Don Cherry: An Imperfect Icon

Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Don Cherry is a Canadian icon. There I said it. However, that doesn't mean he is a man without flaws, and this past weekend proves that. For roughly 40 years Canadians have tuned into Hockey Night in Canada, more specifically Coach's Corner, to listen to the outspoken former Jack Adams winner bare his soul on the current landscape of the game we call hockey. Some of those views age well, some don't, which is why Cherry is out of a job.

Here's what Don said this past weekend:

"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"...

“These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

What is he saying exactly? People are taking it two ways. First way; 'You people'. This is the damning line, this is the line that touched a fair amount of the country, touched so many in fact that the CBSC (Canadian Broadcast Standards Council) literally couldn't process the amount of complaints coming in. It's a line that is being interpreted as anti-immigrant (or as the kids say 'xenophobic'), and is the line which marks Cherry's final act on HNIC.

The second line of thinking is 'is he wrong?'. The sentiment that Cherry is sharing is that if you emigrate to this country you should honour those that have fallen to make it what it is today. Canada is a great country, many of us would agree that it is, and many are asking the question 'is he wrong?'.

In my personal opinion, the correct line of thinking falls somewhere in the middle of these arguments. More of us in general should be wearing the poppy, not just new Canadians. However, my word isn't gospel so take it as you will.

Nonetheless, in a way Don is right, but in the same breathe he is also very wrong. Right for standing up for veterans and Remembrance Day, but wrong for condemning a certain faction of the country for the downtrend in poppies.

This leads us back to the title; Don Cherry is an Imperfect Icon. Many things Don has said over the years have blown up in his face. European players and visors, some anti-french verbiage, fighting in hockey, women in broadcasting, all of which aged quite poorly. Before Sportsnet, the CBC basically gave Cherry carte blanche over his show, which sometimes makes for great tv, and sometimes makes for controversial tv.

With that said, it is easy to point out Cherry's flaws, but we can't forget the good things the man has done over the years either. Cherry is a staunch supporter of Canada's military, broadcasting each and every single solider who'd fallen in Afghanistan on-air, he has close ties to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, has also had a major influence on grass roots hockey in Ontario and Canada alike, and has always been very Pro-Canadian (whether that's good or bad is up to you).

It's important to note that Cherry's long-time broadcast partner, Ron Maclean, apologized, both on twitter and on television for the lack of action during the broadcast. In an unusual move, Maclean didn't chime in, he didn't tell an alternative side to the story as per usual when Don starts to go a little too offside. In this instance he gives a slight nod of the head and a thumbs up. I found it interesting.

Don on the other hand, doubled down and somewhat clarifies his statement as he talked to the Toronto Sun's Joe Warmington:

“I have just learned I’ve been fired by Sportsnet for comments made on Coach’s Corner Nov. 9,” He said to Warmington "No problem" he added.

“I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers.”

Cherry goes on to say:

“I speak the truth and I walk the walk,” he said. “I have visited the bases of the troops, been to Afghanistan with our brave soldiers at Christmas, been to cemeteries of our fallen around the world and honoured our fallen troops on Coach’s Corner.”​

"To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot,”

What's funny is this has always been the dynamic between the two. Maclean has always been the straight man, the one to reel in Don and the conversation, and he's one of the best to ever do it. Don is the guy who stirs the pot, creates conversation, wears his passion on his sleeve, so to see both of their reactions stay true to their brands is somewhat satisfying.

What's also funny is social media does what social media does with both #IStandWithDonCherry and #FireDonCherry trending in Canada. A call to the political climate that Canada finds itself entrenched in between the left and the right.

Unfortunately, the message that Cherry was trying to convey gets lost in all of the controversy. The downtrend of the poppy is a thing, whether we like it or not. Is anyone to blame? Probably not. Are you less of a Canadian if you don't wear one? I don't think so. Should you wear one? I think you should. But like most traditions in an evolving social landscape they tend to fade. Time moves on and so do people. It's unfortunate but it's reality.

Then again, maybe that's why Canada needs a figure like Don Cherry, to remind us that some traditions shouldn't be forgotten, no matter how old they are. Now, with that said, there are ways of going about that, but Don has never gone along with the the conventional (or politically correct) line of thinking. That's why he's been on-air for almost four decades, it's what makes Don, Don, and whether you love him or hate him it's also what makes him an icon, albeit an imperfect one.


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