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A file photo of Brendan Burke, who died after a car crash in Indiana on Friday. (JODI HILTON/Jodi Hilton for The Globe and Mail)
A file photo of Brendan Burke, who died after a car crash in Indiana on Friday. (JODI HILTON/Jodi Hilton for The Globe and Mail)

Jeff Blair

True advocates like Brendan Burke are hard to come by Add to ...

They are a precious few, these people who are willing to engage in the hurlyburly of dealing with the media - who lead with their chin; who can wade in with a challenge as well as an answer.

The hockey world knows that Brian Burke is one of those few, a person whose greatest strength is not just his passion - shoot, anybody can be faux passionate - as much as his comfort with his passion.

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And many of us found ourselves thinking about Brian and Brendan Burke Saturday morning, with news of Brendan's death in a traffic accident.

Journalists are expected to come to wide-ranging conclusions about people based on a few minutes of access. Then, we're expected to distill it in a couple of sentences or paragraphs for everyone else. That, too, takes a certain comfort level.

Fifteen minutes didn't tell me a lot about Brendan Burke, nor should it. But what did come across in an interview I did for The Globe and Mail about Brendan's decision to come out to the hockey world is that he had inherited his father's forthrightness, and was prepared to deal with whatever came his way because it was part of the deal if you wanted to be true to yourself and your values.

Still, Brendan Burke admitted that the manner in which his story became public - tastefully and without prejudice by ESPN's John Buccigross - was calculated. It was done with the full support of friends and family and the Miami (Ohio) hockey program, for whom he served as student manager. Because of its delicacy, nobody could afford to have it mishandled.

"I realize that the brunt of the story has been about who my dad is… but to me the important thing is that it's started a discussion and people realize there could be a gay person next to them in the locker room," Brendan Burke said in a telephone interview on U.S. Thanksgiving.

"And, you know, I think it's important that it's starting here. We started a discussion. Let's see where it goes. "

That Brendan Burke won't be around to see where it goes is a shame. True advocates aren't always easy to come by. That Brian Burke could be around without Brendan leaves those of us who are parents with a shared emptiness, because you aren't supposed to outlive your kids. That's not supposed to be part of the deal.

 

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