Disclaimer: This is the same diary I posted late last week. Please forgive me as I've never done this before but I really believe this is a powerful enough story to deserve a repost. My first diary met with some criticsm of the title (rightly so!) and that it was missed by many who would be interested in this story. Thanks to Mr. Magu for the title change recommendation.
If you are anything like me, you might want to grab a box of kleenex when you read this. Or, as is recommended below...paper towel.
I believe it was diaried at Kos when Brendan Burke, a member of the Miami University hockey staff, came out in November 2009 through a story on ESPN. It made news not only because an openly gay man working in the world of hockey was unusual, but because Brendan was the son of Brian Burke, General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the man behind the US Olympic team set to play in Vancouver. Brian Burke is a bad ass. As they said in Sports Illustrated
Brian—a hockey carnivore who embraces physical play and fighting; a 6'2", 240-pound fishing, hunting, Harley-riding, truck-driving, tobacco-chewing father of six who says he is "a poster boy for straight people if you look at all the macho measuring sticks"
A macho man who now had an openly gay son whome he embraced in public and in private. As was published in the Globe and Mail
"I wish this burden would fall on someone else’s shoulders, not Brendan’s. Pioneers are often misunderstood and mistrusted. But since he wishes to blaze this trail, I stand beside him with an axe! I simply could not be more proud of Brendan than I am, and I love him as much as I admire him."
I remember reading that and getting a bit sniffly. What a powerful statement for someone in Burke's position to make and I can only imagine what it meant for gay boys out there to see a hockey legend speak out on their behalf. Maybe his message would be heard by their own fathers. Maybe. Burke made a point of telling the press that he was happy he didn't have anything to apologize for because he had never said anything bad about homosexuals around his children. Brendan didn't hear anything negative from him.
But this past February, when everyone was excited in the run-up to the Olympics, Brendan Burke died in an auto accident on Highway 35 in Indiana. He was 21 years old.
As you can imagine Brian and his family were devasted. After the funeral and a brief period of mourning he went back to work. He showed up in Vancouver for the Olympics but didn't hide his tears. He told a reporter that "In times of sob-till-your-chest-hurts tragedy, tissues do not hold up. Go with paper towels."
Now that the season has ended for the Leafs (it always seems to end early in the spring), Burke is taking on a new mission.
Mr. Burke stood in front of a microphone Monday, facing reporters and a Toronto hotel conference room packed with gay and lesbian community members, calling for an end to homophobia in schools.
"I hate bullies," he said. "We have to get to the point where everyone can go to school free of fear."
He was making the keynote address for the launch of Egale Canada’s new website, MyGSA.ca, which will provide support and resources to students and educators. The national initiative aims to make Canadian schools a place where everyone feels safe, regardless of their sexual or gender identity.
"This is something my son would have supported," Mr. Burke said. "I think I owe him that."
He told the Globe and Mail he is sure there are gay hockey players in the NHL and that someday one would come out. Until then he would do his part to try to make that easier. But it won't be easy on him.
Halfway through his speech yesterday, Mr. Burke braced himself to say some words about Brendan.
"I probably won’t be able to do this..." he began. His eyes welled up. He turned from the microphone, unable to continue.
Later, he said that he felt like he let his son down. But even as Mr. Burke took his seat, audience members were rising from their seats in a standing ovation.
His next plan is to march in the Toronto Pride parade because he promised Brendan he would march with him.
"He won't be there, but I will."
Update: Some folks are crediting Brian Burke with being Canadian. He's not. He's 100% American but just happens to play ahem ..Canada's game(sorry, couldn't help myself).
Burke remembered that when he was in California in November to vote in the U.S. presidential election - he voted for Barack Obama - he was aggressively confronted by anti-gay activists protesting a same-sex marriage proposition on the California ballot.
"I told them to (expletive) get lost," said Burke, who also voted for the proposition