The National Hockey League (NHL) has been practically gushing over Nashville Predators draft Luke Prokop announcing to the world on social media that he is gay. Edmonton-born Prokop, who played last season for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, came out 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 wrote. "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."
Prokop's post garnered international media attention and a significant number of social media comments offering encouragement and support. The NHL also announced a $100,000 donation to national LGBTQ+ organizations selected in coordination with Luke Prokop, including The Trevor Project and You Can Play.
The Pride Tape project was created five years ago by Jeff McLean and Dean Petruk and may have been the beginning of cracking open the locker room door of a hyper-masculine sport. NHL players started wrapping their hockey sticks in the colourful rainbow tape created to show acceptance for the LGBTQ2S+ community, and the NHL took on supporting the project.
It's still not all roses for professional athletes when they dare to come out. Social media has also been a literal sewer of ugly comments about 19-year-old Prokop's message. A caller to the Charles Adler Tonight radio show even suggested that Prokop would benefit from conversion therapy.
Conversion efforts are not foreign to young athletes. "I would like to draw attention to the pain and turmoil that conversion efforts have caused so many athletes and performers in my practice over the past 25 years," says Dr. Shaunna Taylor, Executive Director of PacificSport Okanagan and Past Chair of the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. "Sometimes it is subtle - and insidious - done in the guise of caring... or helping people "explore their true selves." This was often code for "your homosexuality or gender identity awareness is a phase... and I'm here to help you move through it and back to [being] straight / gender assigned at birth, etc.". As we saw recently with the NHL's very first prospect player coming out at the tender age of 19 in 2021, sport is still not a safe place to be in the Pride Family, and there are many aggressive and subtle forces taking us backward, including the Church and largely Christian counsellors."
While the NHL and players are taking a supportive approach, it may be a long time before some fans catch up. The bravery of Prokop, knowing there would be messages of hate, is to be applauded. His courage speaks loudly to impressionable youth who are still being impacted by "Christian" conversion efforts from their families and church communities.
Wilbur Turner (he/him) is the founder of Advocacy Canada, an organization dedicated to unifying and amplifying 2S-LGBTQIA+ voices on important advocacy issues. He identifies as gay and queer, lives in Kelowna on the unceded traditional land of the Syilx peoples and contributes on many levels to 2S-LGBTQIA+ rights, both locally and internationally.