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Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop has become the first active player on an NHL contract to come out publicly as gay.
Prokop, 19, spoke with The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun and made a concurrent announcement on his Twitter page that included a sequence of rainbow hearts.
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The 193cm, 98 kg defenceman was drafted in October in the third round of the 2020 draft at No. 73 overall and signed a three-year, entry-level contract in December.
He played the 2020-21 season with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, where he was an alternate captain.
Prokop released a statement on his Twitter page saying he was "proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay."
"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," he wrote.
"Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.
"It has been quite the journey to get to this point in my life, but I could not be happier with my decision to come out.
"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."
Prokop earned widespread support from the hockey community after his announcement, including from the NHL itself, the Predators, as well as the Calgary Hitmen and WHL.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement saying the league is proud of Prokop and will do "everything possible" to make his experience welcoming and affirmative.
"We do not take the meaning and importance of this announcement lightly," Bettman said in the statement.
Fans responded positively to the announcement, with even Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau thanking Prokop for his honesty.
Prokov comes out, inspired by desire to be a leader
The announcement received praise from around social media and the hockey world, though the real test will be if the support continues past a statement.
Hockey, from youth levels to the professional leagues, has trailed behind other mainstream sports when it comes to inclusivity.
Prokop told ESPN's Emily Kaplan he decided to come out publicly after struggling last season because he thought it would ease his mind to play elite-level hockey.
When the hockey season ended early in April because of COVID-19, he returned to Edmonton and began telling people he was gay, beginning with his older sister, Alanna, his mother, Nicole. He then told his father and brother, all of whom were supportive.
Eventually he began telling close friends that included WHL players and teammates. In June he told his agents, who told him he could either keep it private or come out publicly and be a leader.
He told Predators management around the same time, beginning with an incredibly supportive Brian Poile, the team's assistant general manager.
"He in that moment showed me a lot of support and told me the Predators are behind me 1,000% and want what's best for me and that they're proud of me during this," Prokop told ESPN.
"I remember getting off that phone call and tears just started coming from my eyes, I was so excited. And in that moment, I thought, this is what it's going to feel like for the rest of my life.
"For them to show that support that they did in that moment, it felt like I can rule the world."
There has never been an openly gay player in the NHL and Prokop could be the first when he makes an NHL start in the coming years.
Prokop's announcement comes on the heels of Carl Nassib, who became the first active NFL player to come out publicly as gay when he announced it in June.
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