Editor's Note: Considering the last couple of days this is a truly illuminating post and well worth the read.
With all the discussion and heated debates over what Bill Watters said just a short while ago, I thought writing a little piece about my experiences and emotions dealing with being a hockey fan (Leafs of course, duh!) and being a gay male. If this isn't too relevant, I wouldn't mind it being deleted, and this is my first try so here goes.
I live in a town called Brantford, about an hour and a half away from Toronto. It's not a small town, however, it has a ridiculously small minded attitude. Sports here are taken seriously, especially at the high school level. I recently graduated high school and was glad to leave that atmosphere, but the way most kids (especially the athletes) behaved and treated a select few left me haunted. Often times they'd walk around the halls calling kids "fags" even though most of them weren't gay. The term "faggot" was used more often than any other insult, and I have to believe that's a big reason why there was only about three kids were out of the closet (me included).
Fast forward to 2009, the son of my favourite team's general manager, Brendan Burke, came out to his college hockey team. It became big news, being featured on ESPN and TSN. When I heard about it, I was proud, but also a little concerned. After seeing how athletes, especially hockey players, throw around homophobic slurs and their general treatment of gays on and off the ice, I hoped Brendan didn't have to go through that. Luckily he didn't. His team supported him, but more importantly, his father did. Brian Burke is known for being gruff, full of testosterone and old school. His public support for his son and his cause made me feel a sense of pride. Pride about what I watch and love every week that I never had before. Every time someone hurled an insult at The Leafs, I knew deep down that my team was supporting the equality of gay and lesbian people. Putting on my Sundin jersey means a great deal to me now, something I never hear anyone else feel when they support a team.
On February 5, 2010, Brendan Burke was killed in a car accident. I heard the news through TSN before I went to work. It left me with a pit on my stomach and a lump in my throat the entire day. I held back tears for my job, but it was all I thought about. An inspiring person, one who was making a difference for a class of people who rarely ever get treated fairly, especially in sports. I felt like I lost someone close to me, his struggle and cause spoke to me, and I knew that someone like him would make a difference one day. His father Brian still to this day supports the equality of LGBT people and athletes relentlessly. He marches in the Pride Parade, something of which I have an unbelievable amount of respect and pride for the man. Yet here we are with a Toronto sports personality saying a Leaf player was a "3rd of July Parade" type of player. It infuriated me. It's 2011 and people like me are still the butt end of jokes in sports, even hockey. Toronto is a wonderful city, I love the place. It's where I want to live. But with sports analysts and even the mayor of Toronto himself making gay and lesbian people seem less important, leaves me demoralized. I hope that some good will come out of a situation like this, and that people will finally talk about it for awhile.
I should wrap this up. I apologize for it being long, or even somewhat irrelevant. I first want to thank everyone here at PPP for making this an intelligent, accepting, thoughtful and wonderful place to be. This one of the few places on the vast internet that doesn't tolerate hate. I also want to thank Brendan Burke. I know your not with us anymore, but you left a legacy, one that is noble and inspiring. At least to me. Rest easy buddy, your deeply missed.