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I’d bet my monthly cable fee for the Centre Ice package that among the cavemen still coming to Don Cherry’s defense is that Montreal fella who gained some momentary notoriety during the recent federal election campaign after his racist advice to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was caught on tape.
The elderly chap, you might recall, quietly — almost politely (ironically enough) — whispered to Singh during a brief conversation at an outdoor market that he should “cut your turban off” because he’d then “look more like a Canadian.”
To Singh’s credit, he didn’t do what I would have certainly done in his shoes and told buddy to F-off and shove his bigoted views where the sun don’t shine, but, instead, responded: “I think Canadians look like all sorts of people; that’s the beauty of Canada.”
“Beauty” is certainly not a word you’d associate with Cherry, although he has often used that expression to describe a nice goal or, more often than not, a vicious body check or a nose-squashing haymaker.
Cherry, in fact, has been an ugly presence on Canadian television seemingly forever, and I’m not referring to those garish outfits of his, garb you would have associated with pimps operating out of Times Square in New York in the ’70s (recently exhibited as part of that tremendous HBO series “The Deuce,” a favourite in our home, but a show that inexplicably attracted minimal attention).
His particular brand of human ugliness came in the form of sexist, homophobic and xenophobic language, taking classless shots at women reporters in locker rooms, gays, European and French Canadian hockey players, uttering views that would have cost just about anybody else in the broadcasting world a job.
But he was allowed to continue with his foul rants because there was a huge audience tuning in every Saturday night to see which targets this loose cannon would hit. Cherry was permitted to unleash his attacks with impunity as the CBC, for decades, and Sportsnet, in the last six years, determined that ratings were much more significant than any of Cherry’s offensive remarks.
But it finally came to a head, as we all know, last Saturday when he added immigrants to his hit list, pointing to “those people” who come to the “land of milk and honey” but, Cherry implied, won’t pay a buck for a poppy on Remembrance Day.
Cherry was permitted to unleash his attacks with impunity as the CBC, for decades, and Rogers Cable, in the last six years, determined that ratings were much more significant than any of Cherry’s offensive remarks.
If he had taken it upon himself to urge all Canadians to buy poppies, there would have been no problem, perhaps even a compliment or two, but Cherry, in his misguided outrage, and his inherent narrow-minded bigotry, decided to take aim specifically at immigrants, implying that “those people” who come here from away are not real Canadians, and don’t understand why it is that fallen soldiers should be remembered. Cherry is oblivious, I’m quite sure, to the fact that Punjabi soldiers were fighting in France in the First World War even before the Canadians arrived.
As for Ron MacLean, his nodding acquiescence throughout the Coach’s Corner segment was disgraceful, and his apology the next day, as abject as it might have been, rang hollow for me. His puppet-like performances have become standard fare throughout his career working alongside Cherry.
For what it’s worth, I used to tune in once upon a time to Coach’s Corner, as far back when Dave Hodge (whose sports journalism jockstrap MacLean could never carry) would at least try and hold Cherry accountable.
But it was hockey that was the focus of Coach’s Corner, as it should have been, as it should have remained. And I believed, as did many, that Cherry, though inarticulate, with a 10-year-old’s grasp of the English language (that’s probably an insult to 10-year-olds everywhere), was a novel act, certainly as a hockey analyst, and went beyond the clichés usually heard on hockey broadcasts.
Of course, he loved hard-hitting hockey, “rock ’em, sock ’em” hockey, as reflected in his best-selling videos extolling fighting and body checks. As did I, and the majority of hockey fans. But as fighting virtually lost its role, Cherry maintained his anachronistic view that fights between “two good old Canadian boys” (wrestling matches, for the most part) were still necessary in the game.
Somewhere along the way, somewhere around the rink, though, Cherry decided the Canadian public would be enthralled with his weekly homage to cops and firefighters and soldiers killed in the line of duty (I found those offerings to be perfunctory and maudlin, and a disservice to the men and women they were intended to honour).
And then came his regular take on Canadian and international politics, using his platform for ultra-right-wing philosophies that would have done Donald Trump proud. (If he had been a “left-winged pinko,” as he often described those who disagreed with his opinions, I would have been just as turned off; “Hockey Night in Canada” and Coach’s Corner was supposed to be about sport, for gawd’s sake, for Gordie Howe’s sake, not world issues).
So, I eventually tuned out.
Now he’s managed to tune himself out, hopefully forever.
Although somehow I doubt it; there always seems to be an audience for intolerant blowhards.
An audience comprised of people like that old-timer who provided guidance to Jagmeet Singh.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com
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