No matter where you stand on Don Cherry, it is fair to say that it will be strange to no longer see Coach’s Corner. For good or ill, Cherry’s antics alongside straight man Ron McLean have been around for almost forty years now and were part of the fabric of this nation’s culture. This is not a statement of support for Grapes, but rather an honest reckoning with the fact that having this man carry on is something that was part of Canada, whether you want to admit it or not.
Now, Cherry is gone, having been fired after anti–immigrant comments last week. Unsurprisingly, the issue became subsumed by the greater ‘is–there–a–cancel–culture–is–there–not–a–cancel–culture’ mania of our times. The usual suspects lined up to support Cherry, claiming that he should somehow face no consequences for what he has said, and that once again we were all victim to some incredibly powerful PC racket that will come for you next. What’s interesting here is that unlike when something like this befalls a comedian, we don’t even have to bother dealing with the discussion of whether Cherry’s right to joke makes it okay to be ‘on the edge’. No, these are Cherry’s thoughts, full steam ahead. And, as thoughts, spoken on national television, they deserved to be addressed.
There are two main areas here that need some attention. First, there’s this strange idea out there that Cherry should somehow have not been fired because he’s been acting like this for years now. It’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous take. Indeed, we all remember Cherry for all the crazy things he’s ever said, from his backward ideas about the game itself, to how awful it is that Russians can be good at hockey, and so on. But, for some reason, Cherry had a power that seemed to massively outstrip his role.
This is a man who took over an OHL team and famously refused to allow European players on it. The joke became how bad the team was during those years, the reality is that it was an indicator that the man had some serious issues. But still, he has soldiered on, despite an increasingly virulent brand of conservative thinking that made countless people cringe.
There have long been calls for Cherry’s removal, and it’s overwhelmingly likely that once everyone realizes the world will indeed go on without Cherry yelling at someone for not touching out a concussion, we’ll all be better for it.
Secondly, there’s this notion that firing Cherry for defending the honour of the troops is this heinous act. But, that ignores what has so clearly gone on here. Firing Cherry is not close to a controversial decision in this case. This is not a PC mob gaining power, this is a brutal line of thinking that deserves no place on Canada’s national hockey broadcast. Was this about the poppy? Well, looking at the clip, you can see that Cherry himself lays bare his hatred. It’s so clear because he actually starts by lambasting everyone for not wearing the poppy. “I live in Mississauga. Very few people wear the poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it. Nobody wears the poppy.” Now, admittedly, it feels like he’s doing a bit of a dog-whistle here, but still, the point that people often do not wear a poppy is one that may actually warrant some examination.
What do we take from the fact that fewer people every year do so? Look around you, and you’ll see plenty of Canadians not wearing a poppy. Should we? Is it a duty to honour, remember, and show thanks? This is not an entirely unreasonable conversation, one that gets to the heart of memory, and how our society now looks at military, war, service, etc. However, Cherry quickly tells on himself when he continues, “You people, that come here, whatever it is. You love our milk and honey. At least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys pay for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price for that.” This is just so undeniably offensive and wrong and could not have escaped this punishment. Any pretense that this was about the sanctity of the poppy is utterly undone by this singling out.
As he leaves, declaring that all he really wants to do is honour the troops, at the last, Cherry fails them. Many, many Canadians who serve will tell you precisely that they do so to honour and protect Canada’s multicultural history and population. Many will tell you that helping to provide a place for immigrants and refugees to live and work is a huge part of serving this country. To trot out this xenophobic garbage once again on Canadian airwaves was ultimately a bridge too far. V