Outsports Names Out Hockey Player Luke Prokop 'Hero of the Year'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday December 28, 2021

LGBTQ+ sports site Outsports has named Luke Prokop, a 19-year-old Canadian hockey player under contract with the Nashville Predators, as its Male Hero of the Year.

"As the first active player under NHL contract to come out, Prokop is a standard-bearer and role model for gay hockey players everywhere," Outsports wrote of the selection. "We've written extensively about hockey's atavistic culture, fueled in part by the lack of diversity at elite youth levels."

Indeed, Prokop being on the cusp of — but not quite yet — "in the pros" was one factor in his favor, the sports site noted.

Prokop "publicly came out as gay before his first training camp with the Nashville Predators, unafraid of the impact it could have on his playing career," the site detailed.

The Associated Press covered the story of Prokop's coming out on social media last July.

"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 for fulfilling my dreams," the teenaged draft pick said in his post.

Pointing out that "No active NHL player has come out as gay," the AP reported that "Prokop said he hopes his example shows that gay people are welcome in the hockey community."

Referencing "the toll that being closeted can take on your mental health," the site called it "especially poignant to hear Prokop talk about how coming out improved his performance on the ice.

"For the first time, he could put on his skates without also carrying a secret."

Also bouying the young athlete: The "unequivocal" acceptance and support of his teammates and the Nashville Predators organization as a whole.

"One of the more telling reactions came from Predators defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who said he wasn't sure there was space for an out LGBTQ athlete in the NHL while he was growing up," Outsports reported. "Borowiecki was glad to be proven wrong."

The site also recalled another supporter who made it a point to let the young athlete know he stood with him in solidarity; as previously reported at EDGE, none other than Sir Elton John made a transatlantic phone call to Prokop the day after he came out.

"I was like, 'Hold on, wait a second, is this for real?'" NHL.com quoted Prokop as saying as he recounted the surprise conversation.

Another call of support came from "Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose son Brendan came out in 2009 before his 2010 death in a car accident," NHL.com noted. There was also "a text message from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews that was so stunning to Prokop that he dropped his phone."

"The warm reception Prokop received wasn't surprising to us, since LGBTQ athletes report deep and widespread acceptance from their teammates," Outsports said.

Other honorees Outsports named were out British diver Tom Daley, who took the gold at last summer's Tokyo Olympics (and enchanted the world with his knitting skills) and Josh Cavallo, a top-flight Australian soccer star who came out in October — the only active Premier League soccer player in the world so far to have done so.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.