TAG | Patrick Burke
Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has joined seven other NHL stars in a video promoting the message of a new non-profit organization: the “You Can Play Project.”
You Can Play is co-founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke who, along with his father Brian Burke (GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs), is carrying on the commitment to fight for equality of LGBT athletes after the death of his younger brother Brendan.
You Can Play’s mission:
You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.
You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.
You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.
The organization’s website includes numerous other resources, including an ally pledge and a captain’s challenge. The Project is also going to do something similar to the “It Gets Better” project—finding athletes, coaches, etc. to record promotional videos—except the focus will be narrowed to the simple message that sexual orientation will not be considered in evaluating your capacity to play sports.
In an interview with Outsports, Burke explains that the athletes he has worked with have been more supportive of this narrow message: “Some athletes who might support a gay teammate might not be on board with gay marriage or don’t want to deal with those issues. We’re just getting athletes to say they want the best teammates and the other stuff doesn’t matter. And they know they’ll never have to take a position on gay marriage or march in a pride parade. They can just say they want a safe locker room and not have to do anything else.”
A 30-second initial video (shot and produced by HBO, a partner of You Can Play) will air on national television during the 1st intermission of the NBC telecast of the NY Rangers v. Boston Bruins today, March 4.
You can watch the full-length, 60-second video here:
Like the “Don’t Say Gay” PSA that aired during the NBA Finals, it is absolutely incredible to have a video with this message airing during a national telecast. It actually leaves me speechless.
Aside from Nash, the video also features Patrick and Brian Burke, Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks), Brian Boyle (New York Rangers), Matt Moulson (New York Islanders), Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators), Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia), Corey Perry (Anaheim), Andy Greene (New Jersey Devils), Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers).
You Can Play’s advisory board also includes some notable names: John Buccigross (ESPN Sportscenter anchor), LZ Granderson (CNN/ESPN columnist), David Testo (recently out professional soccer player), Rick Welts (out President of the Golden State Warriors), among others.
*Dusts off keyboard*
A quick reminder: as I go through these lapses in writing (from a lack of motivation, being too busy with school, and/or nothing especially newsworthy happening), be sure to follow updates on Facebook and Twitter as I will continue to forward what news I come across that doesn’t warrant a full blog post.
This interview given by Patrick Burke, however, definitely warrants whatever promotion I can give it with a full-fledged post.
The Burke family continues to be the leading force in changing the environment for gay athletes in hockey. The coming out of Brendan followed by Patrick and Brian assuming roles as vocal advocates after Brendan tragically died feels to me as what will be known as the catalyst leading to a gay player coming out while actively playing in the NHL.
The Canadian news company, CTV News, posted an excellent segment interviewing Patrick about his brother, continuing the cause, and the state of homophobia in hockey.
(The associated article highlights the points made by Patrick, but I think it is well-worth the time to watch the video of the interview.)
For my favorite bit of the interview, when asked why it would be so valuable for a hockey player (especially with how revered hockey players are in Canada) to come out, Patrick responds: “Athletes in general have such a strong stature and cross so many borders and boundaries in our culture. They’re one of the few groups that can be involved politically, and be involved in the music industry, and be on TV. And they can go into lots of other arenas that other people just can’t.”
Patrick continues: “In addition, they’re seen as masculine role models—masculine stereotypes for male athletes. And when there’s an unfortunate stereotype—that a lot of gay people are more feminine and less masculine—having a masculine athlete for a role model would be a huge step forward.”
While I would like to think that stereotypes would not be the source for perpetuating homophobia, I know the prevalent stereotype of an effeminate gay man fuels the prejudice. Homophobes see the effeminate gay man as a group easily quantifiable and excludable. It’s easy to create an ‘us versus them’ mentality because the masculine homophobe sees nothing in common with an effeminate gay man.
By coming out a masculine athlete sends two important messages: First, it challenges the stereotype of a gay man, making gay people more relatable to a larger number of people.
Second, and more importantly in my view, an athlete coming out gives closeted youth someone to look up to.
The reason I find the second message more important is because while the first message indirectly leads to a gradual shift towards full acceptance and equality for the gay community, the second message directly affects those most in need of a role model.
Going back to Patrick’s interview, following the message that coming out is important, the discussion then becomes: could an athlete come out?
Patrick cites a 2006 Sports Illustrated survey that found almost 80% of NHL players would support a gay teammate (the highest of the four major sports). Patrick describes the current locker room setting as having too much “casual homophobia,” including slurs being used too often.
Based on his delivery before going in a different direction (and I’m fully speculating here), it seemed as if he was trying to suggest that the “casual homophobia,” while unacceptable, is more rooted in habit than an indication of the actual culture of the sport. And accordingly, the habitual homophobia should not be interpreted as an obstacle for an athlete to come out.
Patrick closes talking about the awareness and education he does with the great organization GForce.
Outsports posted an excellent column today written by Patrick Burke, older brother of Brendan Burke, titled “Never forgotten: Patrick Burke remembers his pioneering brother, Brendan.”
Brendan’s coming out story, and the acceptance of his father and Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, written by John Buccigross of ESPN, received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism Article. Brendan’s story ended tragically with his passing earlier this year; however, his courage continues to be a source for fighting homophobia in the sports industry.
Patrick’s column is exceptional and provides new details to the acceptable within the sports world after Brendan came out and the response after his death. I would highly encourage reading the entire piece, but I want to highlight some parts that stand out for me. If you want additional background, I have written about Brendan and the Burke family several times.
Patrick wrote on the acceptance and support the family received after Brendan came out:
I wish I had transcribed every conversation in which a scout, an agent, a coach, or an executive subtly pulled me aside during a game to express their support and offer any help we might want. It was overwhelming, and it was universally positive.
The NHL welcomed Brendan with open arms, and I am very proud of our league and our executives for that. We need to continue to make it clear that we judge players, scouts, coaches, and executives only by whether they can contribute to a championship hockey team.
The depth of this support goes far beyond that. Patrick wrote about how the U.S. Olympic team wore dogtags under their jerseys to honor Brendan. Outsports wrote separately on this tidbit. The dogtags had the Olympic symbol, USA, and Vancouver 2010 on one side and the words: “In honor of BRENDAN BURKE” on the other. The idea to do this was initiated by U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner.
Patrick closed his article with these words:
When members of the hockey world choose to come out, the Burke family will be in their corner. We will continue to work publicly and privately to make locker rooms safe, to eliminate gay slurs, and to fight for equality for all the kids out there like Brendan. We urge every hockey player, fan, coach and executive, at every level of the game, to join us in our fight. Brendan proved that one voice can make a difference. Each member of the hockey world who takes a stand with us amplifies Brendan’s message of love and inclusion, spreading it a little further. If we’re lucky, it will reach those who need to hear it the most.
With the class shown by the NHL players, coaches, and executives, I honestly believe a player will come out in the NHL within the next few years.
Brendan Burke was laid to rest today in Canton, Massachusetts.
Brendan’s coming out—especially the support he received from his father Brian Burke, General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Miami (Ohio) hockey team where Brendan worked—was a major story at the end of November 2009 (link).
The tragedy of his passing has reverberated through the sports industry and the gay community. His sexuality should not be an issue at this time; rather, we should focus on his courage.
You can read more about the funeral services here, but there is an excerpt from his brother’s eulogy that I wanted to directly pass along.
Patrick Burke: “His vision of the world was a spark that lit a fire of hope in so many people. That fire has not been extinguished by his passing. His memory will fan the flame of courage in all of us.”
Rest in peace, Brendan.