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Tragedy Strikes Brian Burke's Family

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The feelings of frustration over the Toronto Maple Leafs' 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils were quickly diminished by these two quick tweets:

The Leafs sent out a statement saying that Brian Burke's son was killed in a car accident. No other details available
- James Mirtle
Oh my goodness, what awful news. Brian Burke's son, Brendan, was killed in a car accident today in Indiana. Huge prayers to the family.
- Damien Cox

It is hard to avoid sounding trite when a tragedy like this strikes anywhere in the world. The words change but the message is always the same "this reminds us that [the related sport] is just a game". It certainly does remind us that there are many more important things in life but it should also serve as a reminder to be grateful for the incredible blessing that we are able to immerse ourselves so deeply into something that is nothing more than entertainment. However, this tragedy can hopefully teach us something about the struggle for equality, the power of prejudice, and the value of strong role models.

As the details came out it became clear that sadly the treacherous weather conditions were the cause of the accident.

Brendan Burke, 21, Canton, Mass., and Mark A. Reedy, 18, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., died at the scene of a two-vehicle accident at U.S. 35 north of Economy. The accident was reported at 2:50 p.m.

Investigators said Burke was driving eastbound on U.S. 35 in a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee when, according to witnesses, the vehicle slid sideways into an oncoming 1997 Ford Truck driven by 24-year-old Michael Moreland of Lynn. Moreland was not hurt.

- Brian Zimmeran, Palladium-Item

Fans immediately began to express their condolences to the Burkes throughout the internet. It's important to remember that two families were changed forever tonight (GlobeSports is updating that story as information comes in):

The other man in Mr. Burke's vehicle, 18-year-old Mark Reedy of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, also died. He was a freshman on the Michigan State University volleyball team and majored in civil and environmental engineering.

My deepest condolences go out to the Burke and Reedy families. I hope that they find the comfort that they need during this difficult time in their friends and family

Update: I've noticed that this is the top Google result for 'Mark Reedy' and one of the top Google News results. I apologise that I don't have more information about Mark, his character, and who he was. If you want to share feel free to do so.

On December 2, 2009 John Buccigross, after some hints, released an immensely moving story Brendan Burke's path towards telling his father Brian that he was gay. It really is an incredible story that you should read if you haven't had a chance to before because it highlight the fact that, for all of the advances made by the GLBT community, the sports world is not the most welcoming to the 'other'. Wrap and Down Goes Brown noted just how impactful the usual atmosphere in the sports world can be:

I’m glad that Brendan’s team embraced him as well. The bond of sports is a curious one and it is a heteronormative culture. Down Goes Brown made a point in the post on Pension Plan Puppets wondering just how many athletes quit because they cannot endure the homophobia and the slurs. And really, a person should not have to give up something they love because of others reactions to who they love. We need Brendan’s story in order to learn and move forward. Hopefully there will come a time, soon, when gay athletes are accepted and feel they can be open.
- Wrap Around Curl 

The outpouring of condolences for the Burke family included some excellent tributes. The respect for the decison that Brendan Burke made to share his story and the reaction from his father was front and centre:

It's truly incredible...

As Brendan’s story was one of the most refreshing and impressive stories I’d heard in the sports world in a very long time.

He was a brave kid and it’s heartbreaking to see him leave us at so young an age.

Hopefully his legacy will live on and continue to help those in the future who are too scared to make their voices known.

- Archimedies

If Mr. Burke taught us anything through this, it's that it doesn't matter who you are, what you do or where you're from there's no excuse to not love your child unconditionally. I hope Mr. Burke taught a lot of people that.

- Steve Lepore

Brendan Burke showed more courage and did more good in his short life than most of us could hope for. RIP Brendan.

- Down Goes Brown

The word bravery, it seems, doesn't do Brendan justice.

The results of his bravery are not yet complete. It's only been a few months since his story became widely known, but by going public with it, he put a human face on an issue that deeply pains people every single day.The love that he and his father showed each other in public was truly heartwarming, forcing us to ask that if the gruff, aggressive, truculent Brian can accept a gay son, then why can't anybody?

- Travis Hughes

In retrospect it is difficult for me to look back at my time on hockey and soccer teams growing up and realise that I contributed to that situation through my words. For those of us who are not direct or indirect targets of abuse we can easily forget or fail to notice how much power words carry. Obviously, hiding your true self and enduring all that still comes with being a closeted homosexual in sports (let alone outside of sports) is extremely difficult. I can only imagine how hard it was coming out to a father with a prickly public persona while still part of the very sport whose close-minded attitudes drove him from the playing ranks.

It says a lot about his character that his instinct was to act as a spokesman to let others know that they are not alone:

He's incredibly brave. He went back to our all-boys high school and gave a speech about the struggles gay teenagers go through and got a standing ovation from 200 kids who spend half their time insulting anyone different than them.

- Patrick Burke

The nature of being a closeted homosexual means that you are left wondering if you are alone. You may never know that someone close to you is facing the same struggle. It was with those people in mind that Brendan made his decision:

"Imagine if I was in the opposite situation, with a family that wouldn't accept me, working for a sports team where I knew I couldn't come out because I'd be fired or ostracized. People in that situation deserve to know that they can feel safe, that sports isn't all homophobic and that there are plenty of people in sports who accept people for who they are."

- Brendan Burke

By speaking to kids that unkowingly made life so difficult for him he was helping to change attitudes. He could have easily chosen to keep his revelation a family secret but he decided that his story would do more good by being shared.  It is for this reason that you'll read a lot in the coming days about Brendan Burke. Hopefully, the spotlight that is being shined once again on his life and his decision can help reach and touch those that Brendan sought to comfort over the final few months of his young life.