|"You can’t judge a person on his sexual orientation," said Martin St. Louis following a question regarding Brian Burke's son, Brendan. (Jack Boland/SUN MEDIA)
TAMPA BAY - At first, Martin St. Louis looked seriously ticked off at the subject matter.
Then his eyes darted around the Tampa Bay Lightning dressing room to see if the joke was on him.
The issue of homosexuals in pro sports is still a squeamish one, although surely a little less so today after Brian Burke’s son has acknowledged publicly he is gay.
To be fair, St. Louis hadn’t heard the story that Brendan Burke, youngest son of the Leafs general manager, had come out until it was raised after the Lightning’s pre-game skate Wednesday. But in the macho world of hockey, it is still a topic rarely broached in a serious way.
“What kind of question is that?” St. Louis responded with a little irritation before providing a politically correct answer.
“At this point in time in our society it has to be accepted. You can’t judge a person on his sexual orientation.”
Many in the hockey world are applauding the way Burke Sr. handled his son’s poignant coming out Tuesday in a story on ESPN.com. And the issue surely has created a buzz throughout the not always liberal domain of professional sports locker rooms.
Is it possible, though, that the way Burke publicly stated pride in his son’s courage may help change the way gay athletes are viewed within the macho walls of their world?
“It’s the stark contrast in his personality to the perceived personality of the gay male and how Brian hasn’t so much as flinched about the whole thing,” Justin Bourne, a former minor pro hockey player who has acknowledged he is gay, told Yahoo.com.
“About 40 or 50 years ago, guys as manly as Brian Burke were the exact reason gay men are uncomfortable coming out.”
Those who know Burke well were not surprised at his reaction to the revelation of Brendan, who works as a student manager with the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team.
“It shows a different side of Brian not too many people know,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Wednesday. “I’ve known Brian for 35 years, so I understand the softer side he never lets out, the caring type of person he is.
“I don’t think it’s a hockey thing, it’s a human thing. Brian is being what every dad generally is - very supportive of his son, (showing) unconditional love.”
Like St. Louis, Leafs forward Jason Blake seemed offended the story had become a topic.
“It shouldn’t even be an issue, any father would support their kid,” Blake said. “I don’t know why we are even talking about it.”
Having the son of one of the more prominent figures in his sport reveal is orientation is one thing. The next step will be to gauge the reaction when an active player comes out.
“Why not?” young Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said when asked if a gay player would be accepted. “If you want to come out, good for you.”