Brendan Burke, the youngest son of Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, died yesterday following a car crash in Indiana.
The 21-year-old, who had just come out to the hockey world as a gay man, died in hospital from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle accident on treacherous, snowy roads.
Police said Burke was driving eastbound on U.S. 35 around 2:50 p.m. EST when his 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee slid sideways into an oncoming truck driven by a 24-year-old man, according to a report from the Palladium-Item in Richmond, Ind.
It's been mere months since the young Burke revealed his sexuality to the hockey world last November, a brave moment he shared with his proud father, who will head the U.S. men's hockey team in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.
Burke had been a student manager for the hockey team at the University of Miami (Ohio). His decision to come out served to help end the homophobia in hockey circles across North America.
"The important thing is that it's started a discussion," he told The Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview, "and people realize there could be a gay person next to them in the locker room."
Burke said he received more support than negativity through the numerous e-mails, phone calls and postings on his Facebook page responding to his revelation.
The Maple Leafs issued a statement saying they were "saddened to report" the death.
Burke was the fourth child from his father's first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1995.
Richard Peddie, president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, issued a statement late last night.
"On behalf of the entire Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment family, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Brian Burke," the statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Burke family during this extremely difficult time."
In a recent interview, Brian Burke said he would work to help his son bring awareness to the stigma so many gay hockey players face.
"For me to support him is what a dad should do," he said. "I'm going to do some work with Brendan, it's his cause and I love him and I hope I do change some attitudes."
Fans of the young Burke and his father's team showed overwhelming support on Facebook, opening memorial pages and expressing their condolences.
The other man in Burke's vehicle, 18-year-old Mark Reedy of Michigan, also died. Reedy was a freshman on the Michigan State volleyball team and majored in civil and environmental engineering.
Yesterday was a particularly dangerous one on the roads near Wayne County Indiana, where the men careered off the road.
With a report from