Brother of Fallen LGBT Advocate Brendan Burke Speaks Out about Homophobia in Sports

Brendan (Left) & Patrick Burke

Patrick Burke, the brother of fallen LGBT advocate Brendan Burke, writes this week about his family's renewed commitment to ending homophobia in sports. Brendan Burke was the openly gay son of hockey legend Brian Burke, President & General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and General Manager of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team.  Brendan perished in a weather-related car accident this past February at the age of 21. ESPN writer John Buccigross won the 2010 GLAAD Media Award in the Outstanding Digital Journalism Article category for his piece, "We Love You, This Won't Change a Thing" -- the moving coming out story of Brendan Burke.

Special thanks to OutSports.com for bringing us this heart-wrenching tribute to a young pioneer for LGBT equality.

“There are a lot of gay athletes out there and gay people working in pro sports that deserve to know that there are safe environments where people are supportive of you regardless of your sexual orientation.”- Brendan Burke

-Written by Patrick Burke-

About a week before John Buccigross’s article was published on ESPN.com, I called my brother for an important talk.  Through Buccigross, Brendan was about to come out to the entire sports world.  My father, Enrico Blasi (Head Coach of the Miami University hockey team), Brendan and I had done our interviews and given Buccigross plenty of quotes to best tell Brendan’s story.  Now I needed to talk to Brendan about the consequences of this decision.

Brendan was weighing two careers: politics and hockey management.  Neither arena is generally viewed as gay-friendly, and our family was concerned about what Brendan’s announcement would mean for his future.  I wanted to make sure he was fully aware of the risks he was taking.  We had talked previously about the anonymous cowards who make up a large portion of the internet: “No reading the comments sections” would be our rule.  As a strong family, we could laugh them off.  We knew the strength of Brendan’s message would overwhelm the “strength” of any message made by someone who won’t sign their name to their ridiculous statements.  But what about people who matter?  What if an NHL executive or player came out against homosexuality?  I wanted to be sure Brendan was fully prepared for that.

We talked for a while about what might happen, both the good and the bad.  We talked about how we’d handle it if someone important condemned Brendan for speaking up.  I had faith in the hockey community.  I truly believed that they would take care of Brendan.  Hockey has had thousands of colorful characters and personalities over the years, and they have always been embraced as long as they could contribute to a team’s success.  Brendan was a student manager, friend, and teammate for the No. 1 team in the NCAA; It was obvious he could contribute.  But there’s always that part of an older brother that wants to shield his siblings from any sort of hurt or disappointment, and it would only take one person to say something negative to hurt Brendan.

In typical Brendan fashion, he was more concerned about me.  “You promise this isn’t going to be a problem for you? I don’t want this to mess up your career.”  To be honest, I was nervous for myself.  Not because I thought that Brendan’s story would cause me any problems in my career, but because I did not know how I would handle any backlash.  Scouting is a tight-knit community, and I am very close with the guys I work with.  I would have been both furious and crushed if another scout had something negative to say about my brother.  I assured Brendan I would be just fine.

“B, if there are people out there who don’t want you to work for them because you’re gay, then I don’t want to work for them,” I told him.  “They don’t want to win as badly as I do.”

With both of us promising to take care of each other, and with my dad, mother, step-mother, and sisters in Brendan’s corner, we waited for the article to be released...

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