Don Cherry is an 85-year-old former National Hockey League player and coach who became an icon of sports broadcasting in Canada, known for wildly colored sports jackets and commentary that is almost as colorful. He’s already stirred the ire of progressives by complaining about European players taking over his beloved sport, being a self-described nationalist and Donald Trump supporter, and his career as a sportscaster appears to have come to a crashing end, as his employer, Canadian broadcaster Sportsnet, dismissed him Monday.
Cherry’s full remarks, transcribed:
“You know, I was talking to a veteran, I said, ‘I’m not going to run the poppy thing anymore,’” Cherry began, referencing his annual Remembrance Day segment. “Because what’s the sense? I live in Mississauga, nobody wears, uh, very few people wear a poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it. Downtown Toronto, nobody wears the poppy. And I’m not going to – and he says, ‘wait a minute. How about running it for the people that buy them?’ Now you go to the small cities. You know, those – the rows and rows – 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 bucks for a poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the, the biggest price for that. Anyhow, I’m going to run it again, for you great people, and good Canadians, that bought a poppy, I’m still gonna run it, anyhow.”
Many Canadians and others in U.K. Commonwealth countries wear red poppies on their lapels to mark Remembrance Day, honoring members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. The majority of the objections focused upon Cherry’s comment, “they come here” — presumably meaning immigrants — and the contention that immigrants don’t wear poppies.
I was in Toronto from Thursday afternoon until yesterday midday. While you see more poppies on jackets and lapels in some neighborhoods than others — more in the downtown business district than in the hipster neighborhood Kensington — it’s ludicrous to contend “downtown Toronto, nobody wears the poppy.” (Back in 2017, a Toronto Sun columnist lamented that almost no one was wearing a poppy . . . five days before Remembrance Day.)
The American equivalent would be if John Madden said one day, “nobody in New York City stands for the National Anthem.”
Toronto residents have every reason to be irked at Cherry’s comments, contending that those in the city have little or no patriotism. And whether or not a sufficient number of Canadian immigrants wear poppies, it’s another unfair smear to suggest that none of them do. But the question is what would constitute an appropriate response to Cherry’s off-the-cuff, not-terribly-coherent comments. Nobody should be the least bit surprised that an 85-year-old hockey commentator would express himself in a way that isn’t politically correct or that would offend some people. A saner and more graceful culture would require Cherry to apologize to offended viewers, pick his words more carefully or stay out of controversial waters entirely, and let him end his career as a sports commentator gracefully. In addition to his hockey and broadcasting accomplishments, Cherry helped build and establish a pediatric hospice care facility to honor his late wife and her fight against liver cancer. This is not a man consumed with hate, just a man who said something inaccurate and stupid that offended people.
The driving spirit of most current criminal justice reform is that we’re all more than the worst thing that we have done. And earlier this fall, the Canadian public decided that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s multiple occasions of wearing blackface can be forgiven. But apparently that mercy is only available if you’re on a particular side of the political divide.