NHL-Predators' Prokop first player with NHL contract to say he is gay

·2-min read

(Reuters) -Nashville Predators defensive prospect Luke Prokop on Monday became the first active player under contract to a NHL team to come out as gay, and his courage to do so was lauded around the ice hockey world.

The 19-year-old Canadian was selected by Nashville in the third round of last year's NHL Draft and signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Predators in December.

"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. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay," Prokop said in an Instagram post.

"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."

Prokop spent the past four seasons with Calgary of the Western Hockey League. He had two goals and four assists in 15 games in 2020-21.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, Hockey Canada and a number of NHL teams and players took to social media to offer their support for Prokop.

"The hockey community is a better place when everyone can show their authentic selves," the five-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins said on Twitter.

Nashville captain Roman Josi also offered his support.

"We're obviously very proud of him for taking that step," the Swedish defenseman said in a report on the NHL website.

"Our message as a team (is that) we're obviously very supportive of him. We just reached out and told him (we'll help with) whatever he needs and that we're proud of him. It's a big step for him and we fully support him."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will do all it can to make Prokop's experience welcoming while also ensuring other players contemplating following his footsteps know the league is ready to provide full support.

"On behalf of the National Hockey League, we are proud of Luke Prokop for today's announcement and I would like to thank him for sharing his truth and for being so brave," Bettman said in a statement.

"I share his hope that these announcements can become more common in the hockey community. LGBTQ players, coaches, and staff can only perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their full and true selves."

Prokop follows in the footsteps of Carl Nassib, the Las Vegas Raiders' defensive end who last month became the first active NFL player to come out publicly.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)

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