The past couple of weeks haven’t exactly been smooth sailing for Nashville Predators fans. We’ve seen two fan-favorites, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis, unceremoniously traded, an expansion list that’s set the comments section ablaze, and—oh yeah—the best player in franchise history just retired.
That’s what makes today’s news from Predators prospect Luke Prokop such a feel-good moment.
July 19, 2021
Luke Prokop had wondered how this call with the Predators would go ever since they drafted him. He was ecstatic after having it. It was the next step in a process he began last year.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 19, 2021
Telling people he’s gay.
Now he’s telling everyone.
Here’s his story:https://t.co/aLH45w9uso
Prokop becomes the first active player under NHL contract to come out as gay. Per ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, no player who has appeared in the NHL—past or present—has done so.
In an interview with Kaplan, Prokop said he made the decision to come out in April, and began telling family and teammates over the next few months. He said he came out to Predators Assistant GM Brian Poile in June.
“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.”
After Prokop’s announcement, a flood of support flowed in from all corners of the hockey community, including messages from the Predators, the NHL, fans, and some of Prokop’s future NHL teammates.
All of SMASHVILLE is behind you, Luke.— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) July 19, 2021
President/CEO Sean Henry and President of Hockey Operations/GM David Poile's statements ⤵️
>> https://t.co/CWSxaNoDz5 pic.twitter.com/1IJBv6enSe
Statement from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Luke Prokop’s (@lukeprokop_6) decision to publicly come out as gay: pic.twitter.com/4S7rWI872W— NHL (@NHL) July 19, 2021
Roman Josi: "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."https://t.co/XUh0bFexR9— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) July 19, 2021
Luke you are so brave & inspiring! You’ve changed the game forever. I don’t know you yet but I’m so happy & damn proud of you— Chris Mason (@cmace30) July 19, 2021
Loved the @TheAthletic article about your journey, how supportive family & teammates were. Also the support from @baynep, @brock_mcgillis, @PredsNHL https://t.co/co7rZiilLD
A statement from Admirals Owner/CEO Harris Turer & President @JonAdmirals. #HockeyisforEveryone #IfYouCanPlayYouCanPlay https://t.co/N0maz7VRDW pic.twitter.com/2KvZ9PZBsh— Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) July 19, 2021
You are welcome in Nashville just as you are. Can’t wait to see you in gold! https://t.co/UPeu1Ioa1H— AnnK_ (@AnnK_MamaOnIce) July 19, 2021
While we’ve come a long way as a society, it still takes a tremendous amount of courage to do what Prokop did. Men’s sports, unfortunately, have been riddled with culture issues, even as recently as last year’s discussion over the pride tape players use to support the LGBTQ+ community on “Hockey Is For Everyone” nights. The fact that so many fear backlash over being open and honest about their authentic selves speaks to the work we still have left in front of us as a sports community.
But the support we’ve seen for Prokop today is hopefully a step in the right direction.
The end goal is that down the road, things like this won’t be a news story. Athletes will hopefully be able to be open about their personal lives without the extra spotlight thrust upon them. They’ll be able to compete without the label of “the first gay player” in their league.
It just takes athletes like Prokop to take that first step.
You can read Prokop’s full interview with The Athletic here, and his interview with ESPN here.