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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Gay hockey player's legacy lives on
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman

This article shared 4445 times since Wed Jun 30, 2010
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Brendan Burke had already come out to his family when, along with his older brother Patrick, he returned to speak in front of about 500 students at his high school alma mater, an all-boys' Catholic school in the Boston area.

Both spoke, primarily the younger Burke, addressing 15- and 16-year-olds. He talked openly and honestly about his sexuality, high school and the struggles of gay adolescence.

Afterward, Brendan received a standing ovation.

"I was so proud watching him talk, seeing how well he could convey this message that you just have to be nice to people," Patrick Burke said last week in an exclusive interview. "I think he really made a difference on that group of kids, and also on the world as a whole.

"I'm not surprised that he received a positive reaction, because he's doing a great thing."

Brendan's legacy lives on.

Brendan Burke was the son of Brian Burke, an iconic figure in the National Hockey League ( NHL ) who is now the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brendan came out last November, and was killed in a car accident in Indiana in February.

"He was a really special kid," said Patrick, 27. "He was my best friend for 21 years. He was a very unique individual. He had a way of instantly connecting with people. Everyone who ever met him felt like they knew him. Brendan cared about them. It's a talent, a gift, and I wish I had it too. He was a good kid, a caring kid. He was a people-person.

"Obviously it has been a hard past few months trying to get on without him.

"He was so proud when the original article came out [ in ESPN revealing he was gay ] ; he heard from so many young gay hockey players who didn't believe they could be openly gay and be involved in hockey. He heard from so many kids his age and younger, and was so proud to be an example, a role model for them.

"It's now very important to me and the rest of my family that Brendan's work is carried on, that his legacy of inclusion and love is carried on."

Enter the Chicago Gay Hockey Association ( CGHA ) , the city's only predominantly gay hockey organization, which features about 50 members from every color on the LGBT rainbow, as well as straight players. It also has a recent strong influx of twentysomething skaters—those who truly can relate with Burke.

The CGHA invited the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to join them at the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade. Brent Sopel volunteered to represent the Blackhawks at the June 27 event, even though he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers after the Cup title.

Sopel said he was dedicating his appearance to Brendan's honor and legacy.

"I'm thrilled that he's doing it. I think it's awesome. My whole family is just thrilled. We're very grateful to Brent and his family," Patrick said. "It's great to see a guy carrying on Brendan's work.

"The fact that Brent said he's doing this in Brendan's honor obviously means a ton to our family. It's nice to see professional athletes who are willing to step up for what is a very important cause to our family.

"Bringing the greatest trophy in team sports, the Stanley Cup, to the Pride Parade sends a huge message to gay hockey players all around the world."

Patrick said he's met Sopel only a few times while Sopel was playing in Vancouver. Brian Burke drafted Sopel into the NHL.

Neither Brian nor Patrick was able to attend the parade.

"It's very important to me that what Brendan was working toward comes to fruition, that his name and work continues," Patrick said.

To that, the CGHA and Sopel wore T-shirts and hockey jerseys at the parade with a shamrock—in recognition of the Burke's Irish background—and the letters "BB."

Patrick, a 2006 University of Notre Dame graduate, is now a scout for, ironically, the Philadelphia Flyers—the team Chicago defeated for The Cup.

"It's heartbreaking to come that close and lose, but I thought the team had a great run and I'm very proud," Burke said. "It was a great run and hopefully next year they'll get to do it again. The Hawks are a great team with a lot of great hockey players."

Especially Sopel.

So, is the NHL ready for an openly gay player?

"It's not a matter of is the NHL ready; it's a matter of is that player ready. That's when it will happen," Patrick said. "Our guys in the NHL only care about winning so, when a player comes out, if he can contribute to winning, I think his teammates will rally around him."

This article shared 4445 times since Wed Jun 30, 2010
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