Respect Is Spelled B U R K E

So many different angles to take on this story. There is the proud father story, then there is the Maple Leaf fan side and lastly the courage/this is not a story about “me” take. Where to begin.

Let’s start with the basics and maybe as I write, well things will fall into place. John Buccigross, a writer/analyst for ESPN, yes the same network that no longer caries the NHL (live games) has written a story that is, for lack of better words, incredible and courageous and inspiring.

The story is about Brendan Burke. Yes B U R K E. As in son of Brian B U R K E. The same Brian Burke, President and GM of our Toronto Maple Leafs. The same guy who believes hockey teams need to be built with the appropriate levels of Pugnacity, Testosterone, Truculence & Belligerence. That Brian Burke.

Buccigross’s story tells the tale of how Brendan, former college hockey player took the most courageous step in having to reveal to his friends, family and father Brian that he is gay. It is quite the read, to say the least.

I would, you know, usually take quotes and snippets out of Buccigross’s story and comment on them. The problem is, the entire story has to be read. It’s that good. I will provide you with 2, because I can’t help myself:

“It’s time to tell Dad, a most public example of hockey machismo, that you are gay.

Finally, you say it. Awkwardly. You basically stumble along trying not to make it a big deal before just blurting out, “And I love you guys and wanted to tell you that I’m gay.”

There is a brief silence.

Dad is surprised when you tell him that you are gay. He never suspected at all.

Your stepmom speaks first: “OK, Brendan, that’s OK.” And gives you a reassuring smile. Then your dad says, “Of course, we still love you. This won’t change a thing.”

Your dad and stepmom both get up and hug you and say they love you. You and your dad then sit there alone for about 15 more minutes watching hockey. Your heart rate is still at a snow-shoveling level. You then hug Dad again, and you go to bed”

Can you imagine the fear, notwithstanding the relationship Brendan had with his dad, that this young man must have felt in the moments leading up to the conversation? We all, and I mean all, can relate to a situation in which we had to tell our parents or our father something that we knew was going to hurt. Wrecking the car, getting arrested, flunking a class, needing lots of cash…We have all, I am sure been there, sweating in the moments before we have to come clean. I am pretty sure that nothing any of us did ever led to the anxiety that Brendan must have felt.

“”I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan. This news didn’t alter any of them.

I would prefer Brendan hadn’t decided to discuss this issue in this very public manner. There will be a great deal of reaction, and I fear a large portion will be negative. But this takes guts, and I admire Brendan greatly, and happily march arm in arm with him on this.

There are gay men in professional hockey. We would be fools to think otherwise. And it’s sad that they feel the need to conceal this. I understand why they do so, however.

Can a gay man advance in professional hockey? He can if he works for the Toronto Maple Leafs! Or for Miami University Hockey. God bless Rico Blasi! And I am certain these two organizations are not alone here.

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.” — Brian Burke”

And as I am sure many of us would (hopefully) find out that at the end of the day, our dad’s(and parents) are quite remarkable people. Irrespective of the news we have to deliver, we get the response and reassurance that we need.

The difference is that Brendan didn’t go to his father, his parents with a “problem”, or a confession as many of us did/do. No Brendan went with something entirely different. Brendan doesn’t have a problem, at least not one that is a mistake, or something that mom or dad could fix.

Brian’s response is the one that hollywood writes, the one that many of us only hope that we have the courage display. The difference, is that Brian Burke isn’t just any dad. He’s Mr. testosterone. He’s represents the good old boys network of hockey, and if that isn’t enough, if he wasn’t a big deal before, given his current role, he is bigger than life.

So while Brian says that this story isn’t about him, it is absolutely about him. This past summer I had to attend a class put on by Hockey Canada so that I could coach little TSM’s hockey team. It was a class on ethics. We were shown video’s that contained every stereotype from the game of hockey that we all know and expect. Parents yelling at kids, parents yelling at coaches, coaches yelling at kids and parents and so on… I am not suggesting that Brian Burke is an advocate of any of these things, but he comes from the same place where many of these originated. He is old school hockey. He is building his hockey team based on old school hockey. He is Brian Burke… He is Pugnacity, Testosterone, Truculence & Belligerence. None of the things that are commonly associated with being gay.

For Brendan, one can only imagine what his life has been like over the last several years, living in a very homophobic environment unable to be who he is and having to pretend who he isn’t. That would be extremely difficult for a mature adult in the normal world. For a mere kid in the world of sports and hockey had to be grueling. Then, having the strength to admit the darkest of his secrets to his friends and family given all the extra factors involved in this very unique case…… I can’t imagine.

The response from Burke is nothing short of incredible. As a relatively new father I can only hope that I would have the same response to my kids should they come to me with that type of scenario. Let me make this perfectly clear, I have no problem with anyone’s personal choices. I am not bothered one way or the other. I truly believe in a persons right to chose whom they live with and love. Having said that, we all know that it is one thing to say it, but until it is our kid who comes to US…all bets are off. Anyone who says differently, I don’t think is being entirely honestly with themselves.

Bruce Arthur has a great take on the Burke’s story:

“”It wasn’t like: deep breath, pause. What’s the right thing to say?” Burke said in a telephone interview last night. “It didn’t change anything. I love him, and I’m proud of him. The story isn’t about me. It’s about what my son’s doing.

“I don’t think I did anything different than any parent who loves their kids.”

He’s right, and he’s wrong. Burke is right that Brendan’s courage in telling his family, and the hockey team for which he works – who, to their credit, responded with a collective shrug, and offered support even from unexpected circles – is admirable. Brendan apparently quit playing hockey in part because the casual homophobia felt in every locker room was too much, and he wasn’t willing to conceal himself any longer. And while it’s one thing to open up to those closest to you, it’s another to open up to the world via”

That’s entirely accurate. This, is not, as the saying goes, your father’s chevrolet. These are not normal circumstances. If they were, Buccigross wouldn’t be writing about it, McCown wouldn’t be talking about it and Cox and Arthur wouldn’t be writing about Buccigross’s story.

“That’s progress. Last summer, a few months after he has taken the Leafs job, Burke called Brendan and invited him up to Toronto for Pride weekend. He took his son to go watch the parade. That’s why Brian Burke is part of the story of his brave young son. “I love my son,” says Burke. “And I’m very proud of him.”

The admiration I have for Brian Burke as a fellow father, as a hockey fan, as a Maple Leaf fan and most importantly just as a human being couldn’t be any greater. Yes he is GM of our team. Yes I am pissed that the team is near the bottom of the league. In the end though, underneath the testosterone, the hunter, the fisherman, the man who doesn’t sleep when his team loses is a good father and a good person. That is something Leaf fans everywhere should take great pride in. At the top of the food chain is a guy who does right.

The debate about whether sports figures (usually athletes) should be role models for our kids rages on. In this case, any kid couldn’t do much better than looking up to Brian Burke. Whether he delivers the Leafs to the promised land or not, his heart is 100% in the right place. Forget all the bravado, he is first and foremost a father. That isn’t always easy.

To Brendan, my hat is off to you. The road ahead likely isn’t going to be easy. We live in a world full of hatred for people who are different. It sounds like you have an incredible support system around you. I hope that they are there for you on those days when someone says or does something stupid. You are most courageous and are an inspiration to all of us, young and old. You have taught us not be afraid of who we are and what we believe in. That’s beyond honorable, it’s something your parents must be VERY proud of.


John buccigross’s must read story on ESPN is here

Bruce Arthur is here

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