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Time for Gay CEOs to Take a Stand: Opinion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Ever since Felix Salmon wrote about Apple (AAPL - Get Report) CEO Tim Cook's sexuality for Reuters last year, I have been thinking about the subject.

Salmon framed Cook's homosexuality as common knowledge in Silicon Valley. Cook himself has never spoken about it publicly.

Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the original blog by Salmon is inaccessible due to technical issues at Reuters Opinion Web site. A good summary can be found at The Advocate.

The article hit about a year after the death of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke's son, Brendan. Brendan died in a car accident shortly after coming out in a very public way.

A hockey guy from a hockey family put himself out there -- big time. That remains, by and large, unprecedented in sports.

Though Brendan never played in the National Hockey League, he has strong ties to the sport at several levels. In particular, hockey people know his Dad, Brian, as a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails Irish American. When Brendan appeared on national television to discuss the issue, Brian was right there next to him. As a member of this collective called humanity, I felt pride and had hope for society while watching the elder Burke stand by his son.

But he did not stop there. As this excellent GQ article explains, Burke has become an advocate for open, no-strings-attached acceptance of gay athletes. He participated in Toronto's gay pride parade this year. He regularly speaks to colleges, youth groups and other entities.

Brendan's death led his brother, Patrick, a scout in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, to conceive the You Can Play project. Since its formation, Patrick has enlisted the support of the NHL, all of its franchises and a whole host of its most high-profile players. Promotional announcements air online and during NHL telecasts.

Brendan didn't have to do it, but he assumed a massive responsibility when he came out. Simply put, he answered the call.

After he died, his father and brother carried the torch for their son. Both men took on considerable personal and professional risk, but, as Brian Burke explained, he felt like it was something he needed to do.

He told GQ that he's not very good at being an activist. He doesn't have the same "poise and natural charm" that Brendan possessed:

I'm very proud of Brendan. If I had to pick, I would have picked him to go second. Let someone else go first. It's not the message that he has, which is a wonderful one, but pioneers are often misunderstood. You don't wish this on your son. You wish that someone else carries that burden first, but this is what he wanted to do, and we support him.... It takes a lot of jam to take this step. He's obviously a fearless kid. But he's a real bright kid and a sweet kid, and I'm very proud of him.

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