Sunday, November 29, 2009

Out and proud in the world of men's hockey

An ESPN columnist has a profile on Brendan Burke, a college student who stopped playing hockey in high school because he was gay and worried about people finding out his secret. His father, Brian (apologies, Patrick is Brendan's brother) Burke, is a bigwig NHL guy and former player himself. The column tells Brandon's history in the sport, his current position as a team manager at Miami Ohio, and his coming out to all the people in his life. Brandon would like a career in the NHL and plans on going to law school.

Good message overall but it was a little on the long side and unless one is Italo Calvino, one should not use the second person the way the columnist did. (In other words, he tried a little too hard.)

And PS all the "no one cared, everyone was really supportive" lines are tiresome, ring a little false, and are problematic in that they erase a lot of the subtle homophobia that continues in athletics. I mean I am glad he isn't being targeted, but this does not mean hockey is homphobia-free or even ready for a pro or semi-pro out player. I don't even think there is an out male DI player. If Burke is able to make inroads in NHL management like his father has, he would have a great opportunity to at least influence the climate--and that's always a good thing.


sportsbabel said...

Ken, glad you posted this story, but would like to take two small issues with what you've said:

1. His father (Brian Burke, btw) isn't simply "a bigwig NHL guy" but the very picture of a particular rock 'em, sock 'em hegemonic hockey masculinity, which I think is significant. It makes the mediated aspects of the father's support a little more noteworthy (though of course you are right that it doesn't magically wash everything away).

2. "....this does not mean hockey is homphobia-free or even ready for a pro or semi-pro out player. I don't even think there is an out male DI player." Not sure if this is your intent, but this reads like some sort of hierarchy or chain of progress. While in terms of skill one must move up from NCAA to semi-pro to pro, there is no such requirement that the barriers to outing need fall in the same linear fashion. It could very well happen that an NHL player comes out before an NCAA one. Maybe this isn't likely given the intense media exposure of the pros vs. college, but perhaps it is more likely given the context of "mature" adult teammates vs. 20-year-old college kids.

ken said...

Yes, I understated the role Brian Burke has played in the NHL--it was well covered in the article I linked to and I already felt I was babbling so I skipped all of dad's creds.
I perhaps presented an outing hierarchy because I believe one does exist to some extent in American sport. We already have a hierarchy in intercollegiate sport with DI, DII, DIII schools. Research has shown that student-athletes in DII and DIII schools are more likely to come out--and do so with support and less negativity. Also athletes in what are seen as minor sports are more comfortable coming out. I think it is a question of what it at stake. And what is at stake often depends on where one falls in the hierarchy. I see collegiate players as more likely to come out because it is less likely that one's livelihood will depend on one's sport. And also because coming out has become a generational issue. Collegiate players are more likely to be in an accepting environment, or at least one that is legally required to protect them based on their sexual orientation (and the legal cases about protection are growing). Unless you are the best of the best in pro hockey, I think the risk is greater. And I think the "my private life is my own" discourse/excuse has prevailed at this level.
In short, I was speaking in terms of likelihood; I was profiling. I will be equally pleased whether a semi-pro player comes out before a DI player or a pro comes before semi-pro or collegiate player. And I don't think I would have (but now we'll never know) noted that the pro came before that DI player. I probably would have looked at that individual's situation.
PS I don't know that I believe in a maturity hierarchy, either. I don't necessarily find professional male hockey players any more mature than 20-year olds. :)

sportsbabel said...

good points, i wonder if it would be possible to research these flows and "structural conditions" of outing in sport?