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President and General Manager of the Toronto Maples Leafs Brian Burke talks about encouraging a more tolerant, welcoming atmosphere in the NHL for gay hockey players. Brian's message was inspired by his son, Brendan, a former manager for his Miami University hockey team. In February 2010, Brendan was killed in a car accident at the age of 21.
GS: The biggest thing you said, you came out and said a gay hockey player is welcome on my team. When [Mark] Tewksbury was on, and people will see the conversation soon, he said that he's councilled gay players, saying, here's how you can deal with this. So we know that there are gay players in the NHL. Would you council a player? Like, as a GM, I'm sure they would come to you before they would make a decision... can you foresee a time when this is going to happen?
BB: Oh, it's going to happen. It's going to happen, and it's gonna take less courage than that player thinks. Right now, a player who's contemplating that is thinking, the whole world's going to be arrayed against him. And be this mountain he's gotta climb. And I think he's gonna find, I really believe this, watching the acceptance that my son got when he came out, in the hockey community at Miami University, this athlete that has the courage to come out, is going to find that hill's a lot less steep than he thinks it is. That there's a lot of support. I know the players on our team have all spoken to me about it, and said, absolutely. A gay player is welcome here.
GS: There's a lot of guys watching, parents who just can't come to terms with it in some situations. I imagine privately...
BB: Well, I get these very painful letters and the best thing about my son coming out was that I didn't have to take anything back. And that's what I tell parents, is, there is a chance, you know... you talk to statisticians, 10 percent, 15 percent, whatever it is, people who are born gay. And, there's a chance that your child is going to be gay, so, in our house, everything was about acceptance. no racial humour tolerated, no jokes about gay people, no jokes about handicapped people, it was all, everyone is worth your time, everyone has dignity, everyone deserves your respect. And so, when my son said, dad, I'm gay, the best thing was, I said Well, I don't have to take anything back. I don't have to apologize for anything, I don't have to rebuild any bridge, and that's what I tell parents and to the kids who are battling with coming out, it does get better, there is a support group, and you're entitled to live your life, so, that's what you need to do, that push, then, there are people who care about you.