OPINION: Don Cherry has mixed legacy but it was time for him to go

by | Nov 20, 2019 | Opinion, Sports

Pirasanth Gunasekaram, Sports Editor

Don Cherry doesn’t do anything in half measures.He rants, he advocates, he’s outspoken. And he’s offensive. He struck seemingly for the last time Nov. 9 on Coach’s Corner which he shares with Ron MacLean, who some have accused him of being his enabler.

Cherry was dumped by Sportsnet on Remembrance Day, a day to remember for Don Cherry who was ironically fired from Coach’s Corner due to his poppy comments. MacLean publicly apologized on television for the rant.

“You people love our way of life, love our milk and honey,” Cherry said during his poppy rant on the Hockey Night in Canada segment shown during the first intermission.

“At least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that, these guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada.”

He remains unrepentant although he later said he was trying to encourage Canadians to wear a poppy in the days leading up the services held on Nov. 11. But the way he phrased it sounded ominous for those who are immigrants.

“You people” keeps those who made Canada their home on the edges of society. It is an unwelcoming description — at the very least — of those who moved here. At worst, it’s a dog whistle for more division within society.

Reaction was swift. He was trending on Twitter, where people disagreed with his opinion and agreed with opinion. But the anger and disgust were palatable, even Budweiser stepped away from Cherry.

Cherry’s comments were disrespectful. It sounded like he was trying to say that if immigrants live in Canada, they should at least wear a poppy to show respect. But he did it in a very disrespectful way.

This isn’t the first time Cherry rubbed people the wrong way.

In 1989, he called then Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Alpo Suhonen, who is Finnish, “some kind of dog food.”

On the subject of visors in January 2004, Cherry claimed players using visors have less respect for safety. 

“Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys,” Cherry said when he explained his claim.

On Dec. 7, 2010, he attended the swearing in ceremony for Rob Ford, who was elected Mayor of Toronto, and Cherry was asked to say a few remarks.

“I’m wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything, I thought I’d get it in,” he said. 

Cherry faced backlash in 2018 when he denied the existence of climate change. He referred to people who do as “cuckaloos.” 

He has also had a history of being critical of European players. Cherry complained of Alexander Ovechkin’s goal celebrations in 2009 and Russian hockey in general.

“Look at this, this is what we want our hockey players to act? Now watch Ovechkin, does this not remind you of it? Does he not remind you of a soccer player?… This is goofy stuff,” he said. 

“Listen you kids, don’t get caught in the Canadian syndrome, where if it’s Canadian it’s got to be bad. We’re the best, I’ve been telling you’re the best.”

Even though Cherry rants were negative, he did have a good impact during his broadcasting career. He advocated for women’s hockey, even though he said, “I don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room,” Cherry shouted on the topic of women reporters and access. And he doesn’t want women talking during games.

There are other incidents. He leaves a complicated legacy.

Cherry partnered with companion animal organization Pethealth Inc. to offer Canadians the Cherry Blue Pet Insurance program, because he’s an advocate for pet health.

He’s also an advocate of organ donation awareness. He campaigned for stop signs being sewed on the back of children’s hockey jerseys to prevent potentially dangerous body checks from behind.

Despite the charitable work outside of Coach’s Corner, it doesn’t negate his questionable rants that led to his firing. His 38-year legacy of controversy outweighs his 38-years of hockey talk.