Hockey needs to become a sport everyone can feel welcome in, and Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop doesn’t plan to let anyone stand in his way of turning that goal into a reality.
Prokop, the first openly gay player under an NHL contract, has been a trailblazer in the hockey community and an important role model to many across the sport. But while the 20-year-old has made several positive strides in making the game more inclusive, he is disappointed about the lack of progress at the highest level of competition.
The 6-foot-6 defenseman expressed those feelings in a statement Monday night, describing a recent trend of teams and players opting out of Pride festivities as "a step back for inclusion in the NHL."
"Pride nights and Pride jerseys play an important role in promoting and respecting inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community and it's disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or embracing their significance, while the focus of others has become about the players who aren't participating rather than the meaning of the night itself," Prokop wrote.
Prokop shared these comments just days after San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer refused to wear a Pride-themed jersey during pregame warmups, citing that his religious beliefs would not allow for it. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov took a similar stance earlier this season during the franchise’s Pride-awareness night.
The New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild recently scrapped their respective on-ice celebrations after multiple players from each team declined to wear Pride jerseys and wrap their sticks with rainbow-colored tape during warmups.
Learning about those announcements was disheartening for Prokop. What is worse, however, is how much attention they have dragged away from the importance of making everyone around hockey feel welcomed.
"Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs and I think it's important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it," Prokop continued. "Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey, and I strongly believe that by prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we can create an environment where every player feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the game. As someone who aspires to play on an NHL team one day, I would want to enter the locker room knowing I can share all parts of my identity with my teammates.
"While there's still progress to be made before hockey is for everyone, I'm optimistic about the change we can achieve and am committed to being a part of it."
After coming out as gay in July 2021, Prokop received waves of support via social media from those throughout the hockey world, prompting the NHL to donate $100,000 to a small group of LGBTQIA+ organizations.
Prokop, who is currently chasing his dream to play in the NHL, hopes his efforts can help those in need and create a healthy environment in hockey for everyone.
The Edmonton native has logged 48 games across two levels this season, 40 in the WHL and eight in the ECHL. He owns four goals and 19 points with the Seattle Thunderbirds and one goal with the Norfolk Admirals.