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General Manager of NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke, far right,  his son Patrick Burke, far left, and comedian Rick Mercer march during the Gay Pride parade in Toronto July 1, 2012. (Reuters)

General Manager of NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke, far right,  his son Patrick Burke, far left, and comedian Rick Mercer march during the Gay Pride parade in Toronto July 1, 2012.

(Reuters)

Usual Suspects

Burke’s absence on July 1 stirs controversy Add to ...

Brian Burke’s embrace of social causes is well known and admirable. But the absence of the Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager on the first day of NHL free agency, arguably one of the two or three most important days in the NHL calendar, has stirred controversy.

Once again this year, Burke was otherwise engaged for some or all of July 1, the crucial first day for signing prime free agents and transacting trades. Last year, Burke was with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. This year he was in Toronto’s Pride Parade to honour his gay son Brendan, who was tragically killed in a car crash. Both are worthwhile causes.

The question was about timing. As opposed to Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who again snubbed the Pride Parade, the Maple Leafs GM did have a pressing business obligation on July 1. It was not a date that snuck up on Burke. Indeed, free agency falls on the same day every year. But for a second consecutive year, the TML president made a decision to put personal ahead of professional on Canada Day.

This was not the only chance to honour his son, however. Burke marched in the Toronto Pride Parade last year, and he can march in next year’s parade when the dates don’t conflict. Some have suggested attending another LGBT event Burke for this one year as his tribute to his son. One that would allow him to fulfill his professional duties.

Burke insists that he was in touch via cell phone and as connected as he needed to be. (The Leafs GM has also long held, that GMs “make more mistakes at the deadline than during the rest of the year.”) Plus, he has assistants such as Dave Nonis to help him transact business. Sources tell Usual Suspects that, in fact, Nonis fielded most of the phone traffic on July 1.

Anyone suggesting that Burke was in the wrong place on Sunday was slapped down quickly on Twitter. Adam Proteau of the Hockey News: “ @Proteautype If you think Brian Burke marching in a Gay Pride Parade hurts the Leafs in free agency, don't ever march in a Smart Pride Parade.”

Play by play announcer Paul Romanuk: “ @paul_romanuk Admiration to @LeafsBB20 Honouring son's memory and having strength of conviction to step away from the herd and march in TO's Pride Parade.”

Some even saw criticism as an attack on the LGBT community. “ @carpedanny To the people criticizing Brian Burke for marching in Toronto’s Pride Parade, you’re not Leafs fan, you’re a bunch of gutless homophobes.”

In other words, hockey is just a game while Burke’s social stance is real life. Fair enough. And maybe MLSE’s owners like their president being a highly visible social conscience in the entire community. Good on them.

On the flip side, there are also many whose livelihoods at MLSE depend on Burke’s leadership and experience on this key day, whether Toronto makes a signing/ trade or not. If you’ve missed it, the Maple Leafs are not exactly the defending Stanley Cup champions. It is a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven consecutive years, four of them under Burke himself. There’s work to be done every day to reverse that skid.

Burke’s peer group in the NHL understood the tug of family. But as one told us, the issue isn’t whether the parade was a noble cause - it is - but rather Burke’s obligation on that particular day to serve his organization and the players of the Maple Leafs. Duty may seem an old-fashioned concept in the age of LGBT, but it, too, can have redeeming value.

Who’s In Charge?: Of course, we might be missing the real point. Maybe Dave Nonis is already the de facto GM of the Maple Leafs. In which case, Brian Burke is free to represent the organization in other duties as president. In such a climate, you can understand other NHL teams wondering who was calling the shots at TML on July 1. As with so much surrounding Burke’s tenure at MLSE, this episode is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. How all of this plays out in the new Bell/ Rogers ownership is going to be a very compelling story.

Coming out: Quietly this weekend, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper ended speculation about his orientation by coming out as gay. What was remarkable was how unremarkable the revelation was. In an age where gay public figures and lesbian television characters are commonplace, Cooper’s news passed with a shrug in most media. As it should in a better society.

Leading us to wonder what will happen when the first gay athlete still active in team sports comes out? CBC’s Rick Mercer, who came out earlier himself, has urged prominent gay and lesbian athletes to step forward as part of the normalization process. Cooper’s admission seems to suggest it’s finally safe to come out in the clubhouse.

But those gay athletes know that their revelation as the first gay superstar will not be glossed over as was Cooper’s news. It will be a firestorm. Perhaps the best strategy might be to have a group of athletes come out simultaneously to deflect the attention that will surely fall on a single figure. Whatever the protocol in an era where the Toronto Maple Leafs president marches with Mercer for Pride, normalization is still far off.

Euro Ratings: Further to the outstanding ratings on TSN/ RDS for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, Sunday’s Spanish demolition of Italia drew a record 3.08 million Canadian viewers. Stewart Johnston, president of TSN was bursting his buttons. “Sunday’s Final was an historic finish to a record-setting tournament, and we are extremely proud that we were able to deliver every minute of UEFA EURO 2012 to fans across the country.” Indeed.

Now you know why TSN was eager to snatch the FIFA World Cup of Soccer from CBC while taking a pass on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Johnny Mac and Fake Fed: Okay, so ESPN’s Chris Fowler was trying to explain pseudo-sites on Twitter Tuesday from Wimbledon. That ol’ hipster John McEnroe was not in love with the idea of fake people imitating real people like... well, him. “Why’s that funny?” McEnroe asked. “Shouldn’t they be arrested as imposters?” Fowler tried to clue in Mac that the faux sites could be amusing but respectful. “Take it or leave it, I’m not trying to sell you,” a weary Fowler finally said.

When McEnroe was not placated, Fowler read one tweet. “Roger, via Pseudo-Fed, thanked Mr. Wimbledon for finally opening the centre courts for these exhibition matches on days when he’s not playing.” For whatever reason, this amused Johnny Mac, who giggled at the Fake Fed. And Twitter conquers another cold heart.

Erin Go Fox: In case you missed the news, Erin Andrews has jumped ship from ESPN to FOX Sports, where she’ll work their college football broadcasts. Andrews rose to prominence with the general public over being the victim of a peeping tom who stalked her. While her talent has rarely matched her profile, signing Andrews is considered a good get for FOX. Okay, hands up everyone who watches football to see the sideline reporter interview the ticked-off coach, put up your hand. Uh-hunh. Thought so.

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