Generally when the Stanley Cup makes it’s annual tour around the world each summer, it’s not uncommon for it to be featured in a parade in a player’s hometown. It’s not every day that a member of a championship winning squad can do something to help reach out to a community in a different way however.
That’s what makes now former Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel’s gesture today so special as he escorted the Stanley Cup in today’s Gay Pride parade in Chicago to honor Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke’s son, Brendan. Brendan Burke was killed in a car accident in February, just three months after coming out to his friends and fellow Miami University hockey team members. Sopel was only more than happy to dedicate this gesture to the Burke family.
“Anybody who has had to bury a child has suffered a heartbreak and this was the first thing that came to mind,” Sopel said. “Everything that happened last year with Brendan coming out last year and dying three months later, it was a tragedy.”
The Burke family was more than supportive of Brendan in coming out and they were moved by Sopel’s gesture in a huge way.
“Our entire family is touched by the kindness of Brent and Kelly Sopel, and that of the Blackhawks,” Burke said Thursday in an e-mail from Los Angeles, where he was attending the league’s draft meetings.
“This is not a small step — it’s a bold and important one. We are grateful that a statement of this magnitude is being made by the Sopels, the Blackhawks and the National Hockey League.”
Homosexuality in sports, college or professional, is a highly taboo subject to say the least and having anyone either playing or in a management position openly come out and express who they are is extremely rare. Brendan Burke in doing so became an instantly identifiable figure and being the son of such a well known figure in hockey figures helped amplify the story.
For Burke to be as open as he was, sadly, may have been risky considering some of the prejudices that still exist today, but the outpouring of emotion and recognition for Brendan following his tragic death (Miami University wore a patch with his initials on their jerseys) showed that perhaps those bad feelings are becoming less apparent in a more progressive era. With moves like Brent Sopel’s today to not only pay tribute to a friend’s son as well as his life, this can be a step towards eliminating some of the awful discrimination that exists in our world.