Question: When do you know that a public figure really needs a P.R. boost?
Answer: When that person wraps himself in the rainbow flag.
Case in point: Toronto Maple Leafs GM/bully Brian Burke -- who endeavours (and sometimes succeeds) in getting commentators fired when he doesn't care for their opinions -- is part of an anti-homophobia public service announcement entitled, "You Can Play."
The debut of the spot comes on the heels of a very brutal few weeks for Burke, after he failed to make a significant deal at the trading deadline and then met his Waterloo in trying to get Don Cherry fired from Coach's Corner. (Sorry, Burkie -- you taking on hockey icon Cherry is akin to the Thornhill Selects taking on the Detroit Red Wings.)
So, what does Burke do to bolster his tarnished image? He rolls out an anti-homophobia campaign on the premise that his son, Brendan -- who tragically died in a car accident in 2010 -- was gay.
Surely, anyone being bullied for any reason is wrong -- whether that person is too fat, too nerdy, too freckle-faced -- you name it.
Yet, in the anti-bullying biz these days, it seems there's a subtext that the very worst sort of bullying is the kind that is perpetrated against homosexuals.
But why? Is it not equally repugnant to bully a gay kid as it is to bully a red-headed kid? Surely all forms of bullying are vile and should be eradicated.
However, when it comes to optics, a sure-fire way to get an image makeover is by latching on to a gay cause. And it seems to be working for Burke, who is being roundly applauded for his feel-good initiative -- even though I'm unaware of a scintilla of evidence that any professional or amateur hockey player has ever been discriminated against or targeted due to his sexual orientation.
So, what gives?
My guess is that Burke has learned a lesson from potty-mouth Sean Avery. This is the ex-New York Ranger who allegedly mocked ex-Leaf Jason Blake about having cancer. Avery also referred to his ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert, as "sloppy seconds" when Dion Phaneuf started dating her.
Avery needed a PR makeover too. So what did he do? He claimed that during a fight with Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers, Simmonds used a homophobic slur. (Oh, the horror! Apparently, in the NHL, players can use each other as punching bags until the ice turns crimson with blood, but for God's sake, nobody should utter a slur while releasing haymakers.)
Milking the gay angle for all it's worth, Avery went on to state how he was pro-gay marriage; what this has to do with the pursuit of pucks is beyond me.
But there was a very unhappy epilogue to the Avery story. Damien Goddard of Rogers Sportsnet had the temerity to tweet that he supported traditional marriage. A few days later, Goddard was terminated.
It's all so perversely ironic. For decades, the gay community has (rightfully) asked for more understanding and more tolerance. Yet it appears that tolerance is apparently a one-way street. If someone has problems with gay matrimony, that isn't a matter of having a differing viewpoint. Rather, it's apparently just cause for termination.
In fact, the whole gay issue seems to be less about equal rights and more about special rights these days. Case in point: at the Pride parade, numerous revellers go completely naked. Last time I checked, going au natural on city streets was against the law. Yet, is anyone ever charged with public indecency? Nope. But just try marching in the buff at the St. Patrick's Day parade and see what happens.
Sean Avery and Brian Burke are two peas in a pod in that they are both thoroughly unsavoury characters. But it's abundantly clear that the first step toward remaking one's image as Mr. Nice Guy is reinventing oneself as an advocate for gay causes.
I'll have to remember that next time I get into some hot water. I've even got a whiz-bang slogan: "If it's good, it's gay; and if it's gay, it's good."