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This is a story I came across while perusing my favorite sports website looking for the score in the Canucks hockey game, which is on Pay-Per-View tonight, and as much as I love following my team I’m not about to shell out $17 just to watch a hockey game (its 1-0 Vancouver after the first period if anyone was wondering). Anyway, I came across a very interesting story that has evidently been splashed across the sports pages over the past day or so. Brendan Burke, son of Brian Burke who is the former Canucks GM, current Maple Leafs GM and very influential NHL personality, essentially outed himself in a story written by ESPN reporter John Buccigross.

In the ESPN piece, Bucigross writes about Brendan’s coming out story to his family and how his sexuality has affected his career. Brendan was an up-and-coming goalie in the minors but eventually chose not to continue with his hockey career for fear of his teammates finding out he was gay. Today he is a student manager for the University of Miami’s hockey team.

Brendan’s Dad, Brian, is quoted as saying would stand next to his son “with an axe” and has incredible respect and admiration for him. However, he wasn’t so keen on him sharing his story with the world and being the ‘first’ in the hockey world to come out, “You wish that someone else would carry that burden first and then he can grab and help. But this is what he wanted to do and we support him.”

Brendan and Brian sat down for an interview with TSN and during the interview, Brendan told TSN the reasons why he felt he had to talk about his experience: “I think it’s important that my story is told to people because 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 regardless of your sexual orientation.”

Hats off to him. His family, including his father, was extremely supportive of him as well as the college team he manages. My favourite quote comes from one of his fellow coaches at Miami University, Enrico Blaci, who says “I think having Brendan as part of our program has been a blessing. We are much more aware of what you say and how we say it. I am guilty as anyone. We need to be reminded that respect is not a label, but something you earn by the way you live your life.” — source ESPN.

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There are very few gay athletes and role models for young people to look up to. But, while they have made some strides in recent times, the sports arena is a sexist and homophobic environment to attempt to forge a career and excel as a professional athlete. Saleem told us about the PrideHouse, a GLBT-friendly space for athletes competing at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. It’s a fantastic start, and the first of its kind to really give visibility to the fact that being athletic is not synonymous with being straight. It should be interesting to see how that unfolds in a few months. Hopefully it will spur more discussion and bring the issue of the closeted sports world to the attention of the media.

I know there’s a lot of people out there who grew up playing sports like hockey and football and quit because of the locker room shenanigans and the hyper-masculine heterosexist atmosphere that clouds most teammates relationships. We’ve probably missed out on a lot of great athletes and performances as a result, but with Brendan willing to share his story like this, and with a supportive Dad who holds such respect in the NHL, it can hopefully start to change things for the youth of today. Thanks for sharing your story Brendan; this is how change happens.

Oh, and the Canucks beat the Kings 4-1, just in case you were wondering. Go Canucks!!!!