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Take a Stand... for Being a Teammate

January 20, 2023, 3:19 PM ET [27 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulStewart22

Having spent my life in and around team environments -- officiating, playing, teaching, etc. -- I tend to view things through the prism that being a member of a team carries responsibilities to the game and to one another.

Whether you are a player or an official, the team matters more than any individual. No matter what kind of disagreements there are in the dressing room or away from the rink, it's your responsibility to rally around one another as a united front when it's time to step on the ice. You never deliberately embarrass the team or a teammate.

As far as the Philadelphia Flyers "Pride Night" controversy goes, I'm not going to wade into the topic of religious faith or political alignments. Everyone's entitled to their beliefs.

Personally, I believe that someone's sexual orientation or gender should not be a barrier to playing/officiating the game, being as welcomed into the team environment as any other player/official. It's also not a big ask to say everyone should be equally welcomed as a fan to enjoy attending a game along with their spouse, domestic partner or whomever they wish to bring along to attend.

That's all "Hockey is for Everyone" is about. It's not telling anyone -- any player, any official, any fan -- to compromise their beliefs. It's a simple statement that NO ONE owns the right to determine who should or shouldn't be allowed to play, officiate or be a fan of the game. If you disagree with that idea, fine.

Within the team concept, however, your obligations to be the best teammate you can possibly be mean that you put the team first. That's a non-negotiable responsibility.

Every dressing room in hockey has players/officials who have deeply held religious convictions along with some who may not be religious. Every dressing room has an array of political alignments represented. The Philadelphia Flyers are no different from any other hockey club.

To me, these are the relevant issues from a HOCKEY TEAM standpoint:

1) Participating in pregame warmups, barring injury or illness, is a reasonable expectation of any player who is slated to be the starting lineup.

2) Wearing a warmup jersey that has rainbow-colored numbering and lettering but is otherwise identical -- including the team logo, by the way -- to the ones worn daily at practice does not equate to the wearer taking or endorsing a political stance. The ONLY statements are these: I am a member of this team. We step onto the ice together as a team and whatever differences of opinions or ideologies we have once we leave the building mean nothing. We check those at the door. Here, I support my teammates.

3) In the room and in players' only meetings, express how you feel about whatever topic you want. Feel free to disagree with team consensus. But once you deliberately ostracize yourself from the team when we're ON THE ICE, you've embarrassed the rest of us. You've made it clear that being a teammate isn't your No. 1 priority.

Regardless of the political ideologies and religious views within a team's roster, these points are universally understood. Ivan Provorov proved himself to be selfish and a bad teammate; and that's the WORST thing a hockey player can be, no matter his individual skills.

Disrespecting the game and disrespecting your team is NEVER an acceptable act. Provorov has every right to his faith and the right to take the action he took. He also has to understand that the consequence of his action is that every player on his team -- and every team he'll ever play for in the future --- knows that he puts himself first. He disrespected each and every one of his teammates including the ones who, away from the rink, agree with his non-hockey views.

It doesn't matter who you are. When you choose to participate in team sports, especially on the professional level, you represent your team above yourself.

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A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of
being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
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