Monday, 19 July 2021

I'm A Fan

There was some monumental news that came out of the NHL today as Luke Prokop, a third-round selection of the Nashville Predators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, revealed that he was a gay man. That's him to the left, signing his first professional NHL contract with the Predators after starring in the WHL with the Calgary Hitman, and it would seem he's a pretty regular guy when it comes to be excitied to being an NHL player. Nothing out of the ordinary there, so let me say I am happy to see Luke Prokop living out his dreams by becoming an NHL player for the same team where his favorite player, Shea Weber, began his dreams.

I do want to correct something, though. I used the term "monumental news" off the top of this article and I am wrong in saying that. Hear me out on this, but what if we make it part of our daily parlance regarding hockey that this news doesn't have to be groundbreaking or monumental, instead letting Luke Prokop and anyone else who is gay just be themselves as hockey players? As people? Why does sexuality have to factor into anything related to hockey?

I'd be naive to suggest that I don't know gay hockey players. Statistically, the numbers of individials who identify as LGBTQ+ seems to change annually, but to say there are none in the NHL would be categorically wrong based on the nearly 800 players that make up the NHLPA. Of those 800 players, there has to be one or more players based on numbers alone since hockey is a microcosm of society, and now we know there will be a second player when Luke Prokop makes his eventual debut with the Predators.

At the end of the day, though, does it matter if he's gay, straight, queer, up, down, left, right, on, off, or another other descriptor as long as he helps the Predators win hockey games?

That's an easy answer: no. He's a hockey player. That's his job, and he's paid to play hockey to the best of his abilities for as long as his contract states. If he were an actor or an accountant or any other walk of life, his job doesn't define who he is nor should it ever define the person he is. Luke Prokop is an intelligent, caring, fun-loving, happy young man who just happens to be really, really good at hockey just as Zachary Quinto is a really good actor or Elton John is an award-winning musician. If you've seen Star Trek or Disney's The Lion King, you know their work.

Paraphrased from Last Word on Sports, Prokop played for Team Canada at the U17 World Hockey Challenge, so there's some solid talent there that allowed him to rise about his peers. He skates extremely well for a man standing in at 6'5" in height, and he has better than average speed as well. He accelerates well, and handles his edgework and turns fluidly which makes him hard to beat one-on-one as he maintains good gap control. His shot is solid, but it can improve. Being a bigger player, he certainly has the strength to fight through checks at the junior level, clear the front of the net, and win puck battles.

If you're the Nashville Predators and you read that scouting report, does Prokop being gay change any of that? Again, that's an easy answer: no.

"The Nashville Predators organization is proud of Luke for the courage he is displaying in coming out today and we will support him unequivocally in the days, weeks, and years to come as he continues to develop as a prospect," Predators president and CEO Sean Henry said in a statement. "A long-stated goal in our organization is equality for all, including the LGBTQ community, and it is important that Luke feels comfortable and part of an inclusive environment as he moves forward in his career."

While I generally agree with Henry's statement, is that not the goal of the franchise in each and every player's case - to have each player feel "comfortable and part of an inclusive environment as he moves forward in his career"? If the Predators went ahead and made a sizeable donation in Prokop's name to local Nashville LGBTQ+ organizations, that speaks volumes about their dedication to reaching those long-stating goals. We'll have to see how Nashville proceeds as a franchise, but starting with full support of Luke Prokop gives me hope.

I'm not going to say that Luke Prokop is going to be the next Shea Weber. Heck, he may not be the next Yannick Weber. But I stand here today telling you that if I were to buy a Nashville Predators jersey, I would proudly wear "Prokop" on the back of it and hang it next to the Shea Weber jersey I do have in my closet. No if, and, or buts about it - this kid is a player, and that's what we should be focused on.

Is it a big moment in the history of the game that Luke Prokop is the first gay hockey player? It is for millions of gay men and boys who might be too scared or not confident enough to share that information. It may help other women and girls step forward with more confidence in who they are when it comes to their sexualities. This fact isn't lost on me one bit, and I have a feeling Luke Prokop is going to help a lot of people fight through their own battles when it comes to struggling with sexuality.

I'm excited to watch Prokop make the Predators' lineup, and I'll cheer for him when he does. Not because he's gay, but because he's living out his dream without worrying about keeping a secret or hiding his private life from his teammates and the Predators organization. Because he's earned that shot through his play on the ice without someone holding him back because of sexuality. Because he's a helluva good hockey player who deserves just as much success and happiness off the ice as he finds off it.

I'm already a fan of Luke Prokop, and that won't change for any reason.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: