Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop is set to become the first openly gay man to play in America's National Hockey League. Reaction from the league, the players' union and beyond has been supportive.
Openly gay defenseman Luke Prokop could play his first NHL game as soon as October.
Prokop, who has signed an entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators, spent his last four seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the top-tier junior Western Hockey League. He announced his decision to come out via Twitter.
"It has been quite the journey to get to this point in my life, but I cannot be happier with my decision to come out,'' he said in the message posted on Monday.
"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."
No active National Hockey League (NHL) player has ever come out as gay, and Prokop said he hoped his example would show that gay people are welcome in the hockey community.
"I am no longer scared to hide who I am,'' Prokop said. "I may be new to the community but I'm eager to learn about the strong and resilient people who came before me and pave the way so I could be more comfortable today.''
Reaction to the 19-year-old Canadian's decision has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I share his hope that these announcements can become more common in the hockey community,'' said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement.
"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 this announcement lightly."
The Predators, who drafted Prokop in the third round of last year's NHL Entry Draft, said in a statement the club 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.''
Don Fehr, executive director of the NHL players' union, the NHLPA, said, "We know the NHL hockey community will support Luke as he strives toward his goal of playing in the NHL, and we applaud the example he is setting for those in the game of hockey and beyond.''
Prokop's move comes on the heels of Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib becoming the first active NFL player to come out in June.
Prokop's announcement also resonated beyond the world of hockey.
"His bravery will help so many, as he seizes the power of living authentically,'' said tennis legend Billie Jean King in a tweet.
pfd/mf (AP, Reuters)