Luke Prokop, a prospect in the Nashville Predators’ organization, came out as gay on July 19, becoming the first out player under contract in the NHL.
“Hi everyone. While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self,” Prokop wrote in a social media post on Instagram and Twitter. “I am no longer scared to hide who I am. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.”
Prokop was drafted by the Predators in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft and inked a three-year deal with the team late last year. He started his professional journey with the Calgary Hitmen — a minor league squad within the organization.
Prokop started coming out to his family and teammates within the past year and then came out to team management in June, according to ESPN. The organization’s assistant general manager, was the first front office executive he told — and he received it very well.
“He in that moment showed me a lot of support and told me the Predators are behind me 1,000 percent and want what’s best for me and that they’re proud of me during this,” Prokop said in an interview with 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.”
In his social media announcement on July 19, Prokop said he believes coming out will help fulfill his life-long dream of playing in the NHL — a dream that is well within reach given his reputation as a top-tier prospect in the team’s organization.
“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.”
Following Prokop’s announcement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a written statement praising Prokop “for sharing his truth and for being so brave.”
“I share his hope that these announcements can become more common in the hockey community,” Bettman said. “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.” He added, “We pledge to do everything possible to ensure that Luke’s experience is a welcoming and affirmative one and continue to work to ensure that any current or future NHL player contemplating following in his trailblazing footsteps knows our league is ready to provide full support.”
No out player has ever played in the NHL, but the league has taken steps to show support for the queer community in recent years. According to Outsports, every NHL team hosted a Pride or Inclusion night in 2018 and the league has maintained a partnership with the You Can Play campaign, which helps to foster LGBTQ inclusion in sports.
Prokop’s announcement comes less than one month after Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders came out as gay in an Instagram post. Nassib is the first active NFL player to come out.
The queer sports world — and others in the NHL — reacted to Prokop’s announcement in the hours following his social media post. Tennis legend Billy Jean King, who has been out since the 1980s, posted on Twitter, writing, “Cheers to @PredsNHL prospect Luke Prokop, who has become the first active player under NHL contract to come out as gay. His bravery will help so many, as he seizes the power of living authentically!” The New York Rangers acknowledged Prokop’s announcement as well.
“The New York Rangers are proud of @lukeprokop_6 and admire his remarkable courage,” the team wrote. “We fully support him and the LGBTQ+ community. #HockeyIsForEveryone”
Prokop will look to become that first out player to play in an NHL game, but for now he is focusing on educating himself about the community.
“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,” Prokop concluded in his announcement. “This is just the beginning of my journey and I am excited to see where it takes me, both in hockey and in life. Thank you!”
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