December 21, 2010
There's a profile of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke in GQ Magazine's January 2011 issue that's a remarkable bit of reporting by Mary Rogan: Giving vivid details on how Burke learned about both his son's homosexuality and his shocking death in an automobile crash in February, and how Burke has struggled to carry on with his son's legacy as a gay rights and tolerance advocate.
Read the article here (and note a Strong Language warning for some choice words). You won't stop until the end, unless it's because the emotions got to you.
A few takeaways from the piece:
• This may have been previously reported, but every member of the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team "wore a dog tag bearing the inscription In Memory of Brendan Burke."
• Burke's reaction to Brendan's coming out a few years ago:
A couple of days later, Brendan flew out to Vancouver to tell his dad and his stepmom. "I had no inkling," Burke says. "So I said, 'Are you sure?' because I know for some people there's an ambivalence about it, and he said, 'Yeah,' and I said, 'Well, that's fine with me.' But later, I did say to [his wife] Jennifer that I was worried. All I want for my kids is for them to be happy. I still think that being gay in our society, there's a great burden to it, and that's not right. As I went to bed, I thought, 'I hope he has a happy life. I hope it's not marked with persecution and bias and bigotry. I hope this burden isn't too much for him.' Especially if he was going to work in hockey."
Brian Burke was consumed by deeper worries: "I said, 'Look, once this comes out, you have to be real careful, Brendan. You're walking home from a bar and some football player or some other guy decides we're gonna teach this homo a lesson. I don't want you walking home alone. Just keep your head on a swivel, because there are a lot of stupid people out there.' " Burke still shudders when he remembers how in those first few days after Brendan came out publicly, he couldn't stop thinking about what had happened to Matthew Shepard out in Wyoming. "That poor boy. I can't even talk about that boy. I can't even say his name."
• All that talk about the affect his son's death had on Burke and his NHL job performance is an unavoidable undercurrent to this story. It's clear he has a heavy heart. It's clear the weight of that tragedy and carrying on his son's legacy -- while feeling ill-equipped to do so -- is palpable. On the one hand, it's miraculous he hasn't taken a sabbatical. On the other, it's clear that soldiering on professionally is his coping mechanism.
• Finally, the line about Brian Burke picturing his son in the snow on the side of the road and being concerned about how cold he must have been that night in Indiana is pretty much the saddest, most heartbreaking moment put to pixels in 2010. RIP, Brendan.