Stereotypically men deal with things by ignoring about it and women deal with things by talking about it. In this day and age, it seems like both genders deal by tweeting about it. That’s how I learnt today in a tweet by @JayOnrait that Brian Burke’s son Brendan had passed. It is always sad when anyone, let alone a child passes. However, when it is someone within the hockey community the pain extends through so many other people, belying the closeness that is so valued in hockey.
I grew up in a small country town who’s main interests were drinking, cows and football. My dad put in swimming pools for a living and my mother raised us and cut hair. I was lucky however, to have two of the most accepting parents you could imagine. My father once drove a bus for a drag tour and also (in his 20′s) routinely dressed up as a Japanese Geisha for reasons unknown. My mother was a hairdresser. They never judged, accepted everyone and taught me much the same.
Brendan Burke came out to his team mates, many of whom probably didn’t come from families like mine, but grew up in towns like the one I did, small, country and undeniably close minded. He had listened to years and years of chirping centered around insults to ones sexuality, the perceived ultimate in insults if locker room trash talk was any indication. It had lead to him quitting playing in his final years of high school, unable to bear the talk, the degradation of his self. Still he came out, running the risk of loosing the trust and friendship of the hockey brotherhood he had found as a student manager at Miami-Ohio.
Not only did he come out to his hockey team, he came out to a father that is widely regarded as a prototype of masculinity in an already masculine sport. He takes a risk, at loosing a family that so many of us could never consider making. He takes a risk at rejection and shame that would send so many of us cowering and preferring to hide ourselves rather than run those risks. Instead, he finds acceptance grounded in the common sense belief that someones worth goes far beyond their sexual orientation, that persons value cannot be measured by who they love but by how they live.
The media jumps on this story, of the famous father’s acceptance of his son, the overwhelming acceptance of the hockey community to something still so taboo and suddenly Brendan Burke is everywhere, and everyone? Everyone is okay.
When Brendan Burke came out everyone heard about it. Thousands of hockey players across the country, across the world suddenly had a little bit of light they may not have had before. If Brian Burke can be okay with it, if a college hockey team can, maybe my coach, my team mates, friends and family can too.
Brendan Burke wanted to end the pattern of homophobia that was endemic to hockey and other sports. He wanted it to be okay for anyone to be who they were and to not feel shame for that, to be free to live how they wished without fear of loosing the sport and friends that meant so much. It is a goal, a dream many of us share, and in his memory, many of us will continue to carry on.
Your courage in stepping forward so publicly will serve as inspiration to many and the message you came forward with of acceptance will be remembered and carried forward. You were one of the firsts, but you will not be the last.
Rest in Peace, Brendan.
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