A Gay Referee Tries to Find His Place in Hockey

Gay Men in Hockey: A Short History

There are few men in hockey who seem to embody the sport quite like Brian Burke, whose famous gruffness toward a prying scrum of reporters as an executive roughly equaled his playing style as a college and minor league scrapper in the 1970s.

He has spent nearly all his life in hockey, but Burke, 62, the president of the Calgary Flames, has come to represent something else to the game.

In 2009, when Burke was president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his son Brendan revealed himself to be gay. Though Brendan, then 20, held no position with the league, he immediately became something rare: an openly gay man with proximity to the N.H.L.

Burke threw an arm around his son, and the father became a champion of gay rights in sports, marching forward by Brendan’s side until the moment unimaginable grief found him. On Feb. 5, 2010, just three months after he came out, Brendan was killed in a car accident along a snowy Indiana highway.

Before his death, Brendan confided something to his father. As a teenager, Brendan played varsity hockey for his high school in Massachusetts, but later quit to join a town team instead.

“He told…

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