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BRENDAN KELLY: Don Cherry fired by Sportsnet for 'you people' poppy comments

Don Cherry's rant on Hockey Night in Canada about people who don't wear poppies has led to renewed calls for him to be removed from his position.  Postmedia News
Don Cherry's rant on Hockey Night in Canada about people who don't wear poppies has led to renewed calls for him to be removed from his position. Postmedia News - Contributed

An apology wasn’t enough. Sportsnet needed to fire Don Cherry. And that’s exactly what they did, on Remembrance Day appropriately enough.

In fact, the latest controversy around arguably the most famous broadcaster in English-speaking Canada underlines that Rogers Media and its sports subsidiary, Rogers Sportsnet, should’ve politely nudged Cherry into retirement when they first got the rights to the pricey National Hockey League package in 2013. That was the perfect opportunity for Rogers to announce that it was ushering in a new era for Hockey Night in Canada and that it would be an era without the old-school rantings of a guy who appeals to the worst elements in Canadian society.

Sportsnet had a chance to politely say goodnight to Cherry when they started the 12-year, $5.2-billion deal, but instead they didn’t take the high road. And this is where it got them.

On Saturday night’s Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry went on an angry diatribe based on his belief that immigrants don’t buy poppies to commemorate Remembrance Day.

“You people love, they come here … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey. At least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys pay for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price,” said Cherry.

Outrageous. And just as outrageous was that Cherry’s sidekick, Ron MacLean, just sat there letting Cherry spew this vile tirade against people who are apparently not “good Canadians.”

MacLean apologized on Sunday on Rogers Home Town Hockey.

Bart Yabsley, president of Sportsnet, at first apologized and then issued a statement after Cherry was fired.

But the apologies weren’t enough. It was time for Cherry to go quietly into the night. There simply isn’t any place in the Canadian media in 2019 for that kind of talk. So good on Rogers for taking a stand.

As of this writing, Cherry had still not apologized, which is telling. I agree with my colleague Stu Cowan — I’m not holding my breath waiting for him to suddenly turn contrite.

The former coach of the Boston Bruins, a guy famous mostly for losing a key playoff game to the Montreal Canadiens, represents everything that is wrong with the hockey media in Canada and the incident just underlined how woefully out of touch that hockey media is with contemporary Canada.

The reaction to Cherry’s odious comments came from all quarters and it was heartening to see how many were understandably outraged by his remarks.

In Quebec, this latest embarrassment just reinforced our long-held view that Cherry has no place in our lives and that lack of enthusiasm for the star of Coach’s Corner is one thing that unites anglophone and francophone Quebecers. Most of us prefer to watch our Canadiens games on RDS in part because we don’t enjoy Cherry’s pugilistic view of hockey and life. It also doesn’t help that he makes no secret of the fact that he’s a fan-boy of the Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the two teams Habs fans love to hate the most. And he’s rarely had a kind word to say about the Canadiens on Coach’s Corner during his 30-plus-year run. It’s all part of the disdain Hockey Night in Canada holds for Montreal, a bizarre state of affairs for the country’s flagship hockey broadcast.

The other strange subplot here is that Hockey Night in Canada still airs on CBC nationally even though the NHL rights are held by Rogers. CBC has a sub-licensing deal with Rogers that almost no one outside the executive suites of the two companies understands and the bizarre thing is that our national public broadcaster airs the show, but has no editorial control of what is said on the broadcast.

For years, Cherry was an embarrassment to CBC given his frequent xenophobic comments about francophone and European players and his overt support for fighting in hockey. Cherry is, in theory, Rogers’ problem, but the fact is most ordinary hockey fans see the game on CBC and assume reasonably enough that it’s a CBC show.

How is it that a public broadcaster airs a top-rated show that it has no editorial control over? Very strange.

Rogers finally did the right thing and told Cherry enough is enough. Hockey unites Canadians of every imaginable background and that’s more true than ever before. But Cherry — and Hockey Night Canada — continue to cover the game like it’s the 1950s.

And that’s one of the reasons that hockey maintains such a conservative culture, a culture that’s woefully out of touch with the fan base.

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