Luke Prokop, a Nashville Predators draft pick and Alberta native, announced Monday that he was “proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.”

Prokop becomes the first active player under NHL contract to come out as gay.

“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 of fulfilling my dreams,” he said in a Twitter post.

Prokop, 19, has spent the past four seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League after growing up in Edmonton. The six-foot-five defenceman was drafted in the third round by the Nashville Predators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and signed a pro contract with the franchise in December.

The Predators praised Prokop’s courage on Monday and said they will “support him unequivocally in the days, weeks, and years to come as he continues to develop as a prospect.” Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate the Milwaukee Admirals, where Prokop could end up starting his pro career, did so as well.

The NHL thanked Prokop for “sharing his truth and being so brave.”

“I shared his hope that these announcements can become more common in the hockey community,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “LGBTQ players, coaches and staff can only perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their full and true selves. We do not take the meaning and importance of this announcement lightly.”

Prokop’s announcement was co-ordinated with an article published on The Athletic’s website about his difficult decision.

While both gay male and female athletes have wrestled with difficult decisions over the years, men’s professional sports leagues have generally been void of active, open gay players.

Earlier this summer, Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders became the first active NFL player to announce he was gay, with the team’s full support. Several NFL players have revealed they were gay after their playing careers were over, while Michael Sam did so in his draft year, playing in the 2014 preseason with the Los Angeles Rams before being cut.

Professional boxer Orlando Cruz, Robbie Rogers of Major League Soccer and Jason Collins in the NBA broke barriers between 2012 and 2014 in their sports by announcing they were gay.

The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball have yet to see active players who were able to be open about their orientation. Billy Bean, who is gay, wrote in a 2003 book about the challenges of trying to navigate an MLB career in the 1980s and 1990s while keeping his sexuality a secret.

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