'I could be free and go play hockey': NHL prospect Luke Prokop tells his coming out story

LGBTQ+ athletes on how they came out to themselves (2:53)

Out sports stars from across the globe detail their experiences of coming out to themselves. (2:53)

Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop [he/him], 19, came out publicly as gay in 2021 and is the only active out player signed to an NHL contract. The Canadian defenseman, who was selected by the Predators in the 2020 NHL entry draft, is currently on the roster with the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League.

What was the 'coming out to myself' process like for you?

It was a tough one, you know. There was a lot of questioning going on and not knowing who I truly was. It took a lot of time. Seeing the growth that we're making in the world and the steps we're taking made it a little more comfortable for me. I just took a big leap of faith and had some confidence in myself. I came out to myself and then finally came out to my friends and family. It was tough hiding it. Being in hockey as well, the locker room talk is very prevalent and something that I didn't want to talk about. I kind of hid myself from that topic of conversation. Going through those four or five years were tough for me.

Did you have a specific reason for coming out to the media/public, rather than keeping your private life private?

It was more just me being able to be who I am, especially on the ice. That was a big thing for me. I could go out on the ice and focus on hockey, not focus on other questions -- going out of my mind about who might know and who doesn't and what others' opinions are of me. That was one of the big things for me and one of the reasons I wanted to get it off my chest so I could kind of just be free and go and play hockey.

READ: 17 LGBTQ+ athletes share their coming out journeys

Has coming out impacted your career and opportunities at all?

It's been only a short little while since I've come out, but I've never felt better on the ice. That could just be from training, but I also think it has a little bit to do with my announcement and me just going onto the ice and being able to be myself and really show my potential as an NHL prospect.

What is the most rewarding, and perhaps unexpected, part of being out?

Probably all of the messages that I've gotten on social media. I didn't expect to get that many. I knew it would be a big announcement, but I didn't expect it to be that huge. Seeing all the positive support I've got over social media and seeing it reach globally. I would get messages from Sweden and Australia and Germany. Seeing how big my story got and how many people it impacted was probably the most rewarding part.

What would your advice be to folks who are struggling with their identity?

For me, it was just coming to terms with accepting myself -- and I believe that once you kind of start that process with yourself, and you're ok with who you are, then you can start coming out to your friends and family. Having that 'I don't care what people think anymore' attitude is also something that I had in me when I was coming out to my friends and family, so that would be my advice.

When debating coming out in your mind, what were your worst - and best - case scenarios? And did either come to pass?

Not being accepted -- not as much in the hockey world, but more with my friends and family. Hockey is only a game that I'll only play for so long, but I'll have my friends and family for a lifetime, so if they didn't accept me, that was probably my biggest fear. My friends and my family were amazing and the positive support I've gotten from the hockey community and globally has been amazing as well.

Did you ever feel any pressure, either internally or from speculating fans, to be a role model or an ambassador for the queer community? And is that something you embrace now?

Not really... it's just kind of being who I am. I like to say my personality is very giving and I'm like that in a certain way. If someone messages me on social media, I'm very quick to respond to them with whatever it is -- whether it's a question or they just need to talk to me. I've been through coming out as well, so if people have questions, I'd like to help them do it as well.