Dana Rudolph

Hockey Dad, Gay Son

Filed By Dana Rudolph | November 27, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: brendan burke, brian burke, homophobic behavior, toronto maple leafs

This ESPN story is breaking all over the sporting news. hockey_skates.jpgBrian Burke, president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, "a most public example of hockey machismo," has a gay son, and accepts him. Not only that, but the son, Brendan, plays hockey for Miami University. As an out player, he is helping break down the walls of homophobia in sports.

Here's what Brian Burke had to say about his son:

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

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.

Several weeks ago, as it happens, Justin Bourne of USA Today wrote a long piece on homophobia in hockey. This led, through a chain of events, to the ESPN piece. Bourne had written:

Maybe the first openly gay NHL star will elicit stereotypical responses but hopefully the 100th is just a guy who will show up in my columns for being "a completely overrated, third-line defensive specialist at best." . . .

Whoever the pioneer is will have to know what he's in for - he'll have to be a strong man, possibly in the literal sense.

And it never hurts to have a dad who manages one of the sport's biggest franchises, standing beside you with an axe.

One thing I haven't yet seen mentioned in any of the coverage about the Burkes, however, is that last year, the National Hockey League gave its official sanction to the film Breakfast with Scot, about a closeted professional hockey player and the 11-year-old boy he and his partner end up fostering. It was the first time a professional sports league has allowed an LGBT-themed film to use its uniforms and logos. Which team did the fictional character play for? I.e., which team also gave its sanction to the film? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

I interviewed director Laurie Lynd last year, and he told me:

[The NHL] liked its message about being a good parent, and loving your child for whoever he or she is, and they thought it was a really good story about a modern family. They forwarded it to the Toronto Maple Leafs management, who also agreed. They've all stood by that decision, because there has been some controversy around that. I've been just so impressed by them. They claim they were not making any kind of political decision by doing it or statement, they just, for those reasons I mentioned, liked the project. They have also gone on record acknowledging they have a gay fan base, and they wanted to reach out to them, too.

The film was originally released in 2007, before Brendan came out to his unsuspecting dad at Christmas that year, and before Burke became GM of the Leafs in the fall of 2008, so it's not as if Burke agreed to sanction the film because of his son. Still, there's a certain karma there, and proof that the the effects of tolerance can go further than one might expect.

Breakfast with Scot is also a standout in the portrayal of LGBT families, depicting the richness of our lives without preaching or overburdening them with clichés. It's a great, funny, family film, and I recommend it highly.

Back to real sports, however. GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios recently wrote a piece for ESPN.com on homophobia in sports. He discusses how this affects professional sports in general, and also how it trickles down to amateur leagues and children's teams. Although the game isn't over yet, it seems like the Burkes are moving the puck down the ice. Hockey tough indeed.

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It's such a great story of a family being founded on love and respect rather than dogmatic authority and fear for reputation.

One of my friends knows this family and said they were worthy of respect long before Brendan came out, saying,"Brian is a good friend and has always been a stand-up guy. I was not at all surprised by how he has handled this. Of course, most of the credit goes to Brendan for his courage."

And trust in his father.

Laurie is a great guy and a terrific filmmaker. One of the things I loved about the film was that the boy, Scott, was gender non-conforming. So the gay jock had to confront not only his closet, but his hang-ups about gender and masculinity. One very sweet movie!

The story about the Burke's got a lot of coverage in the Globe and Mail - Canada's very mainstream newspaper, all of it positive. There's always been gossip about certain NHL players, very 'down low.' CBC also just aired a series - kind of a Canadian "So you think you can ice dance?" that paired retired NHL heavies with retired female figure skating stars. There's also a sizable Gay hockey league in Toronto, sadly none (yet) in Halifax1

You couldn't pay me to watch a hockey game on TV let alone in person [I'm more the Ice Dance type], but this is another major step forward for us. And here’s a link to a Canadian sports show interview with father and son [yes, father hasn’t gotten the Word Choice Memo yet about “lifestyle” and “choices” but neither have many LGBTs]:


And the network’s presentation of some viewer responses with a pretty kick ass response to them:


"I stand beside him with an axe!" should become the latest slogan on a PFLAG t-shirt and, more importantly, one of the slogans for the next marriage equality campaign.

Yes, yes, yes. I genuinely applaud and praise every parent of gays who has appeared in print and TV ads in Maine, and California last year. Their witnessing to the love for their children is wonderful . . . but it’s not their fault that, ALONE, it's a poor substitute for a campaign strategy agaisnt the nuclear attacks of the other side. It's not their fault that the campaign "strategists" from CA to Maine have still not gotten that expressions of love and, goodness gracious, UNFAIRNESS alone in gay and gay ally family commercials mean nothing to the moveable middle terrorized by the ruthless JudeoXristo fascists' commercials into believing that helping our kids will somehow hurt THEIRS.

Yes, OF COURSE, they should know better...but if they did already such things wouldn't end up on the ballot. Which would YOU choose if you were convinced [however dishonestly] that YOUR family was in danger…the other person’s family or yours?
Even the great humanist existentalist Albert Camus once said, "I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice."

The hyperbole of "I stand beside him with an axe" [or something like it] replaces the totally ineffectual standalone Kumbaya crap [which Equality Maine is still almost pathologically defending] with the message:

"ATTENTION! MY family is just as good, just a American, just a deserving of equal protection and opportunity as yours and I will stand up to/fight any bigot who says differently, and I won't give up until we win." If the threat to our rights is to be taken seriously we must treat it as something more than an excuse for a gay Hallmark card commercial.

Polarizing????? Honey, THAT ship sailed a long time ago...or did you miss Anita in Miami in 1977 through Prop H8TE last year and Maine 1 this month?

ENOUGH with the goddamn, "Oh, please Mr. Bill, don't hurt me" ad campaigns.

As the song line goes: "It's not the earth the meek inherit but the dirt."

Thanks for this post. It is important to be aware of the progress “we” are making as well as the setbacks.

I’ve put the film on our netflix list. I’ll probably cry as I watch the film as I did reading your blog.

Good stuff. Thanks for alerting us to this story.