10 Unthinkable Seconds, One Year Later
December 21, 2010 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Brian Burke is tormented by how much terror you can squeeze into ten seconds. Ten seconds in a car careening into oncoming traffic on a stretch of Indiana highway just shy of the Ohio border. Ten seconds sailing sideways through sheets of falling snow, straight at a reinforced truck. Ten seconds with the same unthinkable ending every time.

I was one of the many people who was fascinated with the story of Brendan Burke when he came out, and mourned the tragedy of his death a few months later. A little less than a year later, GQ interviews his father, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, about his son's decision to come out in the very 'macho' hockey world, his death, and how Burke has continued on by trying to shoulder some of Brendan's legacy.

It's a heartbreaking read - you can feel how much all of this weighs on him, and it's amazing that he just keeps pushing ahead anyhow.
posted by BZArcher (29 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
More people should be like this family.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:15 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

that's a great article. WILL NOT CRY at work.
posted by sweetkid at 9:15 AM on December 21, 2010

What an amazing father and a very real person with tremendous courage.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:22 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Excellent article. You can see how he is trying so hard to help, even as he carries his own stereotypes about it. This will be a big thing. Ironically, hockey has a more wealthy and educated demographic than other major professional sports. I'm betting this will be a far tougher thing in the locker room than it will be with fans when it happens.
posted by meinvt at 9:27 AM on December 21, 2010

I don't know, meinvt, a couple of years ago we were teasing a pretty macho acquaintance of ours that, just statistically speaking, it's almost certain that gay men have played in the NHL, and he got so upset by the thought he nearly took a swing at me.
posted by Zozo at 9:29 AM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Brian Burke so obviously adored his son, and his pain is so raw as he trudges forward with his life. And yes, there are loads of gay guys in the NHL, each of them not wanting to be the first to come out.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:37 AM on December 21, 2010

Great piece. Thanks for posting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2010

Mostly, though, he doesn't want to believe he's the worst possible person for the job that Brendan started, but he knows it's true. He's built a career on not blowing sunshine up his own ass and pretending he's good at something he's not. He knows that everything he needs now, to carry this water for Brendan, he doesn't have. Brendan had it, the poise and natural charm, the easy passage between two worlds. Brendan was perfect for the job. Brendan went first. Now he has to go second.

This is how to be a father.
posted by rtha at 9:47 AM on December 21, 2010 [11 favorites]

Brian Burke has always been a class act, but never more so than now. He obviously doesn't feel equipped to do what he's doing, but he's doing it nonetheless, for Brendan.

There's no doubt that there are gay players in the NHL, and when the wall finally starts to crumble it will be thanks to both Brendan and Brian.
posted by rollbiz at 9:47 AM on December 21, 2010

A well written article. It is difficult to convey the pain and horror of having a child die violently, this writer manages to communicate that in a straightforward and unembellished manner.

Much respect and admiration for Brian Burke for being willing to take up this torch so soon after his son's death.
posted by HuronBob at 9:48 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Wow, this line is amazing

"All I want for my kids is for them to be happy. I still think that being gay in our society, there's a great burden to it, and that's not right. As I went to bed, I thought, 'I hope he has a happy life. I hope it's not marked with persecution and bias and bigotry. I hope this burden isn't too much for him.' "
posted by duddes02 at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

I wish I still had the link to that 50 minute (CBC?) documentary that was posted in a thread a month ago. It was a great video piece about Burke and homophobia in hockey.
posted by Theta States at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2010

an interesting and powerful article. I don't follow hockey, so this was news to me. One thing that really stood out:

that the worst thing you can call another player, the cluster bomb you drop to let a guy know just how soft you think he is, is cocksucker.

Cocksucker is just one of the words Burke promised Brendan he'd never use again.

Reading this article, I'm impressed by lots of things about Brian Burke. His willingness to show his support for his son - and for anyone who's the lover of a man - by rethinking what constitutes an insult... that kind of consistency is laudable.
posted by dubold at 10:01 AM on December 21, 2010

This is the Fifth Estate documentary on the Burkes (with an ad for the Billy Eliot musical at the beginning). The play button at the bottom may not work: try the one at the right of the screen. This site will probably play only in Canada -- sorry -- but you may be able to find the documentary elsewhere.
posted by maudlin at 10:05 AM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks, Maudlin. Lots of great/relevant footage and photos in that Fifth Estate piece.
posted by Theta States at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2010

I have to wait to read this while I'm not at work. As a die hard Canucks fan, I'm supposed to "hate" ol' Burkie now because, well, it's the Leafs. But he was such a large part of the Vancouver sports scene for a long time, and it's such a tragic story revolving around a very public figure here in canada. My heart just aches for all he and his family have gone through. He comes off like an ass sometimes (ok, more than sometimes) when dealing with the media, but in the end, well, he's a person too, one who is handing a very difficult and public situation with grace and courage and by putting his family first, even when it's damn hard for him to do.
posted by cgg at 10:45 AM on December 21, 2010

In honour of Brendan Burke, and at the request of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association, then-Chicago defenseman Brent Sopol carried the Stanley Cup in the Chicago Pride Parade, the first time the greatest trophy in sports has appeared at a gay-themed event.

