Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We know gay isn't really OK in hockey

So when Burke's son outs himself, it's news

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So Brian Burke's son proclaims to the world he's gay and you'd think everybody had gone all Will and Grace overnight.The subject immediately turns to sexual orientation in the sports world -- which, as we know, is such an enlightened environment -- and the vast majority of public response is, "What's the big deal? Why is this even news?"

Really? Are you going to stick with that?

It's news, first of all, because the young man publicly professing his homosexuality is the son of the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, and for better or worse, anything related to Burke in Toronto is news. More significantly, Burke's son Brendan, a student manager with the Miami (Ohio) University hockey team, announced his sexual preference in a story on ESPN.com -- not exactly an in-house newsletter -- as a means to getting the issue of pro sports and homosexuality less taboo. He succeeded.

Curiously, once "out there," the topic has been treated with an overwhelmingly positive response: Good for Burke for supporting his son. Good for his son for having the courage of his convictions. Good for everybody!

See how open and non-judgmental we all are? Boy, aren't we such super, civilized people?!

Jeezus. What a load of unadulterated crap.

Look, I'm not questioning anyone's sincerity here (or maybe I am). But to suggest that society in general is much too accepting to question its collective moral righteousness with such "non-issues" is equally insulting.

Come on, man, Brian Burke said himself he wished his son wouldn't have gone so public. Why? Because Burke is a realist. He doesn't live in some fantasy world where gays are openly accepted in an exceedingly macho environment where grown men shower together.

Question: If being gay in sports is so damn uneventful, why is it that, in the recorded history of professional hockey -- at least as far as we know -- there's never been one openly gay player come out before retiring? Or even after, come to think of it. We're just spitballin' here, but probably because all the gay men who've played in the NHL over the years to this day didn't think it was a good career move.

Because they know, deep in their hearts, what the ramifications would be. Don't pretend to be clueless.

Not an issue because we're all so cool with it? Seriously?

Is that why Theo Fleury almost drank himself to death rather than admit he was sexually abused by Graham James?

Not because Fleury was a homosexual, of course, but because of the stigma attached to being abused by a man. Is that why professional sports as a whole don't have one openly homosexual athlete in uniform?

Again, I'm not saying for a second that there are not athletes or management in professional sports who couldn't care less about the sexuality of their team. Good on them, too. But there's a reason that what Brendan Burke has done is news, whether all the "Who me?" crowd out there want to admit it or not.

It's the same reason a minor furor is created when a former American Idol contestant kisses another man on an awards show. Or maybe you haven't heard. You know, with everybody being so open-minded and all.

Burke's story is news because perhaps it's a tiny step forward to the day when being homosexual in professional sports actually won't be a big deal. When it won't become the central, overriding aspect of the player's career, no matter what he accomplishes on the ice.

My humble opinion is you'll be waiting a long time.

Yeah, we can all talk a good game. But the unspoken truth is human nature usually trumps political correctness. Not on the superficial surface, but at the core of friendships and relationships among players themselves in the hypercompetitive, open-to-the-public world in which they exist.

Brian Burke knows that better than anyone. Remember, he's on the inside. Just ask the hard-nosed former player what he would have thought about having a gay teammate before his own son came along.

Hey, at least Brendan Burke is being honest with himself.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2009 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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