Even before the crushing death of his son Brendan, it seemed like Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was poised to be an advocate of gay rights. The story is Burke immediately embraced his son when he came out and it seemed like the hockey community did, too.
Based on that experience and his own worldview, Burke told CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos that he believes life won’t be as difficult as expected for the first openly gay hockey player. (Whenever that time comes.)
“Right now, a player who’s contemplating that is thinking, the whole world’s going to be arrayed against him and be this mountain he’s gotta climb,” Burke said. “And I think he’s gonna find – I really believe this [after] watching the acceptance that my son got when he came out in the hockey community at Miami University – this athlete that has the courage to come out, is going to find that hill’s a lot less steep than he thinks it is.”
That’s certainly an interesting and optimistic take from Burke. Do you agree that such a player will receive more support than perhaps expected or might the reaction be quite different?
Check out the full video clip of Burke’s comments below.
Sean Avery ready to support any hockey player coming out openly gay
Homosexuality in sports is about as taboo a subject as you’ll find in modern culture. Whether it’s because of fear or apprehension, professional athletes are either unwilling to support those that have come out or are afraid to do so because it’s so virtually absent from the locker room culture.
New York Ranger forward Sean Avery wants to help start knocking down those walls standing between gays and being able to just be who they are in sports.
“If there’s a kid in Canada or wherever, who is playing and really loves the game and wants to keep playing but he’s worried about coming out, I’d tell him to pick up the phone and call (NHLPA executive director) Donald Fehr and tell him to book me a (plane) ticket.
“I’ll stand beside him in the dressing room while he tells his teammates he is gay. Maybe if Sean Avery is there, they would have less of a problem with it.”
Avery’s open and public support like this is not uncommon in the hockey world. Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke marched in the Toronto gay pride parade as a gesture of support for his son Brendan who died in a car accident. Brendan was a manager with the Miami University hockey team and came out to his friends and players receiving overwhelming support from them for doing so.
Former Blackhawks and current Thrashers defenseman Brent Sopel took the Stanley Cup with him to Chicago’s gay pride parade last summer as a gesture of support to Burke and his family in honor of Brendan. Adding Avery’s name and persona to the list of those in the NHL who are more than happy to lend their support to gay rights shows that hockey comes out far ahead of other professional sports. Finding athletes and executives from any of the NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball that are as visibly supportive of gay rights is difficult and while we don’t doubt there are those that are happy to help out in such civil rights struggles, they’re not standing out front to do so.
Avery being such a polarizing figure in the NHL makes this such an incredible mind-blowing sort of thing as the guy we know on the ice seems like the sort that would shove your grandmother down to get what he wants. Pulling out such an outstanding way to be a stand-up human being puts a different face on Sean Avery the person as opposed to Sean Avery the player. Perhaps being such a great guy off the ice will soften the stance on what people think of him on it.