Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop became the first active player on an NHL contract to come out publicly as gay. Prokop, 19, spoke with The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun and made a concurrent announcement on his Twitter page that included a sequence of rainbow hearts.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound defenseman was drafted in October in the third round of the 2020 draft at No. 73 overall and signed a three-year, entry-level contract in December. He played the 2020-21 season with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, where he was an alternate captain.
Predators' Prokop comes out as gay
Prokop released a statement on his Twitter page saying he was "proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay."
The full note:
Hi everyone. While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self. I am no longer scared to hide who I am.
Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.
It has been quite the journey to get to this point in my life, but I could not be happier with my decision to come out. From a young age I have dreamed of being an NHL player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams.
I wouldn't be able to do this without my amazing family, friends, and agents — who have known this about me and met me with love and support every step of the way. I hope that in sharing who I am I can help other people see that gay people are welcome in the hockey community, as we work to make sure that hockey truly is for everyone.
I may be new to the community, but I am eager to learn about the strong and resilient people who came before me and paved the way so I could be more comfortable today. This is just the beginning of my journey and I am excited to see where it takes me, both in hockey and in life."
The WHL released a statement in support.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement saying the league is proud of Prokop and will do "everything possible" to make his experience welcoming and affirmative.
"We do not take the meaning and importance of this announcement lightly," Bettman said in the statement.
Statements followed from the NHLPA as well as the Predators.
The announcement received praise from around social media and the hockey world, though the real test will be if the support continues past a statement. Hockey, from youth levels to the professional leagues, has trailed behind other mainstream sports when it comes to inclusivity.
Prokop describes coming out to be leader
Prokop told ESPN's Emily Kaplan he decided to come out publicly after struggling last season because he thought it would ease his mind to play elite-level hockey.
When the hockey season ended early in April because of COVID-19, he returned to Edmonton and began telling people he was gay, beginning with his older sister, Alanna, his mother, Nicole. He then told his father and brother, all of whom were supportive.
Eventually he began telling close friends that included WHL players and teammates. In June he told his agents, who told him he could either keep it private or come out publicly and be a leader.
Prokop told The Athletic that proposition was appealing.
“That’s always been my style. I’ve always said I want to have a career in hockey where I was able to make a change in the game (rather) than have this career full of accolades. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. The part of me being 19 and not even having gone to my first pro camp yet, it’s also to show … that you can still be who you are while playing the game. You don’t have to be judged for what your sexuality is. It’s OK nowadays to play professional sports and be who you are.”
He told Predators management around the same time, beginning with an incredibly supportive Brian Poile, the team's assistant general manager.
"He in that moment showed me a lot of support and told me the Predators are behind me 1,000% and want what's best for me and that they're proud of me during this," Prokop told ESPN. "I remember getting off that phone call and tears just started coming from my eyes, I was so excited. And in that moment, I thought, this is what it's going to feel like for the rest of my life. For them to show that support that they did in that moment, it felt like I can rule the world."
There has never been an openly gay player in the NHL and Prokop could be the first when he makes an NHL start in the coming years.
Brock McGillis became the first openly gay male pro hockey player in 2016, coming out 10 years after his playing career ended. Those around hockey have come out as gay in recent years, such as NHL player agent Bayne Pettinger last year.
Prokop's announcement comes on the heels of Carl Nassib, who became the first active NFL player to come out publicly as gay when he announced it in June.
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