Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop, who became the first openly gay player under contract in the NHL, issued a statement on Monday night calling out the recent decision by a number of players and teams to opt out of Pride Nights throughout the league.
The 20-year-old Seattle Thunderbirds defensemen released a lengthy statement on Twitter saying he believes the recent news surrounding Pride Nights in the NHL "feels like a step back for inclusion."
"I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL," Prokop wrote. "Pride nights and pride jerseys play an important role in promoting respect and inclusion in the LGBTQIA+ community, and it's disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or fully embracing their significance, while the focus of others has become about the players who aren't participating rather than the meaning of the night itself."
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"Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs but I think it's important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it," he continued.
"Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey, and I strongly believe that by prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we can create an environment where every player feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the game. As someone who aspires to play on an NHL team one day, I would want to enter the locker room knowing I can share all parts of my identity with my teammates."
The statement follows San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer’s decision not to wear a pride-themed warmup jersey before Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders.
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"For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian — not just in title, but in how I choose to live my life daily. I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow him," he said in a statement provided by the team.
"I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness. In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life."
Earlier this year, defenseman Ivan Provorov decided to skip out on the Philadelphia Flyers pregame warmups, when players wore Pride-them jerseys, citing his religious beliefs.
The NHL issued a statement at the time seemingly backing Provorov’s decision, while adding that it will "continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues."
In January, the New York Rangers opted not to wear the jerseys in warmups during Pride Night. The Minnesota Wild did the same earlier this month.
"While there's still progress to be made before hockey is for everyone, I'm optimistic about the change we can achieve and am committed to being a part of it," Prokop wrote Monday.