SAINT-JEAN, N.-B. | By openly displaying his homosexuality, on July 19, 2021, becoming the first player under contract with an NHL team to do so, Luke Prokop knew his life would change. However, he had never suspected that she would change so much.
The story of the Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman and Nashville Predators prospect has gone around the world, and he has become something of a role model for many young hockey players.
“I had no idea what impact it would have since no one had done it before me. The reaction was much more positive than I expected. I receive messages from people from all over the planet who thank me. This week in particular, young people see me on television. So the number of messages I receive has increased a lot,” said the 6 5 in and 220 lb colossus.
Since then, several people have followed in Prokop's footsteps. This was notably the case of colleague Guillaume Lepage, of LNH.com who, inspired by the approach of the Alberta defender, also decided to display his homosexuality after ten years of reflection.
“That was my goal in doing what I did,” Prokop said. Seeing stories like that means a lot to me. On days when I'm a little less well, I remember this kind of story and it refocuses me on the reasons that push me to continue what I do. I want to continue to show people that it's important to feel good about yourself and do what you love. »
For Prokop, July 19, 2021 will have been in a way the first day of his new life.
“I feel more confident and more comfortable with my teammates, friends and family. I don't care what people think anymore. I think that's the main reason that made me come out of the closet. It helped me a lot this year to block outside noise. It allowed me to go to the arena, to play my style knowing that I had the support of the guys.
HELP FROM BROCK McGILLIS
Before going public last July, Prokop spent two months chatting with Brock McGillis. A former goaltender in the Ontario Hockey League, he was the first hockey player to publicly display his homosexuality. That was in November 2016. Since then, he has been actively campaigning to change the culture in hockey.
“He was very important to me. Having someone to talk to, especially on the media side, was a big help. He was a great mentor,” Prokop recounted.
McGillis was also in Saint-Jean as part of the Memorial Cup on Wednesday. He gave a talk about his experience, then had dinner with Prokop's family before meeting Luke for the first time, in person, in the evening.
For McGillis, Prokop's gesture is a step in the right way. But there is still a lot to do.
“We have to keep talking about it. We have to go to a place where more young people can dream of playing hockey even if they are part of the LGBTQ+ community and where we will see more Luke Prokop on the ice,” he said.
For the Toronto-born, the starting point is to change the homophobic language commonly used in locker rooms and on the rink.
“Today's youth are exposed to many more things with social media. I think, theoretically, they evolved on issues of sexual orientation. However, the language and culture in the locker room has not changed at the same speed as their thoughts,” said McGillis.
This is why he hopes for other testimonies like those of Prokop in order to continue to feed the discussions.
“There are players in the NHL who are homosexual, he said. mentioned. I was at a school in Ontario recently, and a survey showed that 25% of its students came out as LGBTQ+. It looks like the numbers you see everywhere. It is therefore impossible that Luke is the only player with an NHL contract who is gay. »
« My dream is to get to a point where the work that I do no longer exists,” McGillis continued. It is demanding because it means that there are people who suffer within the very heart of a sport that they love. I still get a lot of messages from young people who have given up because they were bullied and harassed. I hope that one day we will live in a world where everyone can be themselves and not have to hide. A world where everyone can practice the sport they love and simply be a human being. »