One week after his youngest son died in a car accident on a snowy road in Indiana, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke gave a touching and eloquent address last night in St. Louis in his first public comments since the tragedy.
Speaking for only a few minutes prior to his NHL team's game against the Blues, Burke called the days since the accident "incredibly sad and difficult."
"I've been working all day trying to get through this [speech]without breaking down too much," he said.
Brendan Burke, 21, had become well-known in the hockey world after revealing in an interview with ESPN last November that he was gay.
Since his death on Feb. 5, while en route to a hockey game at Miami University (Ohio), which he attended and worked as the team's student manager, Brendan Burke has been remembered by friends and in countless online memorials as a loving person whose decision to come out was aimed solely at helping others.
His father spoke to his son's "courage" yesterday.
"It's not supposed to be this way," Burke said. "Your kids are supposed to bury you. It was compounded by the fact that Brendan was a special kid. Not too many 21-year-olds have blazed a trail like that. He had a huge heart, had a great future in it, and I promised that his message will live on.
"The trail-blazing step Brendan took is he went very public with the fact that he's gay and that that was acceptable in the hockey world, and I think that's a wall that needs to be broken down. That's what I pledged to keep working towards, is that this game should be open to everybody, and everyone should be open to play this game. I think that was Brendan's message, and it took a lot of courage."
Burke said the university would be establishing a scholarship in his son's name.
The GM, who also serves as manager of the U.S. men's 2010 Olympic hockey team, had been scheduled to attend last night's opening ceremonies in Vancouver, but in light of the tragedy opted instead to join his players before a 17-day break in the Leafs schedule.
"I felt I should be here," Burke said. "I shouldn't be celebrating the start of the Olympics. We'll start worrying about the Olympics tomorrow. I didn't have it in me. It would have been too tough to do. As proud as I would have been to be there, it would have been an imposter's act. It would have been a person there that's not focused at all."
Burke, however, will continue in his duties with the U.S. team and is set to arrive in Vancouver today. He said moving forward is what "Brendan would have wanted."
"I don't think my grief will ever end," Burke said. "I think a part of my heart was ripped out, but it's time to engage again."
Burke added the support he had received from those who reached out to him had helped during a difficult time for his family.
"The hockey family's at its best at a time of loss," he said. "I'll be grateful for that forever."