NHL's voice of tolerance

In the historical and sometimes hysterical homophobic hockey world, Brian Burke can suddenly become...

In the historical and sometimes hysterical homophobic hockey world, Brian Burke can suddenly become the voice of tolerance. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Brian Burke hopes the day will come when this is no longer a story.

And maybe, just maybe, if we consider ours an enlightened society, that day already has passed.

But the personal story of his family, written with sensitivity, detail and dignity by espn.com's John Buccigross, revealed that the rough, tough, overtly gruff Burke has a gay son.

This isnít my business and this isnít your business, but Brendan Burke apparently needed to tell his story. A story of fear and acceptance that seems more compelling, more human, more difficult and yes, more controversial, because of who his father is, and what his father tends to represent.

ďI would prefer Brendan hadnít decided to discuss this issue in this very public manner,Ē Brian Burke told Buccigross. ďThere will be a great deal of reaction and I fear a large portion will be negative. But this take guts and I admire Brendan greatly and (will) happily march arm in arm with him on this ...

ďI had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan (before). This news didnít alter any of them. I hope the day comes, and soon, when this is not a story.Ē

It took the kind of temerity his father is known for Brendan Burke, at 21, to go public. And Buccigrossí piece should be mandatory reading for those who care about family, love and support.

In various forms, Iíve known Brian Burke for almost 30 years: The longer Iíve known him, the more depth Iíve discovered. When you strip away all the noise, the headlines, the made-for-TV bluster, what youíre left with is a large man with an even larger heart.

ďJust donít tell anybody,Ē he once told a colleague. ďI donít want to spoil my reputation.Ē

But here is big, loud Burke now, in a remarkable position of sorts: In the historical and sometimes hysterical homophobic hockey world, he can suddenly become the voice of tolerance, the voice of acceptance. He can tell people itís OK to play hockey, be belligerent, and be gay.

He can tell people itís all right to coach and manage and scout: Sexual preferences really arenít anybodyís business.

There have been no openly gay men in the hockey business ó and Brendan Burke wants to follow in his fatherís footsteps ó but the world of sports is really no less dimensional than society, only more secretive, more judgemental.

There are gays in sport, gays in hockey, gays in society. I know of many who have served in front offices and scouting capacities. They shouldnít have to hide, now or ever. Their sexual preferences should be no more important or no more news than yours or mine.

But the sporting world so often is small and small minded.

The more stories told by the Brendan Burkes of the world, the more developed our sporting world will become.

Burke told Buccigross he believes there will be negative reaction to the news that his son is gay.

Here, he may be half right.

There will be reaction. There will be talk. There will be snickering of sorts. But Iíd like to believe the majority wonít be negative. By Tuesday afternoon, the chat groups had begun their on-line discussions in earnest. In this, the most crass and most unpoliced form of reaction, there was little judgment and mostly understanding and compassion.

Imagine what it must have like to be Brian Burkeís son and have to tell your father that youíre gay. Imagine that.

If it was someone elseís son, some faceless quiet general manager, it might not have ever found its way to print. But the fact that it did will open up closed eyes, because Burke is neither quiet nor faceless. And while some will revel in the irony of the juxtaposition between father and son, there is an openness and importance to what Brendan Burke said.

ďMiddle school and early high school is the first time I remember thinking that I could be gay, but I definitely tried to ignore it and didnít want to seriously consider it,Ē he told Buccigross. ďItís pretty easy to try and convince yourself that itís not true, but it wonít work, ever.Ē

Burke told Buccigross: ďI wish the burden would fall on someone elseís shoulders, not Brendanís.

"Pioneers are often misunderstood and mistrusted. But since he wishes to blaze this trail, I stand beside him an axe. I simply could not be more proud of Brendan than I am and I love him as much as I admire him.Ē


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