Brian Burke, Age: 59
Hometown: Providence, Rhode Island
Influential because: He’s helping to make a place for gay athletes in sport
Brian Burke is on the Most Influential list not only for the obvious reason that he’s the top executive of the best hockey team in Alberta, but, equally so, for his charity work. He volunteers his time for the Canadian Safe Schools Network, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Special Olympics, the Canadian military and, first and foremost, You Can Play. The launch of this last organization, in 2012, was precipitated by the death of Burke’s son, Brendan, who was the manager of a collegiate hockey team and openly gay, and was known for combating homophobia in hockey.
Following Brendan’s death in a car accident in 2010, Burke and his other son, Patrick, founded the You Can Play campaign. The Burkes have rounded up a host of NHLers to endorse a message of tolerance, and Burke says the first NHLer to come out will find a more welcoming atmosphere than he might expect. “Every single player we’ve asked to participate in You Can Play has said, immediately, ‘Yes,’ ” Burke says. “I’ve had players ask me why I didn’t use them in the program.”
Burke himself has gone through a considerable education in the process. “When my son first came up with the idea, I said, ‘You’re talking about keeping young, male, gay athletes in team sports. You’re talking about affecting the lives of maybe 1,000 people in Canada, maybe 5,000 in Canada and the U.S,’ ” he says. “What I didn’t realize is the message is so much broader than that. This is to all LGBT people saying, ‘You’re OK with me.’ It’s a much broader message of tolerance rather than just inclusion in sports.”
Now there’s a goal worth cheering.