OPINION: Remember Cherry as a flamboyant symbol of Canada’s hockey culture OPINION: Remember Cherry as a flamboyant symbol of Canada’s hockey culture
For many, Don Cherry will be remembered for his final words on-air. But for the “silent majority,” as Cherry calls them, he will be... OPINION: Remember Cherry as a flamboyant symbol of Canada’s hockey culture

For many, Don Cherry will be remembered for his final words on-air. But for the “silent majority,” as Cherry calls them, he will be remembered for much more. His rants, his love of the armed forces, his fun times with former Leaf Dougie Gilmour, his admiration of Leaf enforcer Tie Domi and his son Max,  the bond he had with his English Bull Terrier Blue, his belief that Bobby Orr was one of the greatest players of all-time, and his lifelong affair with the greatest sport on ice –hockey.

The well-known hockey commentator for Hockey Night in Canada was fired last week for the divisive comments he made during Coach’s Corner last Saturday night in a move applauded by most Canadians as the right one.

Cherry, who is no stranger to ranting, called out “you people,” which was interpreted by most to mean immigrants, for not wearing poppies and supporting Canadian armed forces.

In full, Cherry said, “You people that come here… whatever it is, 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.

“These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

His words sparked immediate outrage. 

Cherry says what he meant to say and what he said were two different things. But whether his words were intentional or not, Cherry spit in the face of many Canadian immigrants and their lineage. People who have given more to this country than most Canadians ever will.

Cherry told Global News  on Tuesday if he could go back and do it all over again, he would have changed his wording to “everybody.”

What Cherry said to Global News was not an apology and it certainly was not good enough for the people who have listened to his sexist rants about women in the locker room, women at hockey games, and the many other things the bombastic commentator known for his vibrant suits and questionable verbiage has said over his 38-year career on-air.

The “silent majority,” whom Cherry said are afraid to speak out after what happened to him, have appreciated his words over the years. Fans like James ‘Jimmer’ Forler appreciate Cherry saying Canadians should get first crack at making the Canadian Hockey League and that toughness has a place in the game of hockey. 

Should Cherry have been fired for his words? A subset of Canadians like Forler say no.

Cherry told NEWSTALK 1010‘s Barb Digiulio, “I could have stayed on if I wanted to and knuckled under and turned into a simp. But that’s not my style, I’d rather go out on my shield.” 

As Sid Seixeiro said on an episode of Tim & Sid, “Don came in swinging and Don is going to leave swinging,” Seixeiro told his co-host Tim Micallef. “Could he have said it better? Of course. Will he say that? Probably. Don never was the guy to apologize for what he says.” 

Hockey legend Bobby Orr showed support for his former coach during an appearance he made on a Boston radio station WEEI on Thursday. Orr said what happened to Cherry was “disgraceful.

“I know Grapes better than anyone. He’s not a bigot and he’s not a racist,” Orr told the station. “What they’ve done to him up there is disgraceful. It really is.”

Skedline reporter Christian Holmes reached out to hockey fans to ask them how they will remember Cherry.

Longtime fan Forler said he will remember Cherry as “a Canadian legend who earned his fame, and used his power of popularity for the good.

“Cherry had a great unique opinion all the time and just like hockey, learned to adapt through the times.” 

The people who spoke to Skedline for an earlier article shared the same opinion. Some even helped circulate a petition form that amassed over 200,000 signatures by last Thursday to get Cherry back on Hockey Night In Canada. 

There were also many who did not side with Cherry.

Humber College student Matt Stellinga  who says he “bleeds blue and white” and loves everything about hockey, has a different take on how he will remember Cherry. 

“I think Don Cherry’s ‘you people’ rant will now be a part of his legacy going forward because of the divide it created amongst hockey fans and Canadians,” Stellinga says.

“If he had apologized, I think people would still remember what he said but I don’t think it would become a career-defining moment for him. It would be a big learning curve for sure but not a career-defining moment. However, we all know that is not the case,’’ he says.

“Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Don Cherry but the work he did for the troops and the vets during his broadcasting career was undeniably amazing. But with that being said, I believe Don Cherry’s legacy will be remembered for his ‘you people’ rant first and his work second,” Stellinga says.

Cherry is hockey’s version of the cult of personality. His love of hard hits, tough guys, and a good slobber knocker of a fight has made the former colourful National Hockey League head coach a cult icon to those who grew up playing in a rough and tough hockey environment.    

In his interview with CBC earlier this week, he said people in small towns across Canada share some of his views. 

Cherry, who grew up in Kingston, Ont. lived in a different era. When he was a teenager in the early 1940s, Canadians were starting to come back from World War II. The country was experiencing an economic boom. There were different societal roles for men and women. Values and cultural norms were tailored after religious ideals and beliefs. Kingston’s political views were further right-leaning and the entire country of Canada was experiencing a boom in nationalistic pride after World War ll.

But times have changed, and much of Don Cherry’s belief system has not. His ideals are stuck in the 1940s. Something which may not be good for a media company still reeling from the aftermath of its TV deal with the National Hockey League and has a highly paid hockey commentator with no filter. 

The excuse that many people see things the same way Cherry sees them will not fly after making anti-immigrant comments as he did. It is a bad way to skate around the fault in his judgment. 

If Cherry or his die-hard supporters used a different approach to support their argument that he did not say something wrong, maybe some of the opposing sides might listen.

There is some truth to the argument going around online forums that some people watch  Cherry’s Coach’s Corner to get outraged. Moral psychology researcher Rob Henderson wrote in Psychology Today for certain individuals there is a social incentive to be outraged because expressing anger shows one’s commitment to the values of their community. And as Henderson writes, media companies have financial incentives to rile people up. Playing on one’s anger means more clicks and shares.

Make no mistake about it, a huge part of Cherry’s brand was being divisive. He tried ever so hard to separate the “old way” of doing things from the “new way” by telling the people who have adapted to a faster, less violent version of hockey that this is not how the game should be played, with Cherry favouring the rougher, rock ’em, sock ’em, style of play. A style of play that Cherry said many times on Coach’s Corner was only meant to be played by Canadians and Canadians only. Not Americans, not Russians and most certainly not Europeans. Oh, and if Swedes come for a Canadian’s goalie spot in the Canadian Hockey League, get them out of here, Cherry has said after the CHL banned European players.

Comments like those are a prime example of how Cherry plays on divisiveness since, like any social issue, both the left and the right have something to say.   

So, yeah, Cherry is a racist. There is no way around it. Sometimes his nationalistic pride gets to his head and he does not say the smartest things. He got fired because of his racist remarks, and he will live by the sword and die by it. 

However, the bad Cherry has done should not overrule the good. It should not make everyone forget about him traveling halfway around the world to visit the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. People should not forget about Cherry using his namesake to create charities like Don Cherry’s Pet Rescue Foundation. People should not forget Cherry using Coach’s Corner to honour Canada’s fallen soldiers. People should not forget Cherry using Coach’s Corner to cheer up a fan that might be going through a hard time or peewee hockey team that did something great in their community.

Yes, Don Cherry has his faults. He is human and makes mistakes. Cherry is stubborn beyond repair and vocal as can be. What he is today is who he has been throughout his whole life. One must choose to either love him or hate him. That is the whole deal. 

Ron MacLean’s final words on Don Cherry sums up this whole saga well. “We honour what you’ve meant to the game and the fact you’ve been there for human beings. I love you very much.”

One must take the bad with the good.

Christian Holmes

Christian Holmes is a senior writer for Grandstand Central, as well as an editor for Last Word On Hockey. Holmesy, as he is known by his peers, works to facilitate intimate one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting personalities in sports. Not to mention, Holmes does also have a keen eye for writing powerful and thought-provoking stories as proven by his story about his lifelong love affair with hockey being published in TSN Hockey Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie’s and sports writer Jim Lang’s new book entitled "Everyday Hockey Heroes: Inspirational Stories On and Off The Ice". You can follow him on Twitter below.