Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What some reaction to Brendan Burke really says

Presumably you saw the John Buccigross feature on how Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke's 21-year-old son, Brendan Burke, who is gay, hopes to work in the hockey industry.

Please excuse the eye-roll at the well-intentioned but empty sentiment. It's understandable if this changed your opinion of the elder Burke "because of his reputation as a hard-nosed, black-and-blue executive who extols the virtues of fighting in hockey," but now that you have had time to digest the news, ask yourself if it should. It reeks of the media getting caught up in the persona it's assigned to a sports figure and perpetuating those generalities. You could even say it plays into old stereotypes that anyone who is gay, or doesn't find gay people evil, is weak or not a person in full.

Brian Burke, by all accounts, is a sharp dude (just ask him), he's educated and has been exposed to a fair bit of the world, since he's always moving to a new GM gig every few years. He is also loyal. One could argue that would make him more likely to develop a stronger bond with his son than some average Joe. Most bigotry comes of out being sheltered or not very smart (gee, can't imagine why sportswriters would be oblivious to this concept).

This mostly rates attention due to the status of the father. The tail wags the dog. What sort of got buried is that the Miami Redhawks, a college hockey team full of 18- to 22-year-old jocks, accepted Brendan Burke as he is. Perhaps the sports world is more forward-thinking than behind-the-curve sportswriters would have you believe. Buccigross was able to show without telling, bless him:
"In between the first round and the Frozen Four, you tell one of the Miami players you are gay. Another player figures it out on the morning of the national championship game, and you have to pull him aside and tell him not to tell anyone before the game. You don't want it to be a distraction. You ask him to wait 12 hours after the game; then he can tell whomever he wants.

"After the heartbreaking overtime loss to Boston University, and mainly by word of mouth, your news gets around to the whole team. There isn't a big emotional sit-down talk, although you do speak with some of the guys personally. The general response is 'OK, Burkie's gay. Who cares? Pass the beer nuts.'

"About a week later, you approach your boss, the director of hockey operations for Miami, Nick Petraglia, and tell him. Then, a few days later, you tell Coach Blasi. You are pretty sure one of the players told them both in advance to give them a heads-up, but neither cares, and both are incredibly supportive.

"Blasi says that having you as part of Miami's program is a blessing and everyone is much more aware of what they say and how they say it. He says he is as guilty as anyone and everyone needs to be reminded that respect is not a label but something people earn by the way they live their life. Coach Blasi says you are a great student and an even better person. You say Coach Blasi is a great coach and an even better person."
That's the real story, far as this high-tech redneck is concerned. Ask yourself if you can see that happening with a major junior franchise team. Perhaps it has already. We don't know, since all the sports columnists who are now compelled to write, "There are gays in sport, gays in hockey, gays in society. I know of many who have served in front offices and scouting capacities. They shouldn’t have to hide, now or ever," have seldom if ever bothered to write that column on a day when it was not convenient or current. Note he said nothing specific about a gay player. And who is so pathetically naive he thinks he's being profound by pointing out there are "gays in society?"

True, you might not have read that 10, 15, 20 years ago in a daily newspaper, so it does represent progress to a limited extent. Don't miss the point. You should resist putting people in tinier and tinier boxes where if they believe in A (fighting in hockey = good), then they must believe B (gay people = not good). There are gay people who vote Republican or Conservative because they want lower taxes, a stronger military or are just stupid (assist to J.S. Mill). There are NDP voters who go hunting. You should never assume a singularity to anyone's personality, even though we're all guilty of it sometimes.

Accepting his daughter is gay and being in favour of gay rights did not make the former vice-president of the United States any less of an asshole or stop him from shooting a man in the face. The same would go for Brian Burke.

Meantime, all the best to Brendan Burke and the people on the Miami hockey team, who did the right thing without expecting a medal or a pat on the back. (You may argue that if he works in hockey, it's more of a tribute to nepotism than a repudiation of homophobia.)

That's where change happens in this world, not in trading on outdated stereotypes. Besides, when it comes to old-school admirers of truculence being comfortable around gay men, Don Cherry long ago retired that trophy:


The Meatriarchy said...

I hope this doesn't prevent Burkie from shooting someone in the face.

Particularly certain overpaid underperforming Leafs players.

Anonymous said...

You said a *mouthful*.



Tyler King said...

Very, very well said, Neate.

How many years before this kind of useless categorization becomes as irrelevant as hair colour?

Marco Rosa Fan said...

Well written Neate. I attended GDI (Ian Clark's goalie camp) about 5 summers ago with Brendan Burke and would had no clue he was gay. He seemed like a good kid (got very defensive during a Dan Cloutier vs Kipprusoff debate) and had a good head on his shoulders. He also seemed incredible fearful of his dad for the reasons you and I would be scared of him.

This is the first time in my life somebody I have known has come out and it is kind of weird, but it doesn't take away my opinion of the person in any way.

Mitch said...

If they're both good with it then there's really no big issue. Everybody should learn to accept and be happy. If that happens, the world will have lesser problems and worries. Thanks for sharing. Two thumbs up for Brian! By the way, these free recipes and goodies for cool fans, will surely make you feel good!

Giancarlo Frison said...

Memorial for Brendan: