It’s the ultimate irony that Don Cherry, who parlayed bombast and outrageous suits into a four decades-long gig on Coach’s Corner with co-host Ron MacLean, and who has been a vocal supporter of Canada’s military for just as long, lost his job with Hockey Night in Canada on Remembrance Day.
Rogers Sportsnet tied the can to Cherry today — not long after services were held right across the nation marking Remembrance Day — amid no small amount of public outrage over comments he made on Saturday night directing criticism at new immigrants and what he perceived to be their lack of support for veterans, specifically this: “You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.” For full context, the segment and an accompanying feature is here.
Long before Sportsnet issued a statement distancing itself from Cherry’s remarks and MacLean did likewise, I wondered if this might be the end of the line for him. There have been more than a few cringeworthy moments on CC over the years, but when Cherry said, “you people,” my gut said he was done. Now he is, and that’s as it should be. It was overdue.
OUT OF TOUCH
What Cherry said Saturday is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back in what’s been a long line of controversial remarks over the years. Years ago, it was his disdain for European players that made our ears perk up. And players who wore visors? Well, to hear Cherry tell it, they were basically chickens. More than a few hard-nosed prairie boys nodded in agreement. Remember?
Cherry always liked his hockey and his players tough and he never apologized for that. He celebrated it – what hockey fan, at some point, hasn’t watched one of his Rock ‘em Sock ‘em hockey tapes highlighting all that on-ice mayhem from the 1970’s and 80’s? Grapes had his own show and a line of beer and burger joints – Don Cherry’s Grapevine — back when you could have a pint and a smoke without going outside.
The game of hockey, like the world we live in, has changed a lot in the years since then. Times change. Cherry’s public persona didn’t. At 85, my sense is that he is very much the same man today as he was when he first got out of the coaching business and started talking at us during the intermission in those tall collars and crisp suits that looked like they were made out of Christmas wrap or momma’s drapes.
What Cherry, or you and I for that matter, could safely say back then is a lot different than it is now in these days of social media, where outrage, both real and faux, is rampant. Mercy, I cringe at some of the things I said 20 or 30 years ago. Backers of Cherry, and there are many, thumb their noses at how PC everything seems today. They believe what he said Saturday is bang on, so screw the hurt feelings. Cherry for PM. Suck it up, snowflake. Well, no.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Sep 27, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Television personality Don Cherry on air before game one of the World Cup of Hockey final between the Team Canada and the Team Europe at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
When you have a platform that provides Cherry the reach CC did, you simply cannot broad brush an entire segment of society, which is exactly what saying “you people” does. First, it’s not smart and, most important, it’s simply not true. Any studies out there about who wears poppies and who doesn’t? I haven’t seen one. I can’t say with any accuracy how that breaks down. Neither can Cherry. Why single out immigrants? Why single out anybody?
MacLean issued his own statement as the backlash grew over the weekend. He said: “Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong … I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond. Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”
MacLean’s heartfelt mea culpa, it turns out, wasn’t enough to save Cherry. I’m guessing there were many people out there high-fiving when the news about his firing broke. They’ve been clamoring for Cherry to get the sack for years and years and they’ve been ripping him righteously on social media since Sportsnet canned him.
I don’t count myself in that group. There is no joy for me in Cherry being shown the door. No good riddance. That said, it was time. In fact, as I said earlier, it was overdue. As a younger man, I enjoyed the hell out of the routine Cherry trotted out for years and years — the good Canadian kid bit and the thumbs-up shtick. That was a long time ago. What we heard Saturday was not that.
Previously by Robin Brownlee