By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
For the first time in NHL history, an active player with an NHL contract has come out as gay. Prokop did so today, publicly on Instagram.
“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.”
The 6 foot 4 inch right handed defenseman was selected by the Predators in the third round of the NHL draft and signed a three year entry level contract. He played last season for the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League and is anticipating playing this season for the Predators. In an interview with ESPN, he opened about struggling the last season with keeping in the closet and felt that coming out would help reduce anxiety and allow him to focus on his game.
Prokop made the decision to come out last April at the end of his season due to the pandemic.
“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,” Prokop told ESPN. “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.'”
For Prokop, the coming out process started with family members, friends, and teammates, before he approached the Predators management in June. He shared that the Predators have been very supportive of him, especially assistant manager, Brian Poile.
“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.”
For their part, the Predators publicly expressed their support for Prokop as well, releasing a statement of support from the team.
“The Nashville Predators organization is proud of Luke for the courage he is displaying in coming out today and we will support him unequivocally in the days, weeks, and years to come as he continues to develop as a prospect,” Predators’ president and CEO Sean Henry said. “A long-stated goal in our organization is equality for all, including the LGBTQ community, and it is important that Luke feels comfortable and part of an inclusive environment as he moves forward in his career.”
Predators’ captain, Roman Josi also shared his support in an interview with NHL.com
“Our message as a team [is that] we’re obviously very supportive of him. We just reached out and told him [we’ll help with] whatever he needs and that we’re proud of him. It’s a big step for him, and we fully support him.”
Prokop’s coming out on the heels of Carl Nassib’s announcement in June, although Prokop specify his decision to came out was independent from Nassib’s, although he did find Nassib’s words and reaction to be inspiring. So far Prokob has received an outpouring of support from teammates, NHL players and the organization itself as well as the greater hockey community. With that burden off his back, Prokop is looking forward to getting back to the game.
“I’m going to lace up my skates the same. I’m going to put my jersey on the same, strap up my helmet, put on my gloves,” Prokop said. “But I’m finally going to be able to breathe and exhale and show the world the real me. And I’m so excited to see where that can take me, not only as a hockey player but as a person as well.”
Photo Credit: Luke Prokop (Source:Instagram / @lukeprokop_)