WATCH: People calling for Don Cherry to be fired, top trend on Twitter
#FireDonCherry and #DonCherryMustGo were the top hashtags on Twitter in Canada Sunday morning after many people got upset at the comments the elderly, controversial and iconic hockey commentator made last night on his show Coach’s Corner.
“You people love–they come here whatever it is–you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price,” said Cherry during the first period intermission of the Toronto Maple Leafs game.
Many tweeted messages expressing anger and disgust over his comments they deemed offensive or racist.
Cherry also called out native-born Canadians in Toronto for not wearing the poppy all that much either, but people found he was singling out immigrants with his comments saying “you people”.
Others came to his defence.
By Sunday, the furor over his comments was so large online that Sportsnet put out a press release to address the controversy.
“DON’S DISCRIMINATORY COMMENTS ARE OFFENSIVE AND THEY DO NOT REPRESENT OUR VALUES AND WHAT WE STAND FOR AS A NETWORK. WE HAVE SPOKEN TO DON ABOUT THE SEVERITY OF THIS ISSUE AND WE SINCERELY APOLOGIZE FOR THESE DIVISIVE REMARKS,” read the press release in all caps and signed by Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley.
Cherry has co-hosted Coach’s Corner with Ron MacLean since 1986, or over three decades.
Hazel McCallion has expressed her support for Don Cherry stating that “I want Don back on Hockey Night in Canada.” McCallion has also encouraged a rally to support Cherry outside Sportsnet’s studio, according to the Toronto Sun.
McCallion, who is 98-years-old, became a Canadian icon after being the much-loved mayor of Mississauga from 1978 until 1997. Despite McCallion supporting the rally and encouraging Canadians to attend, she will not be attending herself as she has a board meeting.
Over 200 people were expected to turn up to the rally already, however, McCallion’s encouragement may spur a greater turn-out.
Speaking to Newstalk 1010, McCallion said that “I hope many people go … Don Cherry deserves a chance to explain himself.”
McCallion went on to say that “I feel I have to say something because all of this has been blown way out of proportion over the interpretation of what he said.”
Cherry’s firing has created an outrage across Canada. A petition that was created immediately after Cherry’s firing has reached close to 200 thousand signatures.
South of the border, Tucker Carlson also expressed his support for Don Cherry, calling those who went after him “fascists who have no feelings.”
Don Cherry’s role as national hockey oracle is over. After a three-decade-plus run as host of Coach’s Corner, a beloved 1st intermission segment on Canada’s most watched TV show, Sportsnet and the former NHL head coach are parting ways. This comes on the heels of Cherry’s impassioned Saturday night rant chastising Canadians, new and old, for not honoring Canada’s veterans by wearing symbolic poppies. It’s fair to say that Cherry’s choice of words, specifically “you people,” were bluntly delivered and any chance to clear up the confusion went by the wayside with Cherry doubling down on his intention and meaning.
Unlike the 2019 Canadian Federal election, Canadians are actually fired up about this. Those on all sides of the issue have flooded social media, radio call-in shows, and newspaper and web pages, covering all sides of the issue. If you don’t think hockey has a valuable role in dictating and projecting Canadian national identity, this is your lesson. You cannot find anybody in the country not discussing Cherry in one way or another. But what you haven’t seen is a historical understanding of why hockey matters so much, and specifically it’s relation to Canadian identity. It’s that story that I want to share, as I think it will help illuminate why Canadians of all stripes are burning up over Cherry once again.
Ice hockey emerged in Canada as a codified sport in 1875 and by 1892 it was already hailed as Canada’s national winter game. In my PhD dissertation (soon to be a book) I explored how a physical symbol, the Stanley Cup, represented a partial political solution to Canadian disunity, specifically its aid in promoting a unified Canadian national culture. Basically, sport provided a way for the disparate Canadian population to imagine themselves as belonging to the same national community. Ice hockey represented to many early Canadian nationalists the presentation of the values and virtues attendant the new and aspiring nation.
Parliamentarian and hockey player R.T McKenzie wrote in 1893 that “[Ice hockey’s] whole tendency is to encourage and develop in boys that love of fair play and manly sport so characteristic of the British gentleman. With so many advantages, both intrinsic and extrinsic, one of the most potent influences in building up a race of men, hardy and self-reliant, will, throughout the future, be by Canada’s national winter game.” This quote holds the key into understanding the current controversy embroiling Canada.
On one hand, it testifies to the endurance of hockey as a tool to teach Canadian values. Ice Hockey became grafted onto Canadian identity because it spoke to the experience of being Canadian during the formative years of the Dominion. As British colonists, Canadians laid claim to the inheritance of immense political and cultural capital but needed to break free of their British progenitors to form a new nationality.
The British themselves used sport, mainly Cricket, to explain their national character that emerged in the aftermath of the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution. In the famous 19th century novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays author Thomas Hughes uses a scene between Tom and the Master to highlight this valuable connection.
“Come, none of your irony, Brown,” answers the master. “I’m beginning to understand the game [cricket] scientifically. What a noble game it is too!”
“Isn’t it? But it’s more than a game, It’s an institution,” said Tom.
