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Brendan Burke Possibly Not Notable Enough for Wikipedia

Before his death last week in an Indiana automobile accident, Brendan Burke’s presence on Wikipedia was limited to a single line added last November to the bottom of his father’s page. The son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke had publicly revealed that he was gay, and that his famously hot-tempered father was supportive.
The announcement wouldn’t normally have been particularly newsworthy, except for the clashing of two frequently divergent worlds: male professional sports and open homosexuality. Not only do homophobic taunts continue to bleat from stadium stands, but openly gay pro athletes have been virtually invisible. Following the revelation, Brendan Burke’s story became international news, particularly on gay-oriented blogs and in the sports media.
Then, on February 5, a snowstorm and a car crash. Brendan Burke was killed, along with his passenger, 18-year-old university athlete Mark Reedy. A Wikipedia article was created the following day and promptly marked for deletion by an editor. The reason given was that Brendan Burke may not be notable enough to warrant his own entry, in accordance to Wikipedia’s notability guidelines.

“A sports star coming out is noteworthy, but somehow I can’t help but think this move to delete is inspired by homophobia,” an anonymous commenter complains.
When a Wikipedia page is flagged, the onus is often on the user-driven community to revise the article with “reliable, secondary sources” to justify inclusion in the online encyclopedia. Like contributors, Wikipedia editors are oft-accused of personal agendas, and some users in the ensuing deletion discussion question whether this was another case of “gaywashing”; others say that Wikipedia is just sticking to its policies.
“Brendan’s chief accomplishments appear to be (a) being related to a notable person; (b) coming out as gay, and (c) dying young,” says user FisherQueen. “Wikipedia is not a memorial.”
“His orientation is the key to his importance,” counters Justacat66. “He is one of an incredibly small group of athletes/people involved in mainstream pro athletics who had dared to go public with his orientation – this alone makes him worthy of an article of his own.”
Self-described hockey journalist RGTraynor proposes a merger into Brian Burke’s entry. “He was a high school hockey player (which is not in of itself notable), did some broadcasting (which is not in of itself notable), was the son of a more famous man (which is not in of itself notable),” says “Coming out is pretty much all that can be considered noteworthy, and a section on him could be handled in two paragraphs.”
At this point, there’s probably been enough support expressed to preserve the entry on Wikipedia, and the homophobia accusation is shaky at best, but the gist of the controversy is rooted less in Burke’s death than in the reverberating effects of his coming out. The stories of gay children become highly newsworthy when the issue contrasts with the views or careers of their prominent parents—that’s why Mary Cheney and Maya Keyes have their own Wikipedia pages. Brendan Burke may only have existed in the public consciousness for a matter of months, but clearly his truncated, but important history deserves its own entry on Wikipedia. That’s difficult to argue against as long as Frances Bean Cobain gets one.


  • http://undefined rek

    “His orientation is the key to his importance,”…
    So start an article on gay professional athletes and list him there.

  • Mark Ostler

    “The reason given was that Brian Burke may not be notable enough to warrant his own entry, in accordance to Wikipedia’s notability guidelines.”
    Do you mean Brendan Burke?

  • http://undefined Greg Smith

    By the prevailing standards of Wikipedia, I would have to agree that he is not notable enough to warrant his own entry.

  • http://undefined Marc Lostracco

    I did; fixed. Too many Bs.

  • qviri

    I missed Wikipedia and their glorious deletion debates. “I invite you to apologize immediately for calling me a Nazi.” They Heard the News Today: Wikipedia Edition, please?

  • http://undefined JDurbs

    As far as prominent parents of gay children goes, I think Dick Cheney far out-trumps Brian Burke. Brendan and Brian aren’t in the same league at all.

  • http://undefined JDurbs

    (Of course, I meant Brendan and Mary)

  • http://undefined rich1299

    He might not be notable from a hetero point of view but he is most certainly notable from a gay point of view, his coming out in the still extremely anti-gay world of professional sports is extremely rare and unusual. Context is everything and if you don’t appreciate the context of what he did then you aren’t going to think its notable. Professional sports is the last bastion of entrenched homophobia/anti-gay sentiment. He’s as notable as the first black person to play in any professional sports league, he’s a ground breaker and I believe that makes him notable. Just because many hetero folks couldn’t care less doesn’t make him any less important to gays and lesbians, Wikipedia should be inclusive of minority groups and not just reflect the dominant hetero world, its not a top ten list and its supposed to be reflecting things and people of importance and what he has done is definitely of importance even if not everyone can see that.

  • http://undefined McKingford

    I realize that there is a tendency towards hagiography when someone dies, but this is a bit much. Brendan Burke was an “athlete” in the same way that 80% of men who at one point or other in their lives played organized sports are athletes. He didn’t play at a collegiate level, and he was never a professional. Sorry to say, but this is not even remotely about “coming out gay in professional sports”.
    The only way in which Brendan Burke is a story at all is that *Brian* Burke was supportive of his son when he learned of his sexuality – in short, Brian Burke wasn’t a total douchebag. I’d like to think that in 2010, this isn’t terribly newsworthy. Indeed, I think it does a great disservice to the LGBT community to make this a bigger deal than it really is.