Don Cherry lost understanding of what it means to be Canadian

Five minutes, only once a week. In hindsight it really wasn’t all that much time. Though by the end, it was enough.

The 30-plus-season run for Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner and Hockey Night in Canada came to an unceremonious and wholly justified conclusion on Monday afternoon. The man who built himself into a broadcasting legend and institution in Canada in those five-minute increments with a loud mouth, louder suit, and brash, old-school opinionated hockey takes was fired by Sportsnet two days after targeting Canadian immigrants with racist and divisive remarks on last Saturday’s national broadcast.

“You people love — you, 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,” Cherry included in his diatribe.

It seems Cherry could have saved his job with an apology, but instead doubled down, refusing to admit wrongdoing with his derogatory and insensitive stance.

“To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot,” Cherry told Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun.

This was Sportsnet’s official release confirming the divorce after condemning Cherry’s comments one day earlier:

This wasn’t the first time that the 85-year-old crossed the line with his often-inflammatory commentary, but Cherry’s anti-immigrant rant was particularly off-base, and especially hurtful to those who often feel maligned and ostracized by a historically white sport.

We can quibble with when the decision was made to remove Cherry from the platform, question whether his co-host Ron MacLean should be sanctioned and if an apology would have been enough for him to save his job, and debate whether or not this crash-and-burn conclusion could have been avoided altogether.

But in the end, the people were heard, the right call was made, and the highest-profile platform in the sport was vacated after being occupied for several generations.

When speaking strictly on the basis of his hockey analysis alone, many have moved on from considering Cherry a credible resource for insight into the sport. While more schtick than substance for many seasons on Coach’s Corner, he preserved the platform to continue delivering tired and recycled opinions, primarily because that’s what viewership demanded.

By making anti-immigrant remarks and refusing to apologize, Don Cherry lost what it means to be Canadian. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
By making anti-immigrant remarks and refusing to apologize, Don Cherry lost what it means to be Canadian. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Folks legitimately wanted Cherry — be it for the shock value, or because they legitimately identified with what he was saying.

Looking back at my own personal experience as a Hockey Night in Canada viewer for as long as I can remember, I can’t pinpoint the moment Cherry’s outlook became toxic. But it appeared to become more and more problematic as his viewpoint of the world seemed to be woven in with his analysis of the sport he covered.

For a long time, he represented the thing that made Canadians most Canadian. What he valued in a hockey player — commitment, effort, toughness, resilience, honour — was in many respects, what we, as Canadians, wanted to project to the rest of the world.

But somewhere along the line, through xenophobic undertones and outright discriminatory remarks, he grew to belie what it now means to be from this great country.

Canada is a nation built on immigrants. Its diversity, and the wide range of values, opinions, beliefs and circumstances, is what separates this nation. It is what makes it special.

Being blind to the incredible advantages that come with different perspectives is invariably limiting in business, in life, and in sport.

And it was just the same from the most glorified position in Canadian sports broadcasting.

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