“Yes,” said Arthur, “the birthright of British boys old and young, as habeas corpus and trial by jury are of British men.”
“The discipline and reliance on one another which it teaches is so valuable, I think,” went on the master, “it ought to be such an unselfish game. It merges the individual in the eleven; he doesn’t play that he may win, but that his side may.”
Ice hockey, with its connection to the wilderness best represented the Canadian permutation on British sporting nationalism. Canadians were British, but cleansed of the sins of the old world, namely hereditary aristocracy, lived a more egalitarian and more rugged lifestyle. Ice hockey perfectly captured that blend. For over 125 years, hockey has represented an image of Canadians that has endured longer than any other indigenous (originating within Canada) cultural association.
But ice hockey has also been a place to define difference and exclude. It began with Canada’s indigenous peoples and the working classes through the stringent Amateur code, upheld by White middle-class sportsmen. In Nova Scotia, Black hockey players created the Coloured Hockey League in 1895 because White players would not allow them to compete in their leagues. Once freed from the biological shackles used to restrict women’s athletic participation, female hockey players won over crowds but eventually could not sustain their momentum and after the 1940s the game remained closed to them for decades. Over time the game, in addition to Canadian society, evolved and welcomed many that could now claim to be integrated both into hockey and also Canadian culture.
Don Cherry represents both of these historical currents. His Canadian chauvinism materialized in pleas for Canadian’s to play a Canadian style, to honour our past British lineage through a reverence of the military and nods to Canada’s rural communities, but also could turn off those historically disconnected to those roots. His admonishment of European players as “soft” harkens back to a Canadian distaste for effete British games like Cricket.
Often, it’s the historical roots that provide justification for why a seemingly minor incident turns into a full-blown cultural crisis. Don Cherry was Canada’s only truly nationally condoned irreverent broadcaster. It’s not that he makes controversial comments, it’s the fact that this comment touched a nerve that stretches back to Canada’s founding. Hockey traditionally carries Canadian’s ideals about themselves. It’s clear they still do. No matter what side you fall on, Don has sparked a national conversation about what it means to be a Canadian today.
Just as the gameplay of hockey evolves, its meaning to the country does as well. If you think that Cherry’s remarks are only about racism and bigotry, you’re missing the issue. If you think that the reaction and firing are instances of cancel culture run amok, you’re also missing the issue. At its core, this is a battle over how a multicultural country reconciles glorification of a past that many in the country want to villainize.
Both sides have valid points. It’s an important conversation, one we need to have. We should thank Don Cherry. But such a complex issue demands nuance, attention to detail, accurate assessment of diverse viewpoints, and the ability to speak freely regarding one’s opinion. Cherry sparked the conversation by abstaining from the first three but nailing the final one.
Don Cherry’s stated that he won’t apologize for his comments on immigrants not wearing poppies, but stated that he would use different words if he could.
“I think the closest I’ll come to apologizing is I wish I had used different words,” Cherry told Global News.
Cherry said, “I should have said everybody. If I had to do it over again, I would have said everybody.”
Cherry was fired from his Sportsnet segment after he made comments saying “you people that come here” don’t support Canada’s soldiers. Many immigrant-Canadians took offence at him singling them out.
“You people that come here… whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy,” he said on Saturday.
Cherry further commented, “I do believe to this day that everybody in Canada should have a poppy on out of honour and respect of the fallen soldiers that have fallen in the Second World War, Korea and the whole deal.”
“Those people who gave their lives, at least we can buy a poppy,” he added.
He said his comments weren’t directed at minorities and “It was picked up the way it was picked up.”
Cherry said he was planning to apologize on this week’s upcoming Hockey Night in Canada, but was never given the chance.
“I was ready to apologize,” Cherry said. “I was gonna put out a tweet, or whatever they do, saying I was wrong and I think it could have smoothed over pretty good. But that’s the way they wanted it and that’s the way it goes.”
You can now bet if former hockey executive Brian Burke will replace Don Cherry after his controversial poppy rant.
Brian Burke is now considered the favorite to replace Don Cherry on the Canadian staple TV segment Hockey Night in Canada.
SportsBettingDime.com, an online sports betting site, just posted 3-2 odds on Burke being the replacement for Cherry on the popular segment Coach’s Corner this weekend while also holding 5-4 odds on the site of replacing Cherry next season.
SportsBettingDime.com also has betting available for what Don Cherry pursues next, with odds available for whether he continues his role as a media presenter or ventures into politics, with a ludicrous 2000-1 odds if Cherry joins the NDP party.
Cherry was fired from Hockey Night in Canada after the Nov. 9 Coach’s Corner where he went on a rant denouncing immigrants who do not wear poppies on Remembrance Day. The president of Sportsnet, Yart Babsley said this on the firing “Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” Yabsley said in a statement. “During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
Sportsnet, the network which Hockey Night in Canada is aired on, has not yet announced whether it would keep the Coach’s Corner segment running after Cherry’s sacking from the network. Other potential replacements for Cherry include Sportsnet commentators Colby Armstrong, Kelly Hrudey and Craig Simpson.