Posted by: cedarsurf | February 15, 2010

AIDS, Sports, Gays & Brendan Burke

In 1987 I was briefly employed as the Sporting Life columnist for Vancouver Magazine. This was before they discovered I was an alien and Triathalon contrarian ( I thought they were overkill). In any case, I wrote a column that noted that the Dallas Cowboys -America’s team- was becoming the first professional sports team to institute voluntary AIDS/HIV testing. At this point the only OUT professional football player was the long retired Dave Kopay.

I interviewed Bruce Kidd, 1964 Tokyo Olympian (marathon and 3,000) a former teacher of mine and now Dean of Physical Education at the University of Toronto. Kidd spoke about “the ambiguity of male heterosexuality” and how macho/sporting culture would make it very difficult to be  out  in sport.

The piece was called Blood Sport over concerns of  the mix of blood and fluids and the possibility for infection. The piece was illustrated by the incredibly talented Carol Moisievitch -that was a thrill.

Magic Johnson becoming HIV positive had yet to happen.

Soon latex gloves would become more important than jockstraps in sport.

Flash forward to  the fall of 1991 with a group of volunteers at AIDS Saskatoon we came up with a ‘Blade Guard’. The Blades was the name of the junior hockey team and hopefully ever red-blooded Canadian knows what A Blade Guard is. In our case the Blade Guard was a condom that we put in a matchbook-like cover emblazoned with the Blades logo. The ‘ package’ was made in response to a comment made by Ed Lubienicki the General Manager of the team. In response to questions about the possibility of AIDS in the dressing room Lubienicki responded that it wasn’t a problem because ‘we don’t have any weak wrists in our dressing room.” On the  other side of the cover we printed ‘ AIDS is Not a Weak Wrist Issue’.

The package was handed out at the game and was a hug hit -everyone wanted one cause it had the team’s logo and was free. It produced a chuckle and acknowledgment of the issue.

I think of these things today in the context of Brendan Burke and his heroic coming out merely weeks before his truly tragic death at age 21.

A student at Miami University (OH), Burke was on the staff of the men’s hockey team in charge of video and statistics. The youngest Burke’s name became famous in November when the story of his coming out to his father became public after a column by John Buccigross of ESPN.

Brendan’s story wasn’t just an inspiring tale for others facing societal challenges to their sexual identity; it was one that symbolized a deep respect between a father and son. When Burke talked about his son’s coming out, he stood behind Brendan’s decision 100 percent:

Mr. Burke hopes to further Burke’s legacy of making  gay- athlete a taboo subject and instead just one more banal aspect – not a big deal. As Mr. Burke points out “we still have a long way to go.”

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