You may have noticed that we do not write about hockey very often here at TSB. It's not a huge priority for any of our staff writers individually, and that means daily observation of the sport is mostly handled by our hockey blog, The Grinder, unless something wacky or wonderful has happened on the ice. Today, though, we have a tragic story that happened away from the ice, with an even more extraordinary story behind it. And Brendan Burke's tale transcends his sport.
Burke died Friday night, in a car crash in Indiana that also claimed the life of his passenger, Mark Reedy. Burke was 21. Reedy was 18. This is sad on its face. In this case, it is magnified by the exceptional way Burke and his father, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, made headlines last fall.
Last November, Brendan Burke told ESPN's John Buccigross he was gay. This was a surprise not only because he was part of the culture of hockey, a sport with as many problems with homophobia as any other, but because the elder Burke was a proponent of a very macho archetype of masculinity in players. Brian Burke said, at the beginning of his time in Toronto, "We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play."
He did not fit the stereotypical mold of a gay icon. But he accepted his son with love and candor, and became one. Because he is one of the most visible figures in hockey, and because he defended his son so vigorously, he inspired many tributes to a father's love.
All that doesn't make Brendan Burke's death sadder than Mark Reedy's, or sadder than any of the thousands of deaths in car accidents each year in the United States, or sadder than any young person's life cut short. Sadness is not quantifiable, and there is no amount of homage that can replace any lost son. But that is the wonderful truth of this story: Brendan Burke's sexuality made him no more or less dear to his father and family. It was just part of who he is. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of the Burkes' story.
I send my best wishes to Burke's friends and family, and Reedy's, and hope that if nothing else, Burke's passing inspires athletes and sports figures in all realms to read his story. Brendan Burke, sadly, is gone. The love he and his father shared will live on.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.