CBC commentator Don Cherry is no stranger to controversy — but has he finally crossed the line?
Last month, the Kingston native came under fire for asserting that female reporters shouldn’t be allowed in male locker rooms, ignoring the protests of Coach’s Corner co-host Ron MacLean and igniting widespread internet furor.
The incident was yet another example of the contradictions surrounding Cherry. He was voted the seventh-greatest Canadian of all time in 2004 on a CBC television series, but was disciplined by the network that same year for making provocative comments on air.
In light of his most recent scandal, the Journal’s sports editors debate the pros and cons of Cherry — and the implications for the CBC and the sport as a whole.
By Nick Faris
Don Cherry is a Canadian icon — but his schtick is doing more harm than good to the game he loves.
Cherry’s infamous history of on-air rants extends far beyond his incendiary remarks on female reporters. In 32 years on television, he’s disparaged countless subsets of the hockey population, generating controversy that would get any other analyst canned.
The problem with Cherry’s act isn’t that he makes these sorts of statements — it’s that he can make them, without fear of any formal discipline. He’s bigger than Hockey Night in Canada, and the CBC knows it.
In between moments of sensible analysis, Coach’s Corner is peppered with commentary geared to offend. Cherry’s staunch Canadian patriotism, endearing as it may be to viewers at home, is often tinged with casual xenophobia.
In 1989, he referred to Alpo Suhonen, the Finnish assistant coach of the Winnipeg Jets, as “some kind of dog food.” Two weeks ago, he went falsetto to mock three Swedish Ottawa Senators, suggesting that their imaginary conversation about fabrics was the reason Ottawa lost a playoff game.
By promoting fearless, gritty “Canadian-style” hockey, Cherry paints an unfair picture of foreign players based on sweeping generalizations, and his network serves as a perfectly willing bystander.
The CBC slapped a seven-second delay on Coach’s Corner in 2004 after Cherry said most visor-wearers are “Europeans and French guys” — then revoked the delay the following season.
Cherry’s recurring assertion that players with visors shouldn’t try to pick fights is reasonable, but the argument is rightfully blurred when it turns into an ethnic slur.
The CBC reportedly saw the Coach’s Corner segment on female reporters as relatively balanced, since MacLean disagreed with his longtime partner. The nature of the show negates the possibility of “balance.” No one tunes in to Coach’s Corner for MacLean’s sober dialogue — they want Cherry’s suits and uncensored commentary.
The show’s free-flowing nature makes Cherry and MacLean’s digressions remarkably entertaining TV — and, occasionally, remarkably offensive to viewers. Fostering debate is fine, but outrage is hardly a response any network wants to trigger.
It’s unlikely that the CBC will ever willfully disassociate from Don Cherry. His name means too much, and he’s still less polarizing and obnoxious than some of the network’s other on-air “talent.” (Here’s looking at you, Glenn Healy.)
That said, Hockey Night in Canada can’t ride Cherry’s legend forever. Once a coach, he’s now an old man yelling at clouds. It’s time to move on.
By Sean Sutherland
Assistant Sports Editor
It’s easy to criticize Don Cherry. It’s also unfair.
He thinks female reporters shouldn’t be allowed in male dressing rooms, that Europeans are cowards and that fighting is a necessary part of the game. He’s a misogynistic racist who’s behind the times. Or so the story goes.
It’s an assessment of Cherry that ignores all the good he contributes to Hockey Night in Canada — and yes, he does contribute some good.
While his comments on Coach’s Corner aren’t always politically or grammatically correct, it doesn’t mean the broadcaster should be disciplined by the CBC for them.
He occasionally crosses the line, but his opinions are often rooted in fact.
When the CBC disciplined Cherry for saying French Canadians and Europeans were the players wearing visors, they failed to take into consideration that Cherry was actually correct. The majority of NHL players who wear visors are from Europe or Quebec.
For all the controversy — oftentimes overblown — there has to be something that keeps Cherry on air besides the advertising he brings in for the CBC. Otherwise, he would have been let go in 1981.
For 32 years, Cherry’s been teaching young hockey players the finer points of the game. He may be ridiculed for always saying “all you kids out there,” but shouldn’t someone on Canada’s premier hockey broadcast be thinking about teaching kids?
Growing up, young players can tune in to watch Cherry and get tips on how to position themselves, how to make correct decisions on the ice and what makes a smart hockey player. Analyzing the game is great, but Cherry offers something better: education.
In one segment every Saturday night, Cherry shows a better understanding of hockey than other analysts show throughout multiple appearances. When talking about how to actually play the game, he’s unmatched.
It’s easy to see Cherry as a senile old man that rants and raves on television, but he understands the issues hockey faces. That’s why he called for the elimination of touch icing and for getting rid of hard plastic equipment before they were popular topics.
Cherry represents a traditionalist viewpoint on the CBC. His opinions aren’t about offending people — they’re just his way of communicating issues.
On a broadcast where opinions are few and far between, it’s refreshing to have Cherry give his thoughts. He’s honest about who he is, and that should count for something.
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