Don Cherry is allegedly a national treasure in Canada. A former minor league defenseman, he gained fame coaching the Boston Bruins in the late 1970s to be the NHL’s bridesmaids, never the brides, always losing in the playoffs, and usually to the Montréal Canadiens. The Bruins eventually got sick of his schtick and fired him. He re-surfaced coaching the late, unlamented Colorado Rockies (they moved to New Jersey in 1982, and that’s how we get the New Jersey Devils). Following that catastrophe, he was hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, aka: The CBC, aka: The Mothership, to do a segment in the first period intermission of Hockey Night in Canada. Thus, the legend of Coach’s Corner was born.
In this segment, Cherry’s job was to analyse hockey, to give his opinion on good and bad. And he got famous. Really famous. I met him during the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, when my hometown team, the Vancouver Canucks, were playing the New York Rangers for Lord Stanley’s Mug. Despite his loud-mouthed, arrogant shock jock persona on the CBC, in person he was kind, quiet, and courteous. He was a really nice guy.
But by then, Cherry had made his career out of insulting the honour and toughness of French Canadian and European players. He was the one who began the claim in NHL circles that you couldn’t win the Cup with a European captain.
Every Saturday night on the CBC, Cherry was on his bully pulpit, calling out ‘cowardly’ Russians, Swedes, Finns, and French Canadians. He then began getting political in the 2000s, ranting about war, cowardly liberals and so on. It was galling to think that my tax money was going to support this buffoon, given he was on our national broadcaster. I began muting him around 2001.
The CBC lost NHL broadcasting rights in 2013 to Sportsnet, a Canadian cable sports network. Sportsnet sub-licenses the Saturday night game back to the CBC, but Hockey Night in Canada is now a Sportsnet production. The talent on air and production crew are all Sportsnet, as is the set. In other words, Cherry is no longer a public employee.
This past Saturday night, he went over the top, even for him, ranting about immigrants who, according to him, don’t buy poppies for Remembrance Day, and therefore don’t support the Canadian military (the odd thing is that until around 2011, we didn’t really do the over-the-top military appreciation as the US does).
Don Cherry’s rant on immigrants:
“You people… love our way of life, love our milk and honey. 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.”
Ron MacLean nodded and gave a thumbs up. pic.twitter.com/OXnIwV1n9T
— Rosa Hwang (@journorosa) November 10, 2019
Not surprisingly, this has enraged Canadians. In fact, the backlash has been intense, especially for Canada. Even Cherry’s original host, Dave Hodge, got involved:
The day Don Cherry decided he should speak to and for Canadians on any subject at all should have been the day that somebody told him he couldn't, because he was an ex-coach hired to comment on matters related to a telecast called Hockey Night in Canada.
— Dave Hodge (@davehodge20) November 10, 2019
The longtime host of the CBC’s flagship national news show, The National, Peter Mansbridge had his say:
The notion that Canada's veterans were all white is dangerously wrong and an insult to thousands, says Peter Mansbridge. https://t.co/dKBpvxgIpW
— CBC News (@CBCNews) November 10, 2019
And so on. It took until late Sunday morning for Sportsnet to post a mealy-mouthed apology on its PR Twitter feed:
Statement from Sportsnet: pic.twitter.com/QZ76r9Y7sb
— Sportsnet PR (@SportsnetPR) November 10, 2019
This just isn’t good enough. For nearly 25 years, he has been going off like this on Coach’s Corner. The NHL also got involved Sunday afternoon:
Statement from the National Hockey League regarding Don Cherry’s comments Saturday night: pic.twitter.com/zt57sLy5Fa
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 10, 2019
Also not good enough.
Then there’s the role of Ron MacLean in all of this. MacLean has been the host of Hockey Night in Canada for about 900 years, save for one season when Sportsnet attempted to re-energize the show with Canada’s great poseur, George Stroumboulopolous, as host. For the entirety of MacLean’s run, he has been Cherry’s nodding sycophant, his enabler, never, ever challenging Cherry’s odious commentary. Note how MacLean, who, to his credit, looks somewhat uncomfortable throughout the segment, ends with a smile and the thumbs up.
MacLean apologised yesterday on both Twitter and his Sunday night show on Sportsnet, Hometown Hockey:
I have worked with Don for 30 years, and we both love hockey. But last night, I know we failed you. I see hockey as part of what unites us. I have the honour of travelling across our country to celebrate Canada's game, and our diversity is one of our country's greatest strengths.
— Ron MacLean (@RonMacLeanHTH) November 10, 2019
Ron MacLean begins Hometown Hockey by addressing the comments Don Cherry made last night and apologizing pic.twitter.com/2QSVOAxfX1
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 10, 2019
But this also isn’t good enough.
— Matthew Barlow (@Matthew_Barlow) November 11, 2019
And this is the crux of the situation. Cherry is national embarrassment, it is long past time for him to be put out to pasture. But, as far as I’m concerned, MacLean is the bigger problem. He’s the Canadian who sits in the blast radius of a toxic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic asshole, and he does nothing other than look occasionally uncomfortable, and giving the thumbs up. He’s the one who enables Cherry at the base, he never tries to reign him in, never challenges him. Instead he happily gives Cherry his bully pulpit every Saturday night, as several million Canadians tune in. Rapper Cadence Weapon said it brilliantly on Twitter
The problem with Canada isn’t that we’re a country of Don Cherries – we’re not – it’s that we’re a country of Ron MacLeans https://t.co/SDpth3DqFP
— Roger the Shrubber (@rtshrubber) November 10, 2019
And that’s the crux of it. It’s time for both Cherry and MacLean to be put out to pasture. It’s time for Sportsnet to turn its back on racism in hockey. We’re better than this.