Nashville Predators prospect and former Calgary Hitmen defenseman Luke Prokop became the first active player under an NHL contract to come out as gay.
The 19-year-old made the announcement in an Instagram post. No NHL player, active or retired, has come out publicly. The 6-foot-4 right-handed defenseman from Edmonton, Alberta, was selected in the third round by the Predators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
“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,” Prokop wrote. “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.”
According to reports, Prokop told ESPN that he struggled last season and wanted to come out publicly because he believed it would help ease his mind and allow him to play his best hockey. He told the Predators he was gay in June and the team was very supportive of him, according to Prokop.
The Predators issued a statement on Monday and Nashville captain Roman Josi told NHL.com that the team is “very proud of him for taking that step.”
Since coming out to Predators management, Prokop said he received support behind the scenes from the NHL, including commissioner Gary Bettman.
“I share his hope that these announcements can become more common in the hockey community,” Bettman said in a statement. “LGBTQ players, coaches, and staff can only perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their full and true selves. We do not take the meaning and importance of this announcement lightly.
Multiple NHL personalities, players and executives have shown support, either by issuing a statement or re-blogging Prokop’s original message on Instagram. Prokop said that he hopes his example shows that gay people are welcome in the hockey community.
Prokop isn’t the first athlete in the sports world to come out as gay, but his courageous announcement is the first step in a more inclusive hockey universe. Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out back in June. While Prokop said the process of him coming out was in effect, Nassib’s announcement helped reiterate that the time was now to tell the world.
When meeting with his agents, Prokop told The Athletic that he had a phone call with Brian Burke. Burke is a well-known ambassador of the LGBTQ community (especially in hockey). Burke’s son, Brendan, made headlines when he came out in 2009, working as a student manager for the Miami University men’s hockey team.
Burke and his other son, Patrick founded the You Can Play campaign to fight homophobia in sports.
Prokop has changed professional hockey for the better and he now feels he is in good space, ready to take on the world.