I’m a hockey fan. Like many of you, I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night. It was the one night a week our parents allowed us a Pop Shoppe soda and chips. It was the night I got to cheer on my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.
I still watch a lot of hockey. Thanks to Sportsnet and TSN, it’s more than one day a week. Suffice to say, I have watched a lot of episodes of Coach’s Corner over the years. Like many of you, I have been grappling with the controversy surrounding this past weekend’s scrapping of HNIC. For those who don’t know, Don Cherry called out “those people” [immigrants] on the segment a fortnight ago for not wearing poppies to honour Remembrance Day.
I have watched the fall-out as Cherry’s partner in crime, Ron MacLean publicly apologized for missing Cherry’s controversial comments. I watched as MacLean struggled to put into words what he was feeling this past Saturday night as he announced the death of HNIC after 34 years.
Without a doubt, this is something the hockey-loving folks of Haliburton County have been, and continue to, talk about. I know that what I am about to say about the situation will not sit well with some of them.
I stopped watching Coach’s Corner about 10 years ago. I found I did not agree with the majority of Cherry’s non-hockey opinions. Perhaps if the former Bruins’ bench boss had just stuck to hockey, we would have been okay. That is not to say that I do not appreciate his highlighting some very important causes over the years. He did much for our veterans. He did much for sick children. He did much to honour hockey history.
However, he also said things that were, in my opinion, racist. It wasn’t the first time he’d uttered words such as ‘you people.’ Many people have stood by Cherry. They’ve said MacLean threw him under the bus. I think MacLean was between a rock and a hard place.
People talk about the Cherry-MacLean relationship with rose-coloured glasses. Cherry’s yin to MacLean’s yang. My memories are somewhat different. I recall Cherry making outrageous statements and MacLean calling him out, only to have Cherry belittle MacLean. Over the last few years, it was like MacLean had given up, allowing Cherry to spout off unedited. Perhaps this is why he missed the ‘you people’ comment that angered so many people.
I also get the freedom of speech argument. However, the likes of Cherry are going into millions of living-rooms across this country and many are populated by young hockey players. Our local kids who play for the Highland Storm would have heard Cherry’s comments. What would they make of them? Do parents want racist remarks coming into their living-rooms? With freedom of speech comes great responsibility. Cherry should have known that. MacLean should have called him on it.
Cherry, at 85, and HNIC, at 34, had a good, long run. However, it was time for Cherry to go. It was past time for Cherry to go. Times are changing and Sportsnet has to change with them. In a world where hockey is broadcast in Punjabi and more and more players represent immigrant families in this country, there is a right and a wrong way to do things. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about looking at the fabric of our nation and realizing that we are a multicultural society. We can only hope that this incident has sparked robust conversation across our nation – and will usher in change so we can all get along just a little bit better.