Luke Prokop, a prospect for the Nashville Predators, has become the first NHL player to come out as gay.
The 19-year-old, who signed a three-year contract in last year’s NHL draft, made the announcement on Instagram, saying he hoped that living his “authentic life” would help his career.
“While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to fund my true self,” Prokop wrote. “I am no longer scared to hide who I am. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.
“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 continued. “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.”
Thanking his family and friends, who showed “love and support every step of the way,” Prokop said he hoped that by sharing his own journey he can “help other people see that gay people are welcome in the hockey community, as we work to make sure that hockey is truly for everyone.”
“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,” he added. “This is just the beginning of my journey and I am excited to see where it takes me, both in hockey and in life.”
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Speaking to ESPN, Prokop — a defenseman from Edmonton, Alberta — said that coming out was a way to free himself and focus on hockey.
“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 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 said his Predators teammates have supported his decision, including the team’s assistant general manager, Brian Poile, who was the first person on the team that Prokop came out to.
Poile told Prokop that the Predators “are behind me 1,000% and want what’s best for me and that they’re proud of me during this.”
“I remember getting off that phone call and tears just started coming from my eyes, I was so excited,” he continued. “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.”
Roman Josi, captain of the Nashville Predators, told NHL.com that the team is “obviously very proud of him for taking that step.”
“Our message as a team [is that] we’re obviously very supportive of him,” Josi said. “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.”
He added: “Like we’ve always said, Hockey is for Everyone, and I think the organization with the Predators really lives that. The organization, the team, everyone in the front office is going to be fully behind him.”
Sean Henry, president and CEO of the Predators, said the organization was “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.”
“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,” Henry added.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that he called Prokop after he came out publicly and “told him that what he was doing was courageous and that I believed that it was important for him to have the support of the NHL family, which he will have. And if he has any issues and problems, he has my cell phone number and he should feel free to call me.”
“People, unless they can be their authentic true selves, can’t be the best they can be,” Bettman told NHL.com. “Anybody who is connected to the NHL, whether it’s front office, whether it’s coaching and player development, whether it’s players, we want everybody to know that whoever you are, you have a place in our family.”
Prokop will debut as a player with the Predators in October, when the NHL season is officially slated to start.
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