is an example of this reality. 

Propaganda, for the most part, is part and parcel of the contemporary professional sports industry. But this was not always the case. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, there weren't entire teams tethering their very existence and locker room cohesion to social and political agendas. Sure, men such as Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the best at their respective sport while also ferociously engaging in political advocacy. But there's a key distinction to be made: This was at the individual — not organizational — level. Today, it's not even just franchises driving narratives; it's entire leagues, entire industries. How the heck are 21st-century athletes supposed to operate in such an environment?

Provorov's refusal to drape himself with the symbol of sodomy was merely a response to the team's decision to promote one of the most heinous acts imaginable, a sin so wicked it "cries to Heaven for vengeance." What's more, the anti-Christian messaging comes from the National Hockey League itself, which has been organizing "pride games" for the past couple of years.

After Provorov's stand against the propaganda campaign, the league doubled down on its commitment to the homosexual agenda, stating that it "encourages clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets." This new brand of professional athletics essentially spits in the face of the Christian religion. Accordingly, any righteous sportsman, any player with a modicum of integrity, will be forced into a stare down with the gay lobby, just as Provorov was. The question for Christian athletes today is whether or not there's a better, more faithful response.

Conscience as the Aboriginal Vicar of Christ 

In every moral dilemma, the path forward is always to follow one's well-formed conscience. Therefore, the measure of faithfulness regarding Provorov's response — and that of every professional athlete who's ever been in a similar situation — is determined by whether or not he heeded the cry of his upright conscience.

Everybody respects a man who follows his conscience.

Conscience, properly speaking, is the judgment of reason that must be obeyed. Saint Bonaventure likened it to "God's herald and messenger," and St. John Henry Newman called it the "aboriginal Vicar of Christ," the "highest of all teachers," which holds "supreme authority." These truths also serve as the foundation for the Catholic dictum "He who acts against his conscience loses his soul." Simply put, it's "through the conscience," as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, that "we judge that something should be done or not done" (Summa Theologiae, pt. I, q. 79, a. 13).

St. John Henry Newman

Pro athletes are thrown into moral conundrums all the time, but they have a duty — just like everybody else — to surrender to the voice of reason in their heads (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶1778). Today, Christians are called to stick out like sore thumbs and not only defend Christ but advance His mission. And this is possible to do, even in the modern American sports industry in the face of determined opposition; it's just that fear overpowers most athletes, so few have really tried.

Where Do We Go From Here? 

From staunch conservatives to the most radical liberals, from sports-crazed maniacs to those who don't even own a television, everybody respects a man who follows his conscience. When Kyrie Irving refused to take the COVID shot and gave up his $100 million contract, when Jonathan Isaac chose not to wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt with the rest of his team and when Ben Watson dared to speak out for the pro-life cause during his NFL career, they all acted as principled individuals instead of spineless cattle. These are but a few examples of men swimming upstream, of men being true to themselves.

For Christians, seeing just a little religious zeal on the big screen, at the very least, is a sign of hope and a reminder to deepen their own convictions. After Ivan Provorov stuck it to his team and the NHL, the league affirmed that players have free reign to "decide which initiatives to support." The NHL even assured players that it will encourage "their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues." 

So to all you self-identified Christians in the NHL, why not use your platform to preach the gospel? Why not use it to condemn child murder and sex "reassignment" surgery? Why not use it to advocate for the traditional family? When the organization you work for pushes ideologies that are gravely offensive to your religion but then tells you that it will tolerate your perspective, what's stopping you from going on the offensive? 

Again, it'd be nice if pro athletes were paid to just play their sport, but this is not the reality in the 21st century. There is, rather, a prevailing expectation that athletes will goose step along with an anti-Christian culture. For Christian men in these situations, the answer is simple: Align your consciences with Christ, and then follow them with no regrets. 

Paul Brock holds an undergraduate degree from Hillsdale College and a master's degree (magna cum laude) in moral theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Paul has worked as the producer of Church Militant's Mic'd Up program for the past three years, and also has four years' experience as a high school coach in the archdiocese of Detroit. 
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