Calgary Hitmen player and NHL prospect Luke Prokop is “no longer scared to hide” who he is and announced on Twitter Monday that he is gay.
“While this year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self,” Prokop said in a statement posted online, accompanied by hearts in the colour of the rainbow.
“Today, I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.”
The defenceman said he’s been on “quite a journey” to get to this point, but that he “could not be happier” in deciding to come out publicly.
“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.”
“Today is kind of the start of almost a new life for me,” Prokop told Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer. “I had to kind of hide who I was, especially with hockey for the past four or five years, and not being able to be who I am now.
“It’s a real relief.”
The Edmonton-born 19-year-old thanked his family, friends and agents for their support through his journey, saying they’ve met him with “love and support every step of the way.”
“I hope that in sharing who I am, I 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.”
Prokop was selected 73rd overall by the Nashville Predators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
“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 in a statement.
“It’s important that Luke feels comfortable and part of an inclusive environment as he moves forward in his career.”
One “big worry” for Prokop was how the hockey world was going to take the news. But he said he got to a point where he didn’t care.
“I have so much support from my friends, family and some of my teammates even, I have that group around me… The negative talk from other people — that obviously is going to be there. I’m not naive. Some people don’t think it’s right, but it’s been really good,” he said.
“And I’m happy. I’m happy with everything that’s going on.”
One of the biggest reasons for coming out, Prokop said, was to be comfortable in his own skin and to inspire kids to be themselves.
“It’s OK to be gay and play sports, OK to be gay and do what you love.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the organization was proud of Prokop for “sharing his truth and being so brave.”
“I share his hope that these announcements can become more popular in the hockey community,” Bettman said.
“LGBTQ players, coaches and staff can only perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their full and true selves. We do not take the meaning and importance of his announcement lightly.”
Bettman said the NHL is committed to doing “everything possible to ensure Luke’s experience is a welcoming and affirmative one” and ensuring any current or future players who wish to follow in Prokop’s “trailblazing footsteps” know the league will fully support them.
In a statement on social media, the Calgary Flames said it was proud to have Prokop as part of the Calgary Sport and Entertainment Company community.
“When people feel empowered to be their authentic self, the world becomes a better place,” the team said.
“Thank you, Luke, for being such an incredible representative for the Calgary Hitmen and our community.”
Last month, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib was the first NFL player to come out as openly gay.