In Our Words: How and why Cherry bombed

As a Canadian, a hockey fan and someone paid to have opinions, I’ve got to weigh in on Don Cherry’s recent firing. The aftermath has been emotional - let’s slow down the discussion for a moment.

I’m not going to call Cherry or his supporters racist, sexist or anything. I know those words cause some people to tune out. Let’s see what we can learn.

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Most explanations of Cherry’s faux pas don’t give his words full context. I’ve transcribed the segment fully here and haven’t cleaned it up – what you see is what he said.

Cherry is speaking about running poppy drives, something close to his heart.

“I was talking to a veteran and I said, ‘I’m not going to run the poppy thing this year, because what’s the sense? I live in Mississauga, very few people wear a poppy. Downtown Toronto? Forget it, downtown Toronto, nobody wears a poppy.’ He said, ‘Wait a minute. How about running it for the people who buy them?’”

If Cherry cut rope here, he’d be fine. He didn’t.

“You people, love… you come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys pay for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid, uh, the biggest price. I’m going to run it again for you great people and good Canadians that bought a poppy. I’m still going to run it… (sigh) anyhow.”

The first sentence, “You people, who come here… you love our milk and honey…” is the problem. If you remove just that, it’s fine. It’s not even “you people” – Cherry’s used that for his audience forever. This time, he’s clearly referring to immigrants.

Are immigrants not patriotic? The ones I know sure are.

The people I know who have come to Canada have escaped poverty, conflict and squalor to find better lives. They’re extremely patriotic. They’re grateful. They buy poppies.

You can be supportive of the troops and inclusive to new Canadians. Those soldiers’ sacrifices have helped make Canada so lovely, people flock here for new lives. Immigration to Canada is proof positive that the troops won.

I’m aware Cherry’s been controversial forever. He’s said when people get hit by pucks at hockey games, “it’s always a woman, yapping away there.” He’s argued, as recently as 2013, that female reporters should not be allowed in the dressing room to interview players. He’s called retired NHL enforcers who shared how tough that role was “gutless pukes” – right after three tough guys died by suicide in one offseason.

In 2007, Cherry said about Indigenous people, “Natives have an inferiority complex,” adding “go out and get your own fair shake in life and work for it.” Last year, Cherry said he didn’t believe climate change was real, calling people who believe almost every scientist in the world “cuckaloos”. Earlier this year, he called the Carolina Hurricanes a “bunch of jerks” for having the gall to celebrate wins. They turned that into a marketing slogan – maybe the last time Cherry will be relevant in hockey.

In 1998, Cherry bought the OHL’s Mississauga IceDogs and instituted a strict “no European players” policy. The team finished dead last in the league for four straight years.

He didn’t keep that job. Being lousy at work can get you fired. Who knew?

Cherry was not fired for this one time - he was fired because he’s done it for 30 years.

Later, a TV figure said she had bad experiences with hockey players who were “white boys” whose families could afford to spend a lot on hockey. That’s interesting - as a white hockey player, so have I.

For years, minor hockey has gotten more inaccessible. Not every player is rich or white, but the game is becoming harder for people who don’t tick both those boxes to play. Top tier puck can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year for one child. Who has the money?

Some hockey players are jackasses. I’ve played my whole life, I’ve met many, played against many and even played with a few.

Cherry should have left years ago – a graceful retirement. If Cherry called it quits in 2008, I’d have fond memories of him, the TV equivalent of a grouchy yet likeable uncle. I hoped to see him gone not because of racism, sexism or any other -ism, but because his analysis was weak.

Don Cherry has not held an actual job in professional hockey since 1980. In his last season, he coached a team that won 19 of 80 games. Why is someone commenting on an industry they’ve not been in since being fired four decades ago? Did anyone see Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney giving political advice during the election?

I don’t think Cherry is a bad person. He’s done great work for organ donation, with humane societies and with veterans’ causes. We share a love for hockey and think the sport should be a Canadian tradition - we show it in different ways. His on-air persona is brash, but outside Coach’s Corner, there is kindness.

I remember Cherry’s Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em VHS tapes when I was little. Tacky techno, loud suits and fights - what more could a little boy want?

This isn’t 1997 anymore.

Cherry is now 85. His opinions were formed decades ago, opinions that don’t jive well with Canada and hockey today. The game is international, multicultural and growing.

Ask any hockey coach – what do you do if a player refuses to change? You bench him.

Canada has changed. Hockey has too. Cherry hasn’t. It’s time to move on.

© Copyright Flin Flon Reminder

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