TORONTO – Hockey commentator Don Cherry parted ways with Sportsnet and CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada this fall after comments he made leading up to Remembrance Day stirred up controversy.
Cherry complained during the Nov. 9 broadcast that he rarely sees people he believes to be new immigrants wearing poppies ahead of Remembrance Day.
The 85-year-old said on his weekly Coach’s Corner segment as part of Hockey Night in Canada that he’s less frequently seeing people wearing poppies anymore to honour fallen Canadian soldiers — and he singled out those he believes are immigrants in Toronto, prompting a swift online backlash.
“You people … 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,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”
Sportsnet was quick to respond to the backlash, apologizing for Cherry’s tirade the next day. Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley issued a statement calling Cherry’s comments discriminatory and offensive.
“They do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network. We have spoken with Don about the severity of the issue and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks.”
Ron Maclean took a moment at the beginning of that Sunday’s Hometown Hockey broadcast to apologize.
“I owe you an apology too. That is the the big thing that I want to emphasize. I sat there, did not catch it and did not respond,” said MacLean. “Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory were flat-out wrong,” added MacLean. “We know diversity is the strength of the country. Wee see it in the travels with our show and with Hockey Night in Canada.”
I have worked with Don for 30 years, and we both love hockey. But last night, I know we failed you. I see hockey as part of what unites us. I have the honour of travelling across our country to celebrate Canada's game, and our diversity is one of our country's greatest strengths.
— Ron MacLean (@RonMacLeanHTH) November 10, 2019
The NHL called the comments “offensive and contrary to the values we believe in” in a brief statement.
A few days later it was announced that Don Cherry would be stepping away from his role with Hockey Night in Canada.
A statement released by Sportsnet said following discussions with Cherry, “it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down.”
Yabsley thanked Cherry for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.
“Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years,” read the statement.
Cherry told the Canadian Press that he would not be apologizing for his comments.
“I know what I said and I meant it. Still do. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers,” Cherry told The Canadian Press, saying Sportsnet fired him.
Cherry, however, denies he was singling out visible minorities.
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“I did not say minorities, I did not say immigrants. If you watch ‘Coach’s Corner,’ I did not say that. I said ‘everybody.’ And I said ‘you people,’” Cherry said.
“Irish, Scotch, anybody that’s newcomers to Canada, and they should wear a poppy to honour our dead from the past, whether they’re Scotch or Irish or English, or where they come from.”
Cherry added that he could have stayed on “if I had turned into a tame robot who nobody would recognize.”
“I can’t do that after 38 years,” he said.
No plans have been revealed regarding the future of Coach’s Corner.
-with files from the Canadian Press, Sportsnet