Campaign is Burke’s real legacy

Pardon the Eruption

By Terrance Gavan

There’s a Seinfeld episode where George and Jerry become embroiled in a farcical dance centered around a university newspaper feature that linked the two romantically.

For 22 and a half minutes, George and Jerry felt compelled to tell friends repeatedly that the story was a ruse.

The explanation started with: “No we’re not gay.”

Followed immediately by: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

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Patrick Burke. Courtesy of CTV-TV.

It’s a funny piece.

Because it stokes the fires of an inane and almost existential subservience to “political correctness.”

We grasp immediately the level of discomfort and we commiserate with their pain.

We are infinitely supportive of gay couples, gay marriage and we have an unlikely and mostly well-heeled assortment of gay friends. We are, in other words, the product of a comprehensive liberal arts university program, which started and ended every day in the offices of The Manitoban, where 70 per cent of the staffers were gay. Before university? I had also hung out with gays. I just never knew it.

We had been to a wedding of a football player we knew in university, who was a closeted berserker on the gridiron, before coming out with a vengeance back in 1985 or so.

Johnny K and I were dragged around an assortment of rough trade bars by our linebacker friend at a Toronto Grey Cup some years back. John and I were remarkably underdressed in Winnipeg Blue Bomber jerseys, a tad understated for the leather chaps, tattoo and piercings galore crowd. And once our linebacker disappeared into a mosh pit at our third saloon, we made a beeline to the door.

Our plan going into each of the three gay bars was simple. “JK,” I said. “If you get approached, I’m with you. If I get approached, you’re with me.” Then we looked at each other, smiled, and said: “Not that there’s anything wrong with being approached.”

Point is, there is a lingering awareness no matter how liberal you say you are, that most of us ‘straights’ make a beeline to the backpedal, when our heterosexuality is questioned.

Our friend, the linebacker, could never come out while toiling as one of the meanest sum’ beeches playing junior football inManitoba. Jerry and George found the label oppressively embarrassing, and your agent and Johhny K went in eyes wide shut, subordinately aware of our entrenched bias. Not exactly a eureka moment, but telling nonetheless. It made us aware of a simple fact. It would have been ludicrous back in the late seventies and early eighties to come out as a gay football player.

Today, it’s still considered as career suicide, on the turf, on the court, and especially on arena ice.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see Brian Burke, erstwhile architect of the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Dreamworks project bring some compassion, understanding and yes, brawn to the issue of homophobia in Canadian hockey.

Last Sunday, Brian and his son Patrick began the You Can Play campaign, an advocacy program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.

Brian and Patrick sally forth with purpose to remember a son and a brother, Brendan, who before he died tragically in an automobile accident in 2010, announced that he was gay.

Brendan was one of the good-uns. When he came out in 2009 he was an equipment manager with the Miami University Redhawks hockey team. He wasn’t a star, he wasn’t a great hockey player, he didn’t come out because his father was Brian Burke.

He wanted only to shed some light on a problem. He desperately wanted to make a difference for kids, young men and young women, who are marooned by the strictures of an entrenched ideological norm.

So last weekend it was heartening to see dad, Brian, and older brother Patrick carry on the legacy of a 21-year-old hockey manager.

Brian and Patrick push forward in the quest with the full blessing of the National Hockey League and 30 professional hockey players who are all lending their voice in an ad campaign. At the news conference the Burkes explained that the campaign “aims to change homophobic attitudes on the ice and the field.”

The efforts are bolstered by a stirring video, which is posted on the website, youcanplayproject.org.

The message in the video is strong, cogent, forthright and compelling.

“If you can skate, you can skate.”

“If you can shoot, you can shoot.”

“If you can score, you can score.”

“If you can play, you can play.”

SeveralNHLstars, Daniel Alfredsson, Rick Nash, Dion Phaneuf, among others, are in the video.

“Gay athletes need to know that if they’re good enough to make the team, their sexual orientation is irrelevant,” Patrick, a Philadelphia Flyers scout, told CTV News. “There are a lot of people in the sports world who are a member of the LGBT community who may feel like they’re outcasts and like they can’t be themselves. We need to eliminate the homophobic slurs, we need to make locker rooms safe places.

“We’re losing athletes. Sometimes it’s in the form of (suicide), which is obviously the worst possible thing that could ever happen. We’re losing kids who want to play sports because they think they’re not welcome there.”

I watched the video and my mind drifted back to a football player that I knew once. He played every game, and went to every practice with a secret.

He was gay.

And no. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Contact Terrance at gav@haliburtonhighlander.ca.

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