Don Cherry, an iconic Canadian hockey commentator, has been fired by Sportsnet for his on-air remarks on Saturday that alleged that the country’s immigrants don’t properly honor fallen soldiers.
Cherry, 85, used his “Coach’s Corner” segment on “Hockey Night In Canada” to criticize individuals who didn’t wear poppy pins leading up the nation’s Remembrance Day. The pins are sold by veterans’ groups and are worn to symbolically honor those who served.
“I live in Mississauga [Ontario]. Very few people wear the poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it. Nobody wears the poppy. Now you go to the small cities. You people … that 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 poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price for that,” Cherry said.
After immediate backlash on social media Sunday, the majority of media reaction Monday morning called for Cherry’s removal. By the afternoon, word spread that he had been fired.
“Sports brings people together. It unites us, not divides us. Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right thing for him to immediately step down. During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for,” Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement on Monday. “Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.”
Yabsley had already apologized for Cherry’s comments in a statement Sunday, writing that “Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network. We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”
Both the National Hockey League and Hockey Canada distanced themselves from the comments in separate public statements. Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie called Cherry’s remarks “despicable” on Twitter. “We’re proud of diverse cultural heritage and we’ll always stand up for it. New immigrants enrich our country for the better. We’re all Canadians and wear our poppies proudly,” she said.
Cherry’s longtime co-host Ron MacLean, who gave a “thumbs up” to Cherry’s comments during that segment, offered apologies on social media and on the air during Sunday’s Sportsnet NHL coverage: “Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong. We at Sportsnet have apologized. We know diversity is the strength of the country. I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, I did not catch it, I did not respond.”
When contacted by the Toronto Sun, Cherry refused to apologize. “I have had my say,” he told the paper on Sunday.
It was one controversy too many for Cherry. The former coach of the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies was hired in 1981 as a commentator for CBC’s “Hockey Night In Canada.” His loud suits and louder takes made him the most famous member of the Canadian hockey media for decades, as “Coach’s Corner” became appointment viewing on Saturday nights across the country. His appeal spilled over to the U.S., where he appeared on everything from national hockey coverage to beer commercials.
He extolled the virtues of fighting in hockey for decades, and into the current era of concussion awareness. He frequently took heat for his derogatory views on European-born players. In 2013, Cherry drew ire from viewers for saying “I don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room,” in reference to female reporters.
Increasingly, Cherry would use his celebrity for political purposes, such as speaking on behalf of Toronto mayor Rob Ford at his inauguration and calling those who believe in climate change “cuckaloos.”
Speculation has been that Brian Burke, the former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Anaheim Ducks, may follow Cherry in “Hockey Night In Canada’s” spotlight segment. Rogers is in the midst of a 12-year agreement with the NHL for $5.232 billion (Canadian), signed in 2013. It’s the largest media rights deal in NHL history.