Cherry, problematic hockey icon, ‘should’ve been fired long ago’

Written By Austin Alkire, Co-Sports Editor

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Mr. Rogers once said “To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

We are in the 21st century. Acceptance should be common sense. As Brodie would say in the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, cue the music.

Hockey icon Don Cherry decide to drop a xenophobic bomb on Sportsnet’s Hockey Night in Canada’s viewers. Cherry said, on air, “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.”

Don Cherry was venting his frustrations with immigrants not wearing poppies on the weekend before Veteran’s Day (or Remembrance Day in Canada.)

Did Don Cherry have the right to be upset with people who did not wear poppies? Yes. Did Don Cherry have the right to call out immigrants (“you people”) and only immigrants, for this? No.

Cherry claims that he meant everything and happened to choose the wrong words when he spoke on pre-recorded TV. That brings up a whole other issue that nobody in Sportsnet decided “Hey, maybe ole’ Don said something he shouldn’t have.”

Part of the issue arises from the fact that Don could not agree on an apology with Sportsnet, and from Cherry’s past xenophobic remarks. To fully understand why Cherry deserved to be fired, one must look at his past and answer the simple question of “who is Don Cherry?”

Don Cherry was, and still is to some, a hockey icon. The native Ontarian played for the Boston Bruins in one game in 1955 before becoming the Bruins’ head coach in 1974.

While Cherry never won a Stanley Cup, he was known for how he coached his teams. Cherry’s Bruins teams were known as the lunch-pail gang for their tough style of play. Filling the ice with enforcers and grinders, Boston would make the game physically tough.

This was a style that everyone seemed to love back in the day. The gritty, hard-nosed teams of the 70s and 80s were much more fun for the – cough, cough- boomers, who watched their beloved game grow.

Don Cherry went on the become a Canadian television star. Hockey Night in Canada and Coach’s Corner is where fans could see Cherry express his love for the game, or hate for it if it was deemed too “soft.” Cherry helped his icon status by wearing vibrant, and oftentimes crazy suits.

To simply put it, he was an icon for young fans back in his coaching and early-TV days. With the game growing “softer” and faster, Cherry and his fans grew to hate the game, or at least parts of it.

With players like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Nathan MacKinnon dominating the game with their speed and skill, the game lost its grittiness with the lack of grinders and enforcers, who were replaced by the young players.

With rule changes over time and fighting slowly disappearing, the game saw less acts of toughness and less grit-and-grind. After all of that, the game slowly lost Don Cherry and his fans.

With Cherry losing his way, he sought pride in his home country of Canada. Hockey is naturally dominated by Canadians. However, the past few decades have seen an increase in Americans and Europeans.

This is when Cherry’s true, xenophobic character came out.

This is why Don Cherry, a hockey icon, should have been fired a long time ago.

In 1996, Cherry spoke about Russian players during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, during the intermission of a game between Canada and Russia.

Cherry said, “I’m sick and tired of hearing how great they are. They’re down 3-1. The fabulous five died. They sucked and they always have sucked.”

The time frame of this next quote is unknown, but yet again Cherry vented about the Russians. Cherry said, “They’re nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Nothing.”

What about Europeans, Don? Let us go to Mr. Cherry at the 2018 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) showcase. Cherry said, “I’m not happy for that, to be truthful. Here, yes, we’re a wonderful country and accept everybody here. What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing. No matter how you cut the mustard, I said this a long time ago, and we have it now in bantam, we have them coming over in bantams, if you can believe it. We have them in minor midget as I go all the time and they’re very rich when they come over and you’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in [the] Canadian Hockey League?’ No, I don’t.”

How about when a young Russian by the name of Alexander Ovechkin decided to celebrate his goals more “goofy” than others? When this occurred, Cherry said, “This guy, he’s got a free ride. . . I’m predicting someone’s gonna get him and someone’s gonna get him good. You don’t act like this. This is goofy stuff. … Don’t you Canadian kids act like it.”

In my opinion, no scratch that, as a matter of fact, Don Cherry is xenophobic. “But he is just a proud Canadian and grew up when times were different and blah, blah, blah immigrants are bad blah, blah, blah.” My apologies Mr. Boomer, I forgot to mention, Don Cherry is sexist, too.

In 2013, Chicago Blackhawk and proud Canadian Duncan Keith asked a female reporter if she was a referee after not liking her question. While the comment received backlash, Cherry came to Keith’s defense.

Cherry said, “I don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room. I remember the first time it happened to me. Guys are walking around naked, I hear this woman’s voice, I turn around, she’s asking me about the power play, I said let’s go outside. She said, ‘I’m not embarrassed.’ I said, ‘I am.”

When Cherry’s lifelong co-host Ron MacLean, who apologized after the latest incident, argued that female reporters should receive the same opportunity as male reports, Cherry laughed and quipped back, “Equal opportunity? Then why aren’t men in women’s dressing rooms?”

Oh and Donald- I mean Don Cherry may not like your politics.

In 2010, Cherry was being “ripped” by newspapers for supporting Toronto mayor Rob Ford. In response, Cherry said, “As far as I’m concerned, you can put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks.”

Cherry once again used the phrase “left-wing kooks” in regards to David Suzuki, a native of Vancouver, Canada, who is a climate change activist. Talking about Suzuki, Cherry said, “David Suzuki, left-wing kook, you’re in Vancouver, it’s warm out there. Why don’t you come to Toronto, we’ve been freezing for two months. … What is this, warming trends? We’re all dying of cold, and he’s talking warming trend. What?”

Here is the deal. I could bring up more quotes about native Canadians, including Chris Simon. I could bring up the recent Scott Sabourin comments. I could bring up a lot, is my point.

Most of those quotes should be evidence of why Cherry should have been fired years ago. Sure, you do not have to agree about politics but what ever happened to allow xenophobia, racism, and sexism to continue to show its ugly face on television.

I know Don Cherry was an icon in Canada. That does not excuse anything he has, or will say. In fact, that makes it worse. Good on Sportsnet for firing him. Good on Ron MacLean for apologizing. Sportsnet is seeing a decline in viewers and protests outside their headquarters. But they did the right thing.

He should have been fired years ago, however. We allowed this for way too long. It would have been easier to fire him years ago and recover from the backlash now, before we entered a truly progressive era. Now we have one more task left, keep Don Cherry out of hockey.

Hopefully we all learned something here. For now, I will leave you with Mr. Rogers in honor of the recent World Kindness day.

As Mr. Rogers once said, “Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we aren’t perfect.”