Hockey is a game of bounces; sometimes they are in your favor and sometimes you can’t seem to catch a break. It’s a game of unpredictability; you’re up three goals one minute and down one the next.
Brendan Burke had all of the bounces going his way.
He was the youngest son of Brian Burke, the president and general manager of the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. He was the student manager for the Miami Redhawks men’s hockey team. He saw his father’s Anaheim Ducks hoist the Stanley Cup. He told his father he was gay and that father’s love and support did not waver one bit.
But too soon did those bounces end.
Moments after the Washington Capitals came out victors over the Atlants Thrashers, the focus of a rabid fanbase drastically altered.
23 minutes after exclaiming “Green!!!” for the empty net goal scored by Mike Green, I was relaying James Mirtle’s saddening message on Twitter:
The Leafs sent out a statement saying that Brian Burke’s son was killed in a car accident. No other details available
It’s wasn’t Brendan. We were just reading his story a few months ago. He was only 21. It just couldn’t be.
The updates and condolences started flowing from all over. It was in fact Brendan Burke.
Brendan Burke. The kid who had to keep part of himself a secret for fear of being ridiculed. The kid who told an entire community that he was gay. The kid who was trying to rid the world of sports of homophobic slurs and inequality.
The hockey community is like no other.
To me, it feels like an enormous extended family. You will always have your differences, but at the end of the day, you band together through both triumph and tragedy.
The death of Brendan Burke is one of those times where winning streaks, last minute comebacks, and shootout losses didn’t matter any more. All of that was pushed to the back of every hockey fan’s mind as we all tried to process what had just occured.
Even knowing his story and understanding what kind of issues it was bringing up, I never imagined that Brendan’s story would have reached so many people. He came from the world of hockey. Something that is synonymous with Canada. But the rest of the world? Not so much. Yet for even the briefest of moments, “Brendan Burke” was trending higher worldwide than “Kobe” and “Justin Bieber” on Twitter. Even the Hollywood gossip columnist Perez Hilton tweeted about the story to his followers. His message of equality in sports must have been clear.
It says a lot about him when people far outside of the hockey spectrum are taking notice for his actions. He left a powerful mark on everyone.
And all the while, his father stood by his side. While he had wished his son hadn’t taken on this burden of being a “pioneer,” Brian Burke expressed the deepest pride and admiration for his youngest son.
As Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy stated:
Brendan’s story wasn’t just an inspiring tale for others facing societal challenges to their sexual identity; it was one that symbolized a deep respect between a father and son.