In a message publicly announcing his “true self” on July 19, Luke Prokop became the first player under a National Hockey League contract to come out as gay.
“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,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter. The announcement was celebrated by players and teams across the hockey world, government leaders and others.
|Calgary Hitmen defenceman and Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop became the first player under an NHL contract to come out as gay when he made the announcement on July 19. (Photo courtesy of Luke Prokop/ Twitter)|
It also came about a month after Prokop spoke with Oak Bay native and NHL player agent, Bayne Pettinger. Prokop saw the support Pettinger got – from players like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and more – when he came out last November. He told the agent that made his decision easier.
“I think it’s fantastic for the game and just breaks down another barrier of inclusivity,” Pettinger told Black Press Media.
Pettinger explained to Prokop, a 19-year-old Nashville Predators prospect from Edmonton, that after he shares his truth he’d likely face a media storm, that people would want to paint him as a poster boy and he may even feel some emotions or trauma he didn’t realize were there.
“I’m excited to see what Luke does now that he’s shed this, now that he can walk into the rink and not have to worry about who knows and who doesn’t, like I did for years.”
It’s one step closer to stories like Prokop’s not being news anymore, Pettinger said. For now though, he said some people will try to tear Prokop down, they might ask why this matters and he may face not being accepted in certain corners of the hockey community.
“Sports and hockey, especially, are still behind,” Pettinger said. “It’s because hockey has a ways to go in terms of acceptance and diversity. This helps.”
It took tremendous courage to do what Prokop did, he added. As a prospect, no pro spot is guaranteed for the Calgary Hitmen defenceman.
“At the end of the day, Luke still wants to be a professional hockey player and who your partner is shouldn’t have an effect on that,” Pettinger said. “I hope one day it’s not Luke Prokop, the gay hockey player, it’s Luke Prokop, the great hockey player.”
— luke prokop (@lukeprokop_6) July 19, 2021
Prokop told Pettinger he’d like to join the agent and help do education campaigns for youth. That shows tremendous maturity for a 19-year-old, Pettinger said. Not only has he decided to carry the weight of being the first openly gay active player, he’s already thinking beyond himself by wanting to help others struggling through the same situation he was in.
The agent doesn’t know what the eventual impact of the Monday-morning Twitter post will be, but for anyone who thought they couldn’t be gay and play pro hockey, a barrier has been broken.
“It is going to be a talking point for maybe his entire career, but someone has to do it first,” Pettinger said. “There could be a minor hockey player in Victoria who’s gay and said, ‘Well I can’t play pro sports, there’s not a professional hockey player who’s gay,’ well now there is.”
But for Prokop, Pettinger said “it was just 19 years of building up to speak his truth and that’s really all it is. It’s him being honest with himself and those around him and there’s something so pure about that.”
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