Luke Prokop made history when he publicly came out as gay, becoming the first out, active hockey player signed to an NHL contract.
Since then, the 21-year-old defenseman has experienced nothing but success: two championships in two years. He won his first title with his hometown Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League; and this season, he took home the trophy as part of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Could his next stop be the NHL?
In a recent interview with the Tennessean, Prokop knows his lifelong dream is within his grasp. “You’re so close to your dream of playing in the National Hockey League,” he said.
The story’s author, Paul Skrbina, writes “plenty of spots” could be available with the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted Prokop and retains his rights (Prokop, like most NHL prospects, has spent the early portion of his career playing in the minor leagues).
Even if Prokop doesn’t ascend to the NHL next season, he seems primed for a promotion to the American Hockey League, which is right below the NHL.
Prokop says he’s felt at home with the Predators since the day he was drafted. He came out in June 2021, shortly after they selected him in the third round.
Immediately, he fielded calls from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and music legend Elton John.
“The phone call I had with [the Predators] was the last little bit of confidence I needed,” he said. “I knew they believed in me 100% and thought it was the right thing to do.”
When Prokop came out, he wrote on Instagram he believes living his “authentic life” will help his NHL chances. In a new cover story for the Canadian publication Glory Sports, Prokop says remaining closeted was never an option for him, regardless of what it meant for his hockey career.
“I was entirely okay with not playing anymore and just being who I wanted to be, because I found love from my family and friends,” he said. “There was anxiety, for sure. But at the end of the day, I had to be true to myself.”
A year ago today I took a leap of faith and came out to the world. I was astonished by the amount of support and positivity I received from the world. It’s been one hell of a year with a ton of amazing memories, looking forward to living like this for the rest of my life. ?????? pic.twitter.com/P86xREw6dp
— luke prokop (@lukeprokop_6) July 20, 2022
That was definitely the case last season. When multiple NHL players refused to wear Pride jerseys, Prokop didn’t stay silent, which is typically expected of young prospects. Instead, he issued a statement, calling the Pride snubs “disheartening.”
“I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL,” he posted on social media. “Pride nights and pride night jerseys play in important role in promoting respect and inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community, and it’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or fully embracing their significance.
“Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs but I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it.”
Connor McDavid and Steven Stamkos say they disagree with the league’s decision to ban speciality jerseys.
He told Glory Sports he stands by his comments.
“To be honest, it was disappointing to see,” he said. “Look, I’m never going to tell someone to ignore their religious or personal beliefs. Never. But from my experience, it wasn’t just about [the jerseys].”
Prokop went on to say that celebrating Pride is about fostering an inclusive environment. Anti-gay slurs are still thrown around locker rooms, a phenomenon that’s known as “casual homophobia.”
The slurs are so engrained in sports culture, athletes throw them around without thinking about their meaning.
“I think in locker rooms, slurs are kind of just used as word fillers,” he told the Tennessean.
While the season is over, Prokop is still visible. A couple of weeks ago, he participated in his first Pride festival.
“I can’t wait,” he told Glory Sports on his way to Toronto.
— Cait Mac ???? (@Cmac8) June 26, 2023
Despite the NHL’s issues with Pride nights, the Predators remain steadfast supporters of the LGBTQ+ community, a gesture that Prokop appreciates.
“They have almost every excuse to not do the Pride stuff. Being in Tennessee, it’s more of a conservative state,” he said. “So they might kind of be going against most people’s opinions. They have every right to not do the [Pride] nights, but they do it anyway. They want to show the game is for everyone.”
With the NHL in his sights, Prokop is showing hockey is for everyone, too. We can’t wait to root him on when training camps open this fall.
The Minnesota Wild defenseman is one of the league’s most outspoken advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusion.