It was an unbelievable sight ... Brian Burke getting a standing ovation Wednesday night in the capital.
Burke, the GM of the hated Maple Leafs, was in town to be presented with an award by Jer’s Vision at Tabaret Hall at the University of Ottawa for his work, ironically, for trying to stamp out hate.
Burke was named Youth Role Model of the Year for his efforts in addressing homophobia in sports. Jer’s Vision is Canada’s youth diversity initiative, which works to address bullying, homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination of all kinds in schools and youth communities.
Of course, the reason Burke has been speaking out is in memory of his late son Brendan, who was killed in a car crash in Indiana in February 2010, just three months after admitting publicly he was gay.
“When Brendan came out (to his family in 2007), I didn’t have to take anything back,” said Burke, who was presented his award by 67’s GM Brian Kilrea. “I never said anything about gay people or people of colour (while his children were growing up).
“Imagine if that was the norm in society.”
Burke also warned his son when he was going public.
“I told (Brendan) he had to keep his head on a swivel for the first couple of months, that he had better be careful.
“How sick is that?”
Brendan, 21 at the time of his death, was the student manager for the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team in November 2009, when he made headlines for coming out, advocating for tolerance and speaking out against homophobia in pro sports.
Brendan’s coming out was widely praised and supported by the media and fans, generating multiple discussions about homophobia in sports, and in hockey in particular.
“When Brendan told his team he was gay, they said to a man ‘we love you, we support you,’ ” said Burke. “My son touched a lot of people.”
Brendan was viewed as a pioneer in advocacy against homophobia in hockey.
Burke said another area society needs to work on with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) community is suicide.
“We’re losing too many wonderful people to suicide because of bullying. That has to stop.”