It takes a lot of courage to come out as a gay man in a predominantly white sport, where the majority of the owners and management are Republicans, at that. But that’s exactly what professional hockey player Luke Prokop did, when he announced his sexuality to his friends, family, peers and the world in a July 19, 2021, Instagram post. While coming out can be a difficult experience for many, especially professional athletes, the 20-year-old says that “it’s been nothing but a positive experience”, for him.
Prokop, the first player under contract with a team in the National Hockey League, has garnered a lot of support from his teammates and other players on opposing teams. The Canadian describes life after coming out as a “whirlwind” but “amazing” at the same time.
“It’s been a whirlwind… It seems like it was a long time ago, but it’s been nothing but a positive experience for me. It’s been really amazing the way my teammates have been with me, even opponents. Some would come up to me during warmup and congratulate me.
[The 2021-22 season was] by far the most fun year of hockey I’ve ever had.”
Since Prokop has chosen to walk in his truth, he has won a league championship (Western Hockey League), has received two humanitarian awards and have been recognized within the LGBTQ+ community as an inspiration. He contributes “the feeling of freedom”, to allowing him to perform at a top tier level, both professionally and personally.
“I think my confidence just kind of went through the roof after my coming out…
And it’s been really great to see my performance on the ice grow in a positive direction and be a lot more consistent than it had been in the past.”
Prokop’s story should be used an not only inspiration but as an example as well. That professional sports teams that consist of typically heterosexual male athletes (at least from what we know), won’t “suffer” if there is an openly gay member on their team.
Prokop’s performance has debunked a lot of those myths and assumptions. But also, his peers rallying around him and showing him support and acceptance shows that we have a long way to go, but there has been some major progress made. One of Prokop’s teammates, Oil Kings forward Josh Williams advocated for the openly gay, talented hockey player:
“Luke inspired a lot of guys on the team, seeing how vulnerable he was at the start to seeing him be his true self. To see him do that, it’s super brave. In the room, we treated him like any other player: He’s part of our family, he’s one of our brothers.”
Another teammate, Jalen Luypen stated that:
“We changed our mentality as a group and protected Luke at all costs. We just kind of fell in love with him. He’s just a great dude. We knew if anything was said to Luke, we’d do anything for him.”
Luke has been honored for his work and bringing awareness for inclusivity in hockey and across sports in general. He also created a program that will donate $10 for each goal shot that he makes, which will be donated to Kids Help Phone — an organization that provides support and resources for the LGBTQ+ youth.
“I was getting messages from people in Australia, Sweden, all over across Europe…
It was awesome to see that my message and my story was getting out that far because my goal was, obviously, to help be who I was, but to have a little impact for kids out there who were like me growing up, not really knowing much about their sexuality, questioning it, stuff like that…
It was a little bit overwhelming to start, but I kind of got used to it. It’s been really awesome just hearing other people’s stories.”
From helping other professionals in sports to come out, like sports broadcaster Jason Shayna who was moved by Prokop’s story — to wanting to be a role model for kids that may be able to relate to him. There’s no “puck out” on Prokop’s journey here. His determination and grit is clear, both on and off court.
*All images sourced from Luke Prokop’s Instagram account*