The Burkes are so classy, I hope the barriers start coming down for gay players soon. I think the fans may be ahead of the players; same sex marriage has been legal in Canada for five years now.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:02 AM on December 21, 2010 [7 favorites]

That Fifth Estate episode was great. That was impressive when the sportscaster asked if the league was ready for gay athletes to come out, and Brian said, 'Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs are ready." Mark Tewkesbury's comments about the team administrations having to be ready was quite interesting. And his comments about the very different reasons women athletes are discouraged from coming out. Strange and complicated world, sports.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:11 AM on December 21, 2010

Am I studying for my exam or am I reading this article with tears in my eyes? Fuck.
posted by prefpara at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2010

That was impressive when the sportscaster asked if the league was ready for gay athletes to come out, and Brian said, 'Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs are ready."

Now that's how you answer a question.
posted by dry white toast at 12:55 PM on December 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

All I can say is I'm glad I was at home when I read this.
posted by petrilli at 1:11 PM on December 21, 2010

It's pretty tough to say this to someone who has lost a son, but, Brian Burke, it gets better.

And you're helping.

There's no better memorial.


posted by chavenet at 2:25 PM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

In honour of Brendan Burke, and at the request of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association, then-Chicago defenseman Brent Sopol carried the Stanley Cup in the Chicago Pride Parade, the first time the greatest trophy in sports has appeared at a gay-themed event.

oh wow, that's the first I've heard of that, and I'm a pretty big hockey fan. Even got to know Brent a bit when he played for Vancouver and came into the cafe I worked at. Nice guy, good to see him taking the Cup to such a great event and making a statement like that.
posted by mannequito at 4:07 PM on December 21, 2010

I'll admit that it's tough to reconcile my professional disdain for Brian Burke and his "pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence" with my personal admiration for his relationship with Brendan. There's sort of an Only Nixon Could Go to China vibe to one of the co-defendants in Steve Moore's assault trial being the most gay-friendly figures in a fairly homophobic sport. I end up fascinated by the whole thing in much the same way I'm fascinated by Nixon, and I think it's possible he might actually be OK with becoming the Nixon of ice hockey.

Anyway, my issues with him aside, he's doing an awful lot of good for an awful lot of people while dealing with one of the worst things that could happen to a parent, and I give him tons and tons of respect and admiration for that.
posted by Copronymus at 4:08 PM on December 21, 2010

He was coming off a road trip to Rhode Island when Brendan told him he was gay: "I had a bunch of bags in the car, and I went inside to tell Brendan he had to help get the luggage out. We're walking to the car and he said, 'I have something to tell you: I'm gay.' I said, 'Are you being serious? Are we having this conversation, or are you just joking around?' He said, 'No, I'm serious.' I said, 'Well, that doesn't change anything, and I love you—now grab those bags and let's go inside.' The whole conversation was about thirty seconds long, and when I opened the door I yelled, 'Mom, you owe me twenty bucks—I told you he was gay!'"
Them is some bona fide, genuine family values on display, there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Palin, et al.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:09 PM on December 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

Tremendously moving
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 4:43 PM on December 21, 2010

Well that was refreshing, and pretty surprising. Brian Burke would have been one of the last people I would have anticipated as having that level of acceptance and understanding. That said, I believe that he hasn't quite grasped the reality of human sexual identification just yet ...

"Before all of this, it was just a circle that I didn't move in. I didn't have any gay friends. I still don't, technically."

Actually Mr. Burke, you very likely do have gay friends, you just don't know it.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:57 PM on December 21, 2010

Gah. I was good til chavenet's comment tipped the tears out. This was a beautiful article.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:15 PM on December 21, 2010

Even at the age of 42, I still carry some bit of fantasy that my parents would, one day, step up to support some GLBT cause because I am their son and they love me and recognize that discrimination or bigotry against any one of us is ultimately against me... but I am indeed old enough to see this for the fantasy that it is, and resign myself to loving the parents I have, not the parents I wish I had.

...and find myself moved to tears by accounts such as this, of parents who fight difficult fights under horrific circumstances. Bravo Mr. Burke. You do, indeed, have gay friends. And most of us would like to at least buy you a beer at some point, if you'd let us.
posted by hippybear at 1:37 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

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