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Brian Burke on supporting first openly gay hockey player

Feb 3, 2012, 8:30 AM EST

Brian Burke AP

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.

  1. cdiercksen - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    I agree 100%. Aside from widespread cultural support (or ambivalence) that an openly gay player would encounter, there is also precedent for mass condemnation of public hatespeach within the hockey community. I’m not saying there won’t be negativity encountered, but I am saying the positive response to that negativity will be overpowering.

    • napoleonblownapart6887 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:44 AM

      Completely agree. I think in general hockey is devoid of the machismo, and chest thumping that makes a locker room an intimidating place for an openly gay athlete. My (limited) experience through television and being around pro hockey players is that the support and camraderie that exists would make hockey a safer place for a gay athlete. Think about it – this is a sport where guys will skate onto the ice and try to beat the crap out of some other guy who put a hard hit on their teammate months ago.

      Maybe I’m just living in a land of rainbows (no pun intended) and lollipops, but I think it would be a safe place for an openly gay athlete.

      Also anyone who is going to make the joke about “Cindy Crosby” being openly gay… you’re not clever – you’re a moron. THought I might want to get ahead of that inevitable idiocy.

  2. nhlbruins90 - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    The hockey players in the NHL are pretty much like the young people you find anywhere in our world. Their attitudes toward gay people are no different, and it’s a pretty accepting attitude as well. It’s generally not hostile anyway.

    For younger people, most expect to live a normal life and have no interest hiding in a closet, and they don’t have to. It takes time of course, you don’t jump out of the closet all at once, but they expect to live a normal life like anybody else. Hockey players are no different.

    Do the guys that go the college route (gay and straight) have an advantage, since they certainly have friends, and even roommates, who are gay? I don’t know much about life in the juniors, but is that maybe a more cloistered life? I don’t know.

    Some people can’t help but wisecrack about Chara posing nude, but I think that his posing nude reflects a European respect for art that many Americans don’t have. In Europe, you’re surrounded by great works of art that include, well, lots of naked men. (Lots of those great artists were gay too.) Does this make European guys a little more comfortable with male sexuality, or should I say looking at the male body as an object of art and beauty? I don’t know.

    One obstacle for gay guys is the censorship that exists, which always creates bitterness and resentment. People are free to like me, or not. And they should be free to say that, respectfully, without being called hateful. That just stigmatizes a different group of people. We don’t need to do that. It’s counter-productive. Let’s quit calling each other names.

  3. lewdood - Feb 3, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    I think the key will be either a superstar or a highly respected “blue collar” grinder type player coming out. Can’t be a journeyman second-line winger or third line D-man.

    When Welsh Rugby star Garreth Thomas came out (while actively playing), it was great for both rugby and the gay rights movement because he was Wales’ most-capped player and was regarded (and feared) as an all-around bad-a$$.

    If someone of his ilk were to come out in the NHL, it could not only create a huge new fanbase for the sport (I have lots of gay friends who loved hockey once I introduced them to it), but also show the NHL as a real leader in moving North American sports into the future. And I definitely think the NHL will be the first sport to have an openly gay star. The NFL & NBA are way too aggressive and have too many players who don’t tend to come from cultures that accept homosexuality, and baseball just seems waaayyyy too traditional to want to encourage and support a player making that decision.

    • nhlbruins90 - Feb 3, 2012 at 2:21 PM

      Let me rephrase it for you – the NFL and NBA are predominantly Black. That particular culture is indeed less friendly toward gay people. I don’t think you’ll find an openly gay player in the NBA anytime soon, as some players have proudly stated they would never accept a gay teammate. On the other hand, I do remember that coach Doc Rivers said he would have no problem with a gay player on his team. Bravo to him, because I’m not sure most of his players would agree with him. It’s easy to say things that everybody agrees with, not so much the other way around.

      MLB is very much a Latino dominated sport, and most of those players were not born in America. Typical Americans have a very different view of gays than the average foreign born Latino. It’s the reason California does not yet have gay marriage, and Massachusetts does. But don’t take my word for it – check out Glenn Burke, the first and only openly gay pro baseball player. Man, now that guy had it tough.

      I disagree that baseball is too traditional. MLB is as PC as it gets, just as the NHL is. The fan base of the Sox, for example, are upscale types who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at cheering for a gay player. They would clap twice as loud to ‘prove’ how open-minded they are. Sure, there would always be the catcalls from here and there in the crowd. But that’s always the case.

      NFL and NBA are more aggressive than the NHL? Tell that to Shawn Thornton (and then run and hide)!

      • lewdood - Feb 3, 2012 at 5:27 PM

        Yeah, the black culture thing was the implication regarding the NBA & NFL. And by aggressive I meant the “street” culture a lot of the players come from.

        The latino aspect of MLB is based all on strict Catholicism that most of the South American and Carribean players grew up with. I’ve read articles about how being gay can get you killed in the Dominican, Haiti and Jamaica, for example.

        Bottom line is if I were gay and a pro athlete I know I wouldn’t want to be out in a locker room with a bunch of Venezuelans, Dominicans, guys from the inner city and southern white dudes.

        I’d rather be out with a bunch of Canadians, Europeans and northerners.

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