The two words that have been synonymous with Luke Prokop over the past 24 hours simply cannot be overstated: courage and strength. On Monday, he took to social media to celebrate his journey to becoming his authentic self, and in a note to fans, he wrote he was proud to publicly tell everyone he is gay. Prokop is the first player under contract with an NHL team to openly be part of the LGBTQ community.
The 19-year-old Edmonton native grew up wanting to be a defenseman in the National Hockey League. In 2017, Prokop was drafted seventh overall by the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL Bantam Draft, and since the 2017-18 season, he has 41 points in 150 games played. Growing up, he idolized Nashville Predators’ defenseman Shea Weber, and after watching him play in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Prokop — by proxy — became a Predators fan. He hopes to mold his game and career after Weber, who recently appeared in the Stanley Cup Final.
Nashville Dreamin’ on Such an Autumn’s Day
In October 2020, Prokop experienced a “pinch-me moment” when the Predators selected him in the third round of the draft with their 73rd pick. After the selection, Prokop stated, “I am on cloud nine right now, going to my favourite team in Nashville, no words.” At the time he was still a member of the Calgary Hitmen Hockey Club, where he was a top-four player on their blue line.
A couple of months later, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with his favorite club. On the outside, everything was falling into place for the 6-foot-4 prospect. He signed his first NHL contract and made his childhood dreams a reality. He would be reporting to training camp to fight for a spot on the Predators’ roster, and the whole world seemed to be at his feet. There was only one problem – Prokop has been hiding part of himself from not only the Predators, but those close to him as well.
Taking Control of His Narrative
The young player knew his true self, but chose to hide it from the world. During the pandemic, he returned home to Edmonton and decided it was time to live his life freely as his authentic self. The first person he told was his sister, Alanna. As he began to share his news with those closest to him he was presented with overwhelming compassion. It was not until June he discussed the personal side of his life with the Predators’ organization.
After a discussion with the defenseman, Predators’ general manager David Poile said, “Luke is a valued prospect of the Nashville Predators and we think he has a bright future. We want Luke to become a successful hockey player, and we understand his ability to be out comfortably will help him achieve his goals on and off the ice. We are committed to ensuring nothing stands in the way of his ability. His courage is an inspiration to us, and to the LGBTQ community in Nashville.”
Support from Around the League
Captain Roman Josi also had an opportunity to chat with Prokop prior to the news becoming public. He confirmed that the team is proud of him and will be there for him in whatever capacity the young defenseman needs. It is worth noting that Prokop has not attended a training camp with the Predators and has not been in the locker room with the players that he stood in front of and announced he is a gay man. If that does not take courage I am honestly not sure what does.
Twitter can be an extremely toxic corner of the internet, but not on July 19, 2021. The hockey community flooded the social media platform with nothing but love and support for the Predators’ prospect. Players ranging from John Tavares to Cam Atkinson wrote words of encouragement and praised Prokop for his bravery. Team accounts, fans and media types filled hockey Twitter with positivity and for once it wasn’t the toxic place we all know so well.
A Historical Day for the NHL
Monday was a monumental day for not only Prokop, but the league as well. A 19-year-old prospect who has yet to lace up for his first career NHL game became the first player to come out to the league. The defenseman has yet to put on a gold Predators’ jersey, but already earned the respect of every guy in that locker room. He is beginning his hockey career with an overwhelming feeling of freedom for the first time in his young life.
“If I can inspire or help make a difference to one person, then I’ve done my job in wanting to create change and to create an environment where it’s healthy for players to come out now. … I’m just trying to show that I want there to be a healthy environment. So that if other players do want to come out, they can be their true, authentic selves.’’ (from ‘This is who I am’: Predators prospect Luke Prokop comes out, The Athletic, 07/19/21)
If you’re reading this, you know the burden of carrying a secret. The unavoidable weight of keeping part of yourself hidden from the world and putting on a facade when at work or with family. Prokop made the decision to take control of his narrative and simultaneously paved the way for other players. Most of you may not have known who Luke Prokop was last week, but let’s not have his sexuality take away from who he is. The 19-year-old is a teammate, son, leader and above all else he is a hockey player. Everyone here at The Hockey Writers applauses Luke’s bravery and looks forward to witnessing his continued journey.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.