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Firing of Brian Burke won’t affect You Can Play, son says

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — "We do not anticipate any adverse affect on You Can Play's access, effectiveness, or importance to Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE)," says Patrick Burke after his father, Brian Burke, was unexpectedly fired as general manager and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club.

Brian teamed up with Patrick to spearhead the You Can Play campaign, which is anchored by the slogan, “If you can shoot, you can shoot. If you can score, you can score.
If you can play, you can play." The campaign pays tribute to Brian's younger son Brendan, who died in a car crash in Ohio in 2010, just months after he publicly came out.

In You Can Play’s
debut video, Patrick says his brother "was the first person to fight for the rights of gay
athletes in professional hockey. Since his accident, our family has
fought hard to carry on his legacy and ensure that LGBT athletes around
the world are afforded equal opportunity, judged only by their talent,
character and work ethic in their sport.”

“Over the years,” Patrick told Xtra, “straight athletes have
been conditioned to think they should not support gay rights. We need to
give them a means to support gay players.”

In the wake of his father's dismissal, Patrick says he's spoken "with MLSE officials who have assured me that they remain committed to working with You Can Play to provide effective outreach to Toronto's LGBT sports community. Barring any unanticipated scheduling issues, I still fully intend to be present at Toronto Pride, and to continue working closely with LGBT groups in the Toronto area." 

"The decision made by the MLSE ownership group is disappointing to all of us at You Can Play," Patrick adds, "but we would never be so selfish or shortsighted as to let that have any effect on the important work that we are doing."

Brian, who has not yet replied to Xtra's email, told reporters that his removal as the Leafs' GM "stunned" him, according to  CBC.
While there are times "you see the vultures circling and you understand
it's coming," he says his sacking "was like a two-by-four upside the
head to me." 

Apart from citing the Leafs' failure to reach the
playoffs for four successive seasons, a number of media reports also
suggest that all was not well between Burke and the new MLSE board. One CBC report
offers that Burke "did not react kindly to the hockey-team-related free
advice he was receiving from new board members," saying the board
eventually decided to call it a day with its GM. 

There was also
talk about "a difference of opinion" over whether the Leafs should woo Vancouver
Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, whom Burke reportedly wanted.

MLSE chief operations officer Tom Anselmi is quoted as saying that the new ownership wanted new leadership.

Attempts to reach the Maple Leafs for comment about whether Burke's You Can Play activism also played a role in his release were unsuccessful up to posting time.


For more on Xtra's coverage of You Can Play, click on the links below:

Will the Burkes' You Can Play campaign change hockey culture?

Toronto Maple Leafs stars support gay players

Canucks stars have a message for gay athletes: You can play

Marlies sign 'groundbreaking' pledge to support gay teammates

Come out, straight allies

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