Preds’ prospect coming out good news for Tennessee
HAMILTON, ON – JANUARY 16: Luke Prokop #60 of Team White skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team Red at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020 in Hamilton, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Earlier this week Nashville became home to the National Hockey League’s first active, openly gay player after Predators’ prospect Luke Prokop came out. Prokop posted the personal announcement in an Instagram post on Monday and later did an interview with ESPN—making history for himself, for fellow players and for Music City.
In his post, Prokop said he dreamed of joining the NHL as a young child and thanked his family and agents who he said have known about his sexuality and supported him all the way. Prokop, a defenseman from the Canadian province of Alberta, said in his post that although he is new to the LGBTQ community he looks forward to learning more about queer icons and leaders who came before him, and that this is only the beginning of his journey.
In Monday’s ESPN interview, Prokop, just 19 years old, said part of his coming out was to hopefully improve his play. He said he struggled with being distracted while playing on the ice and felt coming out would ease his mind and help him become a better player.
“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.'”
Prokop told ESPN that one of the first people he spoke to about coming out was Preds assistant general manager Brian Poile. Poile told Prokop he supported him “1,000%” which Prokop said brought tears to his eyes. Both the Preds team leaders and the NHL have posted statements in support of Prokop’s historic announcement, too. In a press release, Predators president and CEO Sean Henry said the team is proud of Prokop for his courage and that they will support him “unequivocally.” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged that coming out could also help Prokop be his best.
“People, unless they can be their authentic true selves, can’t be the best they can be,” NHL Bettman told Prokop over the phone according to an NHL press release. “Anybody who is connected to the NHL… we want everybody to know that whoever you are, you have a place in our family.”
The NHL press release also acknowledged the impact discrimination has on LGBTQ+ youth, mentioning that The Trevor Project is the nation’s leading organization providing crisis information and assistance, free of charge, to at-risk and struggling queer youth. In that press release, the NHL mentioned a critical piece of research from the Trevor Project, which found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide—including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
Prokop’s announcement and those statistics are irrevocably linked in a year when Tennessee became the nation’s leader in passing discriminatory anti-LGBTQ bills. In a previous email statement, the Trevor Project told the Lookout that because of recent legislation, “94% of all LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health.” This year alone, Tennessee has passed bills that ban transgender school children from competing on the correct sports teams, required businesses to post signage if they offer gender neutral bathrooms and severely limited the types of life-saving healthcare trans youth have access to. According to experts, this legislation also will cost the state millions in lost business and conference revenue as companies back out of the state. While Prokop isn’t trans, the NHL statement said they believe his coming out will “make a difference,” and local leaders agree.
“While it often requires courage, coming out can be especially daunting in a state that regularly makes news for discriminatory laws targeting the LGBTQ community,” Tennessee Senator Heidi Campbell told the Lookout on Tuesday. “As a Predators fan, I look forward to cheering him on.”
Nashville LGBT Chamber CEO Joe Woolley also expressed support and excitement for Prokop’s announcement.
“Luke is coming to a team that is going to be fully inclusive and support him as his whole true self,” Woolley says. “This is an exciting opportunity for Nashville and the South to embrace Luke and support him as the great hockey player he is.”
While it often requires courage, coming out can be especially daunting in a state that regular makes news for discriminatory laws targeting the LGBTQ community.
– Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville
In addition, national media organizations like GLAAD celebrated Prokop’s historic moment. In an email statement, the organization said Prokop, who was selected in 2020’s draft and signed a three-year contract with the Predators in December, joins a host of queer atheletes who’ve come out this year.
“This has already been a historic year for out LGBTQ people in sports, including Carl Nassib’s coming out in the NFL, Kumi Yokoyama in soccer, and record representation at the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” Rich Ferraro, GLAAD chief communications officer, said via email. “It sends an unequivocal message of record representation at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It sends an unequivocal message of support and acceptance to LGBTQ youth in every field and arena.”
While it’s exciting to see industry leaders and expert advocates show their support, perhaps even more touching is the support of everyday Preds fans. “Welcome to Smashville!” one commented on a Twitter post asking for reactions to Prokop’s news. Others, like Britt Whidden, said it made them feel more welcome at Bridgestone Area here in downtown Music City.
“I’m going to be more comfortable attending games wearing my pride swag,” Whidden tweeted.
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