Monday, March 8, 2010

Hockey, Homophobia, and A Father's Love for His Gay Son

The Carolina Hurricanes had been on a great winning streak this season - they'd won seven games in a row, and had won 11 of their past 13 games. Unfortunately, this streak came to a ugly, sloppy end this weekend when they lost to the Florida Panthers 4-1.

Hockey, while relatively new to the state, has been pretty well embraced by North Carolina.

Now, hockey, sadly, is famous for having a culture of homophobia. Gay slurs and challenges to masculinity and sexual potency are commonplace.

Things are changing, though. Four years ago, according to a Sports Illustrated survey, 80% of the National Hockey League (NHL) said they'd welcome an openly gay player. This made hockey more progressive than Major League baseball (62%), the NBA (60%), and the NFL (57%).

It's not surprising that the NHL players were more open. Many of the league's players are from Canada and Northern Europe, where marriage equality exists and LGBT folks have equal rights under the law.

Last year, Brendan Burke, youngest son of Brian Burke, general manage of the Toronto Maple Leafs, came out as gay. His father fully, publicly supported him on ESPN.

This caused much more discussion of sexual orientation in hockey. His coming out prompted Justin Borne, NHL sports columnist in USA Today, to proclaim "It's time to end the use of gay slurs in hockey."

Brendan Burke died in a car crash last month. His father
, who served as GM of the United State's Olympic team, Team USA, in the 2010 Winter Olympics, has committed to work for LGBT equality in memory of his son.

Brendan's causes are Brian's now. He will do a PSA aimed at eliminating the bullying of gay children, and he plans to be in the Toronto Pride Parade. "I'd promised him I would march with him," Brian Burke said. "He won't be there, but I will."

Issues of LGBT equality cross all boundaries of sports, stereotypes, and family. This story is remarkable. What makes it remarkable isn't that it dealt with sexual orientation in hockey. It's not remarkable for what the father did after his son died. It's remarkable for Brian Burke's unwavering and casual support of his gay son from the get-go, from within a sport that isn't obviously gay-friendly.

His father is commendable for picking up the banner of his son's causes, but he's more commendable for simply being a loving father, regardless of his son's sexual orientation.

That's a glimpse of the world we're working for, and an example of how a parent should behave towards their kid. That's the type of parent all children deserve.

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