Luke Prokop, Nashville Predators prospect, is already making history as the young defenseman publicly came out as gay on Monday, becoming the first player under NHL contract to do so.
“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,” he posted on Twitter. “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.”
The Predators selected Prokop in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft. Last season, he played for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, where he was an alternate captain.
In an interview with ESPN, Prokop said he decided to publicly come out in April after his season had been shortened by Covid-19.
“I was lying in bed one night, had just deleted a dating app for the fourth or fifth time, and I was extremely frustrated because I couldn’t be my true authentic self,” he said. “In that moment I said, ‘Enough is enough. I’m accepting who I am. I want to live the way I want to, and I want to accept myself as a gay man.’”
Prokop added he believes being closeted also negatively impacted his play on his ice.
Prokop, 19, says he started coming out to friends and family in spring 2020, and told Predators management this past June. He also consulted with NHL player agent Bayne Pettinger, who publicly came out last year.
Every member of Predators management said they support Prokop unequivocally. Before the season, he also told three of his Calgary teammates, The Athletic reports.
“When I think about the feeling of being free, that was the closest I think I’ve been to it so far,” Prokop told The Athletic.
Predators general manager David Poile praised Prokop, calling him a “very brave young man.”
Minutes after the announcement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement of support.
“On behalf of the National Hockey League, we are proud of Luke Prokop for today’s announcement and I would like to thank him for sharing his truth and being so brave,” Bettman said.
The NHL has a history of LGBTQ support, including a longstanding partnership with You Can Play, which was manifested following the death of Brandon Burke, the son of legendary executive Brian Burke.
Back in 2018, every NHL team hosted a Pride or Inclusion night.
Still, that doesn’t mean anti-LGBTQ language isn’t regularly thrown around in hockey locker rooms. Prokop told the Athletic he hopes his coming out spurs change.
“It was definitely difficult, I was guilty of it sometimes, too,” he said. “But I’ve grown out of that in a sense and had the attitude of ‘I’m going to come out regardless of the way people around me talk.’ But there’s going to be a reason why I don’t necessarily associate with you anymore. I believe hockey has a long way to go still in that sense. There’s some change to be made. And hopefully I can start some of it.’’
Prokop is the second active athlete in major American male team sports to come out within the last month. Las Vegas Raiders lineman Carl Nassib came out in June, becoming the first active NFL player to ever announce he’s gay.