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Pride Parade in New York will be emotional event for Burkes

Former NHL executive, You Can Play founder excited to be part of diversity celebration

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

Brendan Burke’s Legacy

Brendan Burke’s Legacy

Since the tragic loss of Brendan Burke, the openly gay son of former NHL GM Brian Burke, the Burke family has created a path of positivity

  • 06:30 •

Brian and Patrick Burke know there will be a moment when they'll be overcome by emotions during the World Pride Parade in New York on Sunday.

The celebration comes a decade after the late Brendan Burke, Brian's son and Patrick's brother, admitted he was gay and told them he would be an advocate for LGBTQ inclusion. When Brendan died in a car accident a year later in 2010, Brian and Patrick picked up the cause and have actively been promoting it ever since.

The Burkes will be on a double decker bus belonging to the NHL and NHL Players' Association that will travel on the route through downtown Manhattan as part of the event. Hundreds of people are expected to participate, with thousands more lining the streets.


[RELATED: Dubas, Rielly represent Maple Leafs in Toronto Pride Parade]


The question on Patrick's mind: What would Brendan think of all of this?

"We wish Brendan was here every day," Patrick Burke said. "But certainly when we're walking or riding through a city where you can't move two steps without seeing a rainbow and glitter is falling on you and everyone is celebrating being inclusive, it's definitely a day you wish he was there.

"It's a day to celebrate and reflect and remember. I always have during the course of marching -- and I've done it in numerous parades through numerous years -- had moments where something hits me where I wish Brendan was here to see this or he would have loved that or that's a great sign, or whatever it might be. So it's definitely a little closer to home, and it brings emotions to the surface on that day.

"It's such a wonderful day for a community that is discriminated against or is persecuted in so many different ways, to have such an amazing day where they can celebrate each other and where allies can come out and show their support."

Brian Burke was an executive with the NHL as well as with the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames; he's now a hockey analyst on Sportsnet. Burke was the general manager of the Ducks when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

Patrick, his son, is the senior director of player safety with the NHL. In 2012 he was a co-founder of You Can Play, a movement dedicated to making locker rooms and sports venues safe and free from casual homophobia.

You Can Play, founded in part to honor Brendan Burke's vision for the cause, has been recognized for a number of milestones, including being the first LGBTQ sports advocacy group to have players from all teams in a pro league (NHL) speak on behalf of LGBTQ athletes; the first LGBTQ sports advocacy group to address the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the first LGBTQ advocacy group to partner with a national Olympic committee (Canada).

"The story has helped kids. It's helped parents. And that's the key here," Brian Burke said. "There's a legacy to what Brendan brought, to what he left."

That legacy will be on display Sunday.

"The NHL bought this big rainbow bus along with the NHLPA with the "You Can Play" logo, the NHL logo and the NHLPA logo on it," Patrick Burke said. "It's something that five, 10 years ago, people would have never believed they'd see.

"It's a credit to the way the culture is evolving. It's a lot of hard work by a lot of people. Leadership from people around the League and from the NHLPA and its group of players. There's a lot work still to be done, but it's incredibly encouraging to see what a long way it's come in an incredibly short period of time."

The NHL and NHLPA, in partnership with the You Can Play Project, have combined for the joint Hockey Is For Everyone initiative that celebrated Pride Month throughout June. Current and former players, and all 31 NHL teams, have or will participate in Pride events this month.

Patrick Burke pointed out that members of the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils marched in the Pride Parade in Toronto last weekend.

"Talking about the hockey world specifically, [the movement] has come a tremendous way," Patrick said. "We had multiple athletes walk in Pride parades this year. It kind of barely registered just as a blip on people's radar that (Maple Leafs defenseman) Morgan Rielly was at Pride or that (Devils forward) Kurtis Gabriel was at Pride. Six, 10 years ago, it would have been front page news that a male professional athlete would appear at the Pride Parade. We had a general manager in (Toronto's) Kyle Dubas who has marched several years in the Pride Parade."

Among those from the hockey world expected to join the Burkes on the bus or marching alongside it on Sunday are employees of the NHL and NHLPA; former NHL players Andrew Ference and Colton Orr, and Brock McGillis, the first openly gay male pro hockey player.

For Brian Burke, the acceptance of the LGBTQ movement has made huge advances over the years. He admits there was a time he himself was not so open-minded about.

"I'm embarrassed to think about the way I acted," he said. "I think there's more acceptance."

That will be evident for all to see in New York on Sunday.

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