Don Cherry has long been known primarily for three things: Putting too many men on the ice at the worst possible moment; dressing as though his tailor were permitted to use only material from your grandmother’s garish curtains from 1977; and somehow becoming a broadcasting icon by spewing one obnoxious take after another on “Hockey Night In Canada.”
Time to add another to the list. Cherry, the former Bruins coach who is now 85 years old, also should be known as one more stunted old fool who uses national pride to attempt to mask xenophobia and racism — and he can’t seem to keep the mask on.
On Saturday night’s Sportsnet broadcast, Cherry ranted about the lack of poppies he had seen leading up to Remembrance Day in his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario, as well as Toronto.
Poppies are traditionally worn on Remembrance Day in Canada, inspired by the World War 1 poem “In Flanders Fields,” in which the author, John McCrae, writes of the poppies in the field where soldiers died. The idea for the poppies as a symbol of remembrance was conceived by American professor Moina Michael.
Cherry intimated that immigrants, whom he referred to in his worst Archie Bunker voice as “you people,’’ were neglecting to pay proper tribute.
“I live in Mississauga,” Cherry said. “Nobody wears, very few people, wear a poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it. Downtown Toronto nobody wears a poppy.
“Now you go to the small cities and you know, the rows on rows. 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 could pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price.”
Ron MacLean, Cherry’s cohost, nodded along without comment during the remarks, then offered a thumbs-up gesture along with Cherry at the end of the segment.
The backlash to Cherry’s commentary was immediate and overwhelming. According to CTV — Canada’s main news network — so many viewers took issue with his comments that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council could no longer accept formal complaints.
The backlash led to a string of apologies Sunday. The NHL’s was probably the most forthright, saying, “Hockey is at its best when it brings people together. The comments made last night were offensive and contrary to values we believe in.”
Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley issued a brief statement: “We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.’’
Cherry was not part of Sunday’s broadcast. Instead, it was left to MacLean, the silent bystander during Cherry’s rant, to apologize on the air at the beginning of the broadcast.
“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat-out wrong,” he said. “We at Sportsnet have apologized. It certainly doesn’t stand for what Sportsnet or [parent company] Rogers represents: We know diversity is the strength of the country.”
MacLean acknowledged that he “sat there’’ during Cherry’s comments. “Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me,” he said. “We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize and I want to thank you for calling Don and me on that last night.”
MacLean seemed genuine and contrite, but what lesson has Cherry actually learned? He has not apologized, and has indicated he would not, telling a Toronto Sun reporter Sunday, “I have had my say.”
Cherry has a long history of having his say with tasteless comments. In 2013, he defended Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith’s rude treatment of a female reporter by stepping out of his cave for a moment to announce that women shouldn’t be allowed in the locker room.
“I remember the first time it happened to me,’’ said Cherry on the broadcast. “Guys are walking around naked and I hear this woman’s voice. I turn around and she’s asking me about the power play. I say, ‘Let’s go outside.’ She said, ‘I’m not embarrassed.’ I said, ‘I am.’ ”
At least MacLean grimaced at that one.
Cherry, who put his name to and presumably made a decent amount of my money from “Rock’em, Sock’em” NHL fighting videos, called an NHL concussion settlement a “money grab” by former players. He also labeled a trio of retired enforcers as “pukes” when they spoke out about the dangers of the job following the drug-and-alcohol related deaths of former players Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak.
And xenophobia has always been part of his shtick; the next European player he compliments might be the first.
It’s now a more blunt and open part of it, and it shifted the focus from Remembrance Day (and Veterans Day) and a time to remember the best of us to one more divisive reminder of the worst of us.
At the least, Cherry must apologize, though it’s probably far too late for him to realize why.