Don Cherry didn't change, the world around him did

Nov 12 2019, 3:16 pm

As long as I’ve been alive, Don Cherry has been on television.

A fixture on Hockey Night in Canada, Coach’s Corner was appointment viewing for nearly 40 years.

Love him or hate him, I watched him. So did many Canadians, even as his rants became increasingly more incoherent.

Like many kids that grew up in the 1990s, I loved him. Always entertaining, Cherry was a straight shooter. He told it like it was — or at least how he saw it.

His Rock’em Sock’em videos were on every hockey-loving kid’s Christmas wish list.

But then I got a bit older and it became increasingly hard to defend many of his takes.

Words matter, and many of Cherry’s reinforced negative stereotypes.

While Cherry did change with the times a little (thankfully he doesn’t call Swedish players “chicken Swedes” like he once did, for instance), at his core he remained the same.

It’s ironic that Cherry became known as the ultimate Canadian because so much of his personality is unCanadian in many ways. Cherry is loud. He’s flamboyant and unapologetic.

But somehow he resonated with a large portion of the Canadian public, finishing No. 7 on a list of greatest Canadians decided by a CBC show in 2004 — behind David Suzuki and ahead of Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Graham Bell, and even Wayne Gretzky.

We’ll never see anyone like him again.

Cherry is old school.

He likes tough hockey. He praises players for playing through pain and glorifies hard-nosed players that played the game like he did.

He loves Canada, isn’t afraid to show it, and thinks players should play the stereotypical Canadian way.

He hates when defencemen put their stick in the way of a shot that his goaltender should be able to save. He believes fighting increases player safety and thinks wearing a visor decreases it.

He was ahead of his time with no-touch icing, with the NHL eventually changing their rule following years of campaigning by Cherry.

He thinks players should show class — he loves that hockey players wear suits to games at all levels — and has distain for showboating on the ice.

These were the kinds of viewpoints Cherry could get away with.

Where he really got himself into trouble was when he veered into non-hockey topics, and he did so with increasing regularity.

Cherry has been honouring fallen soldiers for years — both those that gave their lives in the world wars as well as more recent sacrifices. It genuinely meant a lot to him. He’s been overseas to visit soldiers and has been in tears on the air after profiling soldiers that lost their lives in recent years.

And yes, he’s been telling everyone to wear a poppy for Remembrance Day for as long as I can remember.

Coach’s Corner evolved into Cherry’s personal platform to talk about whatever he wanted. On many occasions, it got him in trouble, but Saturday was the last straw.

What he said was xenophobic, pure and simple. He’s allowed to express his opinion that everyone should wear a poppy, but to portray immigrants as ungrateful members of Canada was irresponsible.

Any other broadcaster would have been fired for it.

Cherry has seemingly had a different set of rules to abide by, though, so it still came as a surprise that the 85-year-old was fired for this.

Calling immigrants “you people” wouldn’t have got him fired 30 years ago. Heck, that might not have got him fired five years ago.

I imagine the backlash for this segment was significantly less in the ’90s than it would be today:

And still, Cherry had the opportunity to apologize for his words, but stubbornly, he refused. Had he chosen to say sorry, it probably would have saved his job.

The world is ever changing. What people find unacceptable changes with it.

Eventually for Don, he couldn’t keep up.

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