A veteran hockey executive whose family helped reshape the conversation around LGBTQ+ issues in professional sports — through bravery, then tragedy — said he was left “clearly and visibly annoyed” when two NHL teams scaled back on scheduled Pride events, but believes the push toward inclusivity will continue around the game.
Brian Burke, the president of hockey operations with the Pittsburgh Penguins, said it was “extremely disappointing” to see Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov decline to wear a Pride-themed jersey for a pregame warmup in January, followed by a similar move from the New York Rangers.
“I would view this as a much bigger setback if I didn’t view it as ‘we’re still going the right way,’” Burke said in an interview with The Athletic. “In other words: As disappointed as I am, it’s important that people realize these are setbacks of a minor nature, in my view, in terms of where we are, versus where we were 12 years ago.
“And I don’t think anyone should lose sight of that.”
Burke emerged as a leading advocate for LGBTQ+ awareness in hockey more than a decade ago, after his son Brendan came out publicly. Brendan Burke was a university student and fellow hockey lifer in 2009 when he spoke first to a reporter from ESPN, followed by an appearance alongside his father on TSN, while Brian Burke was still president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I think it’s important that my story is told to people,” Brendan told TSN host James Duthie during the interview. “Because there are a lot of gay athletes out there — and gay people working in pro sports — that deserve to know that there are safe environments where people are supportive of you regardless of your sexual orientation.”
Three months after that interview, Brendan Burke was killed in a car accident along an icy highway in Indiana. His father marched in Toronto’s Pride parade that summer, and his family helped to launch the advocacy group You Can Play, which became a voice to combat homophobia in sports.