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Out player Luke Prokop says NHL athletes who won’t wear Pride jerseys are missing the larger point

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Luke Prokop

Luke Prokop, the only out gay athlete ever to play under a National Hockey League (NHL) contract, is speaking up after an NHL player recently refused to wear a rainbow-colored jersey during his team’s Pride Night game.

Last Saturday, James Reimer, a goalie with the San Jose Sharks, declined to wear the jersey because, he said, it conflicted with his Christian religious 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 a statement about his refusal. “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.

“I strongly believe that every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey,” he added.

In a statement, Prokop said that Reimer’s refusal was a “disappointment” that “feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL.”

“Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs.” But, he added, “I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it.”

Prokop said that Pride Nights and Pride jerseys play an important part in “promoting and respecting inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community” and in “fostering greater acceptance and understanding” of queer people in his sport. However, he worries this message is getting lost.

“It’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing [Pride jerseys] or 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 said.

Prokop, who currently plays as a defenseman for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, added, “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.”

While the NHL launched its “Hockey is for Everyone” diversity campaign in 1998, the league has struggled in recent years to get all of its players to wear Pride jerseys.

In January, NHL player Ivan Provorov rebelled against wearing a rainbow jersey during the Pride Night hosted by his team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Earlier this year, players with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers also refused. Last year, five Tampa Bay Rays players refused to wear such jerseys as well.

The NHL says it respects players’ decisions not to participate. But Prokop isn’t totally pessimistic about the future of inclusion in his sport.

“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,” he said.

14 NHL teams still have Pride Nights scheduled to take place this season.