Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop, the first openly gay player under NHL contract, recently spoke out about several Pride Night controversies around the league.
Between individual players and entire teams choosing not to wear special pride-themed warmup jerseys, the NHL has taken some criticism for its handling of those events. In the latest example, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer chose not to partake in warmups on Pride Night, citing his religious beliefs.
In the wake of these events, Prokop released a statement in which he said it was "disheartening" that teams are no longer "fully embracing" Pride Nights. Prokop emphasized the importance of those nights as it pertains to growing inclusivity in the game of hockey.
"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 for the LBTQIA+ community, and it's disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or not 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."
Prokop was a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and he came out publicly in July 2021. Prokop said he told the Predators about his sexual orientation before the team drafted him, and team president Sean Henry said the organization would make sure Prokop always feels comfortable in Nashville.
In a statement released by Reimer before Saturday's game against the New York Islanders, the goaltender said wearing the Pride Night warmup jersey would run counter to his Christian beliefs.
"I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness," Reimer said in his statement. "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."
Back in January, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov chose not to wear a Pride Night jersey in warmups, and the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers have both scrapped Pride Night plans that included pride-themed jerseys.
According to a report from The Athletic, there has been some concern around the league that there could be repercussions for Russian players who wear pride-themed jerseys due to new anti-gay laws passed by the country.