Locker room is ready for a gay player: NHL scout
Josh Visser, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, November 4, 2011 9:07PM EDT
Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke is urging gay athletes to follow in the footsteps of his brother Brendan, who died nearly two years ago, and come out of the closet in the hyper-masculine world of sports.
"We need more straight and gay athletes at the professional level need to step up and say it's OK," he told CTV's National Affairs Friday. "We need more role models."
Burke, who is the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, said his brother Brendan was the first gay person he really knew.
"Seeing him stand up at age 20 and say, ‘I'm openly gay and my sports team accepts me and my family loves me,' I think that's a great role model for everyone everywhere to have the courage to be yourself and be a leader."
Burke said there's an unfortunate stereotype that gay men are less masculine and "having a masculine role model for a young male athlete would be a huge, huge step forward."
Burke is making a similar appeal that the CBC's Rick Mercer, who has called for more openly gay role models, in the wake of the suicides of several gay teens.
While there have been several professional athletes who have come out of the closet, such as NBA centre John Amaechi, the overwhelming majority have done so in retirement.
In 2010, Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas was listed by Sports Illustrated as the only openly gay professional athlete in a team sport. The veteran fullback told the Daily Mail he struggled to come out to his teammates, who supported him when he did.
"It's been really tough for me hiding who I really am, but I don't want it to be like that for the next young person who wants to play rugby," he said in a 2009 interview.
Patrick Burke cited a 2006 study and said the vast majority of NHL players would support a gay teammate.
"But what we have in the locker room right now is what we call ‘casual homophobia,'" he said. "People who use gay slurs, throw them around far too often."
But he also thinks the atmosphere is improving.
"I think we are getting to point where the players realize . . . that they can be safe and openly gay in the locker room," he said. "We are going to see that soon."
Burke said straight athletes also need to show their support for their gay counterparts and that they will stand up for them.
Earlier this year, New York Rangers forward Sean Avery appeared in a video supporting gay marriage in the United States.
Avery, who is straight, said he would stand beside any NHL player who wanted to come out to his teammates. This September, the issue came up again, when Avery was allegedly called a homophobic slur by Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.
Brendan Burke's legacy
Brendan Burke died in a car accident on Feb. 5, 2010. Only a few months earlier, he came out of the closet, calling for an end to homophobia in sports. His comments made headlines around the hockey world.
"From birth, he had an unshakable faith in the genuine good that resides in all people," Patrick Burke said at the funeral mass. "Along with that faith is hope, hope that he could bring that good out from inside of people and into the world by being open, caring and kind to everyone he met."
The Burkes, one of hockey's foremost families, have become outspoken advocates for gay rights and equality. Brian Burke, one of Toronto's most recognizable faces, has been a fixture at the city's Pride parade in recent years.
Patrick Burke has been working with a group called GForce sports, which advocates equality in sport regardless of sexual orientation.
"We'll speak to anyone, anytime, anywhere," he said. "If people want to hear about what we need to do to make locker rooms safe for gay athletes, for young LGBT athletes, the Burke family will be there to help them."