Nashville Predators defenseman Luke Prokop has become the first active player under NHL contract to announce he is gay.
The 19-year-old made the announcement in a statement posted to social media.
“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.”
Prokop has yet to play for the Predators but signed a three-year entry-level contract in December after the team selected him in the third-round of the 2020 NHL draft. He played for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League last season.
He said he had told three of his teammates at the Hitmen and had been cheered by their support.
“They’ve been really great,” he told The Athletic. “The part of me coming out is that I’m just one of the guys. Who I love and who I go home with that night, that’s private and it shouldn’t matter anymore. I’m just there to play hockey, I’m there to win a championship.”
The Predators said they were proud of Prokop in a statement posted to Twitter. “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,” said the team.
Meanwhile the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, thanked Prokop for his announcement. “I share his hope that these announcements can become more common in the hockey community,” said Bettman in a statement. “LGBTQ, players, coaches and staff can only perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their true and full selves.”
Prokop told ESPN he hoped the decision to come out would help his hockey career.
“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.’”
In June, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest,” he said at the time. “I really have the best life, I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.”
Prokop said he had made the decision to come out before Nassib’s announcement but had been encouraged by the positive reaction the NFL player had experienced from fans and teammates.