Meet Luke Prokop, The Trailblazer Evolving Hockey Culture

By Christopher Metler

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Spanning from local ponds to imposing arenas, the story of Luke Prokop is one that resonates deeply with hockey fans across the country. During his early practice sessions, his family had to fortify their garage walls with hockey boards to withstand the relentless flurry of shots. To most parents in Canada, this is a typical rite of passage. Drive down any Canadian street and you’ll see countless garage doors riddled with black marks and dents carved by errant hockey pucks. There’s a certain freedom to gliding across the ice that Prokop fell in love with as a child in Edmonton, Alberta.

“On the outdoor rinks, you’re kind of free to be whoever you want,” Prokop shares in his cover interview with Glory Sports. “If you strip everything else away from [the game] – money, fame, the culture – and distill it right down to its core, hockey – and sports, in general, I think – is all about self-expression.”

“So many of my earliest experiences in the sport were about exploring who I am. […] That starts with pretending that you’re a certain player when you’re playing on the ice as a kid. We’d skate around and role play in different situations like the Olympics or a Game 7. But eventually that evolves and there’s a kind of self-discovery through just playing the game.”

Luke Prokop wearing the TUDOR Ranger M79950-0002, BOSS Suit, Tanner Fletcher Sweater, David Yurman Chevron Bead Bracelet, Nike Sneakers.

But while Prokop’s story might not seem all that distinct from a surface level compared to rosters full of NHL players who also grew up peppering their garage doors with pucks and skating on outdoor rinks, on July 19, 2021, the defenceman’s journey of self-discovery culminated in a moment never before seen in the league.

While signed as a prospect for Nashville, Prokop came out as gay, becoming the first active player under contract to an NHL team to do so.

“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 announced in the initial Instagram post.

“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 added.

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With just one social media post, Prokop had swayed from all previous NHL blueprints. Of course, on the ice, he’s still be following in the footsteps of the players who grew up idolizing. After all, Shea Weber – a 7x NHL All-Star who Prokop grew up role playing during childhood pickup games – played 11 seasons for the Predators himself. But in a far greater sense – in his personal identity – Prokop is now the one blazing the trail in a hockey culture in desperate need of positive LGBTQ+ representation.

Prokop’s account holds a significance that extends far beyond the ice rink. His decision to come out during the COVID-19 lockdown represented a watershed moment in hockey history. Brad Lauer, the Edmonton Oil Kings’ head coach, where Prokop was playing at the time of the announcement, praised him for his leadership, composure, and focus — sentiments echoed by his teammate, Jake Neighbours.

Luke Prokop wearing the TUDOR Ranger M79950-0002, Louis Vuitton Sweater, JW Anderson Pants, David Yurman Woven Box Chain Bracelet, Nike Sneakers.

And while acceptance from his coaches and teammates was a relief, Prokop asserts that his announcement was inevitable, regardless of the response he expected. It was a period of self-discovery that transcended his identity as a hockey player.

“I was entirely okay with not playing anymore and just being who I wanted to be, because I found love from my family and friends,” he says, recalling the emotions that preceded his announcement. “There was anxiety, for sure. But at the end of the day, I had to be true to myself.”

Prokop’s experience elucidates a crucial aspect of acceptance in sports. It’s not about blind alignment with a player’s personal life, but about mutual respect and accepting that space needs to be carved out for a wide spectrum of communities.

As Prokop explains, “You don’t have to agree with the community; you just have to respect it.” His self-assurance has grown through his coming-out process, preparing him for a long on-ice career.

Luke Prokop wearing the TUDOR Ranger M79950-0002, Fendi Shirt & Shorts, Tiffany Men’s I.D. Bracelet, Axel Arigato Sneakers.
Luke Prokop wearing the TUDOR Ranger M79950-0002, Fendi Shirt & Shorts, Tiffany Men’s I.D. Bracelet, Axel Arigato Sneakers.

Nevertheless, acceptance is an ongoing journey, not an endpoint. The NHL’s now-infamous “Pride Night” incident earlier this year, where some athletes declined to wear Pride-themed jerseys, spotlighted persistent challenges for LGBTQ+ athletes in sports.

Of course, the sports world has been here before. Last June, five pitchers with the Tampa Bay Rays cited their Christian faith in refusing to wear Pride jerseys, and a U.S. women’s national soccer player skipped an overseas trip in 2017 when the team opted to wear Pride jerseys.

This season, three NHL teams — the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers, and the Minnesota Wild — that previously wore rainbow warmups decided not to. The Rangers and Wild changed course after initially planning for players to wear rainbow-themed warmup jerseys but did not specifically say why.

“To be honest, it was disappointing to see,” says Prokop, referring to the league’s reaction to Pride Night. “Look, I’m never going to tell someone to ignore their religious or personal beliefs. Never. But from my experience, it wasn’t just about [the jerseys]. I’ve been in hockey locker rooms my entire life. I know what words get thrown around. I’ve heard it all and, thankfully, since I’ve come out, I hear it less. […] Players have become more understanding to the weight that certain hateful terms carry but, trust me, hockey has a long way to go. […] I love the sport and the history and the values that the game has taught me but in terms of advocacy and acceptance, there’s a lot of work to do.”

Luke Prokop wearing the TUDOR Ranger M79950-0002, BOSS Suit, Tanner Fletcher Sweater, David Yurman Chevron Bead Bracelet, Nike Sneakers.

Eventually, media attention filtered away from Pride Night and towards the NHL playoffs, but Prokop doesn’t have the privilege of leaving such issues neatly in the rearview mirror. As spring turned into summer, his identity remained in both camps; professional hockey player competing for a Memorial Cup and an LGBTQ+ advocate.

It’s a delicate balance but one that feels authentic to who he is. This June, Prokop had the opportunity to travel to Toronto for his first Pride Parade. When he first came out, the world was still largely in COVID lockdown, doubling down on an already isolating time for the NHL prospect. But throughout our cover shoot – the day before Prokop walked the parade alongside fellow hockey players, coaches, and executives – it’s clear just how much his sense of self has evolved since his 2021 announcement, both on and off the ice.

“I can’t wait,” he says on set, brimming with excitement with what the city’s Pride weekend will inevitably offer the community. “It’s going to be so great to connect with the community. […] I think it’s so important for fans to not only see me but other players and teams act as allies.”

At the time of our shoot, Prokop is fresh off the Memorial Cup Finals following yet another stellar season in the Canadian Hockey League. Since being drafted by the Predators, Prokop has had unmitigated success in the highest level of junior hockey as he continues his mission to secure a coveted NHL roster spot. The dream is the same as it was when he first fell in love with the game while role playing as his favourite players. The only difference is that, today, Prokop isn’t confined to the blueprint set by hockey culture decades ago. Now, he’s carving his own for the next generation of athletes.

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