Luke Prokop made hockey history on Monday without stepping on the ice.
The 19-year-old Nashville Predators prospect and Calgary Hitmen defenseman announced on social media that he is gay, becoming the first active openly gay hockey player under an NHL contract.
"Hi everyone. While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self. I am no longer scared to hide who I am. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay," Prokop wrote in an Instagram post on Monday.
Prokop, a 6-foot-4 blueliner from Edmonton, Alta., was drafted by Nashville in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, and signed his three-year entry-level contract back in December while playing in the shortened WHL season. He slowly started to have conversations with friends, family, and teammates over the last few months, before making it public.
"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.'"
Hockey world reaches out in support
With that weight lifted off his shoulders, he received support from around the hockey world and from the organization that drafted him a year ago.
"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."
“Our message as a team [is that] we're obviously very supportive of him,” Predators captain Roman 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…I'm not trying to speak for him, but he just wants to be one of the guys. Like every other teammate. It's obviously big news, but I think for us and for him, then he's going to come to camp and he's going to be one of our teammates like everyone else."
One member of the Predators who has been active in supporting the LGBTQ+ community during his time in Nashville and with the Ottawa Senators is defenseman Mark Borowiecki.
“I wanted to make sure that he knew that I'm available as a resource,” Borowiecki said, “and most importantly as a friend. LGBTQ equality and inclusion, especially in sport, is something my wife and I are really passionate about.
"To see the bravery and courage that it takes for Luke, a young man who's not an established player in this league, to come out and be so open and honest, I think it's just incredible and honestly very, very impressive."
From around the hockey universe, messages of support and adoration came from players, teams, and personalities.
This fall, Prokop will be attending his first professional training camp with the Predators.
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