Brendan Burke's not alone

The Globe and Mail

Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, talked with espn.com about the difficulties of coming out as a homosexual in the world of sports.

Brendan Burke's comments echo those of many gay and lesbian athletes that have been public identified, willingly and unwillingly, as being homosexual.

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Here are a few of Canadian sports figures, past and present, who have come out:

John Damien - Although not a name known by most Canadians, John Damien changed the way human rights are viewed in this country. Once a highly-paid racetrack official in Ontario, Damien was fired from his position in 1975 for being homosexual. After a long career at the tracks, the Ontario Racing Commission offered Damien a letter of recommendation and $1,700 to go away quietly.

It's an offer Mr. Damien didn't take. Instead, he waged a decade-long war with the province and its human rights commission, trying to get his case heard. The fight sent Mr. Damien into bankruptcy, but he refused to drop his complaint.

"I won the day. I wouldn't buckle in on it and wouldn't disappear," Mr.Damien told The Globe and Mail in 1985. "If you stand up, you're not a loser."

Eventually, Mr. Damien won out - sexual orientation was added to the list of protected human rights in Ontario as a result of the case. He didn't get to enjoy his victory for long, however. Damien died of cancer in 1986.

Mark Tewksbury - The first Canadian athlete to voluntarily reveal his sexual orientation while still competing, Mark Tewksbury has long talked about his struggles in the world of sports. A multiple medalist as a swimmer at the Barcelona and Seoul Olympics, Mr. Tewksbury worked as a motivational speaker for a financial company before he was fired because of his sexual orientation.

Mr. Tewksbury continued to work as a motivational speaker and became an advocate for gay rights. He joined the board of directors for the 2006 World Outgames, held in Montreal, and wrote about the experience of being a gay athlete in his autobiography.

Nancy Drolet - Nancy Drolet won a silver medal as a member of the women's hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. She was a well-known hockey player, playing for Canada in six world championships and becoming Team Canada's third highest career scorer.

In 2002, she was dropped from the Olympic team. That same year, she married her long-time partner Nathalie Allaire in Quebec after the province legalized same-sex marriages.

Toller Cranston - Toller Cranston was a dominant force in Canadian figure skating during the 1970s. He held the title of Canadian national figure skating champion for half the decade (1971-76) and took home a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics in Austria. (The gold medalist that year, Britain's John Curry, outed himself before the finals.) Mr. Cranston went on to become a commentator with the CBC, covering televised figure skating for the network.

Mr. Cranston wrote about his affairs with both men and women in his two autobiographies. In the second, 2007's When Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring My Skates?, he discussed his relationship with Czechoslovakia's Ondrej Nepela. Mr. Cranston is one of the many Canadian figure skaters to publicly reveal his homosexuality, including Matthew Hall and David Wilson.

Mark Leduc - One of the few openly gay boxers, Mark Leduc was an underdog at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Surprising opponents and commentators alike, the light welterweight came away with a silver medal. He turned professional soon after the Games, only to retire in 1993.

After leaving the ring, Leduc announced that he was gay. He became an active supporter of gay rights and dedicated his time to helping those with AIDs in the Toronto area. Mr. Leduc died earlier this year. He was found in a hotel sauna in July, a victim of heat stroke.