Brian Burke, son launch anti-homophobia campaign
Published Sunday, March 4, 2012 10:07PM EST
When Brendan Burke publicly announced that he was gay in late 2009, he hoped to make a difference in the lives of other young athletes who hid their sexuality from their teammates and coaches.
But Brendan's mission to raise awareness about homophobia in hockey -- a game that ran in his family's blood -- was cut short just a few months later, when he died in a car crash during a snowstorm in Indiana.
Brendan's famous father, Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, and older brother Patrick immediately resolved to carry on the 21-year-old's message.
On Sunday, the Burkes launched the You Can Play campaign, an advocacy program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.
With support from the NHL and more than 30 professional hockey players who've agreed to participate in public service announcements, the campaign aims to change homophobic attitudes on the ice and the field.
In a video posted on the campaign's website, www.youcanplayproject.org, the Burkes' message is strong and simple: "If you can play, you can play."
The video, which made its TV debut Sunday on NBC during a break in the New York Rangers-Boston Bruins game, also features NHL stars Rick Nash, Daniel Alfredsson and Dion Phaneuf, among others.
Gay athletes need to know that if they're good enough to make the team, their sexual orientation is irrelevant, Patrick Burke, a Philadelphia Flyers scout, told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
"There are a lot of people in the sports world who are a member of the LGBT community who may feel like they're outcasts and like they can't be themselves," he said. "We need to eliminate the homophobic slurs, we need to make locker rooms safe places."
Homophobia in sports is a serious issue and can't be swept under the rug anymore, Burke said.
"We're losing athletes. Sometimes it's in the form of taking their own lives, which is obviously the worst possible thing that could ever happen. Sometimes they just get burned out in the game," he said.
"We're losing kids who want to play sports because they think they're not welcome there."
Burke credited gay advocacy group GForce Sports for helping pull the You Can Play project together, but also noted that straight hockey players, managers and coaches have all thrown their support behind it.
"We made a firm commitment to carry on Brendan's legacy," he said.