North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

What Brian Burke’s Toronto legacy should be

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It’s been a few days now since the Maple Leafs relieved Brian Burke  of his duties as General Manager and the media storm is only now starting to subside.

The key word is starting: this weekend, both TSN and Sportsnet led with his Saturday afternoon press conference. But I think that’s probably the last gasps of this story. Thank fucking god.

They fired Burke last Wednesday afternoon. It led all the sports networks that night and even got mention on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (albeit at the tail end of their rapid-fire, final minute segment). Toronto’s media more than made up for any lack of US attention though: the Toronto Sun had over a dozen pages on Burke’s firing on Thursday, not to mention supplementary coverage over the past few days. They’re not alone in this blanket coverage: the Toronto Star has some 23 stories on Burke’s firing, not to mention coverage in the Globe and Mail and National Post. It’s being spun in every direction, including towards teams I enjoy watching like the Raptors (is Colangelo in trouble too?) and always mean to watch (is this related to the FC hiring a coach who still plays soccer in Europe?).

Honestly, though, I’m having a hard time working myself up to caring. I’ve written about Burke here before (and at The Good Point) and I don’t really have anything new to offer about his tenure: he rolled the dice and lost. The Leafs aren’t really in a better position now than they were before he came here. But that happens and I’m not really interested in discussing what happens next.

I don’t really care if the Leafs trade away Kessel, trade for Luongo or buy out one of their several overpaid players. I’m more interested in what’s going to happen to the stuff Burke did to the Leafs that isn’t related to the on-ice play.

As a great post at The Leafs Nation makes clear, Burke was a pioneer in inclusiveness in hockey. He was behind the Right to Play campaign, he marched in the Toronto Pride parade and he was an outspoken opponent of homophobia in sports. As much as I might disagree with some of his opinions – especially on the merits of Brad May – I’m a fan of these. I don’t think anyone else in the NHL has done what he has to make their team inclusive.

And it goes beyond the Leafs, too. Last summer, Canucks forward Manny Malhotra marched in Vancouver’s Pride parade. San Jose’s Tommy Wingels marched in the Chicago Pride parade, too. The NHL is leading all four leagues in this regard, even if there’s still some jerks.

But of all four Toronto teams, the Leafs are the most active on this front by a wide margin. The Jays haven’t made an It Gets Better video, even after what went down with Yunel Escobar. Neither have the Raptors, Toronto FC or Argonauts, although to be fair, the Raptors had a pride night in 2011. So there’s plenty of room for improvement in Toronto sports.

I hope Burke’s efforts in this vein are what his legacy in Toronto is, not his awful trades or draft picks that haven’t panned out or a revolving door in net. Burke made great strides and I hope the rest of Toronto’s teams keep moving in this direction. Especially the Leafs.

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Written by M.

January 14, 2013 at 10:00 pm

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