By Gillon Gross

The NHL and the NHLPA have agreed to partner with an organization called You Can Play. The goal is to eliminate any homophobia in the sport of hockey. The NHL’s longtime slogan is “hockey is for everyone.” It looks as if they mean it. “This is really about celebrating diversity, whether or not it’s your national origin, the color of your skin or your sexual orientation, and making you feel comfortable that whoever you are you can have a place you can play,” Gary Bettman said.

To this day, there has never been an active athlete out as gay, in any of the four major American sports.

“There are gay men in professional hockey. We would be fools to think otherwise. And it’s sad they feel the need to conceal this.’’ Take Leaf’s former GM Brian Burke’s word for it. There are plenty of gay athletes out there. A Jackie Robinson is out there. That person may be a star. He may be scrub. Maybe he is not in the league yet. He could play basketball, baseball, football, or hockey. All we know is that we have a Jackie Robinson somewhere. He will be a hero to a very large community. This person will instantly become an icon. He will be talked about in history for as long as sports exist. There is a major opportunity out there for someone strong. Someone who has a heart like Jackie Robinson’s. I believe the support for this man will be surprising to most.

 

You Can Play was founded just last month by the Flyers head scout Patrick Burke, in memory of his brother Brendan Burke. Brendan and Patrick are sons of the Leafs former GM Brian Burke. Brendan came out as gay in 2007. He died in a car accident in 2010. Brendan Burke was on the ice at age three. He grew up in NHL locker rooms with his father Brian. Brendan followed the footsteps of his dad, and his brother. He became a student manager at Miami University for the RedHawks men’s ice hockey team.

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Brendan with the Stanley Cup after his dad won it with the Ducks in 2007. He was 18 years old at the time.

Brendan Burke revealed to his family he was gay at the age of 18. Instead of keeping a secret, Brendan made it public. He made the front page of ESPN.com with a column written by John Buccigross. He held an interview with TSN weeks later. “Middle 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 didn’t want to seriously consider it,’’ he told ESPN.com. “It’s pretty easy to try and convince yourself that it’s not true, but it won’t work, ever.’’ he said. His dad supported his son. “I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan,’’ Brian Burke told ESPN in the piece. “This news didn’t alter any of them . . . But this takes guts, and I admire Brendan greatly and happily march arm-in-arm with him on this.”

Brendan died in a car accident in Indiana. He was 21 years old. Brendan is a true hero for the courage he has shown. “packed more into those 21 years than most people do in a lifetime,’’ said Patrick Burke,  “He left his mark on so many people in so many ways.’’

Brendan Burke came out to his high school team. He was out as a college player. Brendan told TSN he was surprised how supportive his teammates were of him. Brendan thinks that gay slurs have nothing to do with homophobia. He thinks that if players know that there are gay people around them they will stop using gay slurs. When one comes out, many will follow. It’s natural human nature. But it is possible we don’t have a Jackie Robinson. A handful of players can come out together. It may relieve some pressure that gay athletes may not want to withstand.

The NHL’s partnership with You Can Play is another small step towards the first active openly gay athlete. I’m sure Brendan Burke would be proud.

 

 

Filed under: Mohl Gross, NHL, Uncategorized


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