Luke Prokop on Monday became the first active hockey player under an NHL contract to come out as gay. The Alberta native, who was drafted by the Nashville Predators last year and signed a contract with them in December, said he was "proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay," the CBC reports. "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." In an extensive interview with the Athletic about the decision to come out publicly, Prokop says that when he addressed the issue with the Predators and was told he had their full support, "When I think about the feeling of being free, that was the closest I think I’ve been to it so far."
The 19-year-old has been playing in the Western Hockey League, having spent the past four seasons with the Calgary Hitmen. The Predators said in a statement the team will "support him unequivocally in the days, weeks, and years to come as he continues to develop as a prospect." The NHL also thanked him for "sharing his truth" courageously. "LGBTQ players, coaches and staff can only perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their full and true selves," the league's commissioner said. "We do not take the meaning and importance of this announcement lightly." Prokop tells ESPN he started coming out in his private life over the past year, and made the decision to come out publicly in April, because he wanted to be able to lead an authentic life. (Read more NHL stories.)