Former NHL coach Don Cherry was fired from his longtime job as a hockey commentator for Sportsnet on Monday, following comments he made on air over the weekend related to immigrants and Remembrance Day.
Cherry, 85, suggested that immigrants weren’t properly respecting Canada’s veterans, as he saw very few people wearing the traditional poppy pins for the holiday, which is held on the same day as Veterans Day in the United States.
Cherry Says ‘You People’ Don’t Wear Poppy
On a Saturday broadcast, Cherry said that he was disappointed in the lack of poppies he sees in the Toronto area.
“I live in Mississauga [a Toronto suburb]. Very few people wear the poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it. Nobody wears the poppy,” Cherry said. “You people…that come here, whatever it is – 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.”
Cherry is no stranger to controversial comments. He has long been derisive of European hockey players, has promoted fighting as an important part of hockey – even with the increased awareness of the severity of head injuries in recent years – and has expressed a wide range of conservative political viewpoints, including support for Toronto mayor Rob Ford, and a disbelief in global warning.
While he had survived every wave of controversy before, it quickly became apparent that Saturday’s comments crossed a line that Sportsnet wasn’t willing to tolerate.
“Sports brings people together. It unites us, not divides us,” Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement released Monday. “Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right thing for him to immediately step down. During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
Cherry appeared on various Canadian media outlets to defend himself on Monday and Tuesday, often suggesting that his comments were aimed at everyone, not just immigrants.
“If you listen to it closely, I said everybody should be, and everyone should wear a poppy in honor of our soldiers,” Cherry said on Sirius XM Radio Canada on Tuesday. “If that offends people, that’s too bad.”
An Iconic Figure in Canada, Hockey World
Cherry has been one of the most influential figures in Canadian and hockey broadcasting, becoming a well-known figure in the United States as well. He coached in the NHL from 1974 through 1980, with his first five seasons coming with the Boston Bruins, a team he led to the Stanley Cup Finals twice – losing both times.
After failing to get the Colorado Rockies into the playoffs in 1980, Cherry was hired as an analyst for the CBC’s playoff coverage. He was then brought on as a color commentator for the 1981 season, but his outlandish style made him unsuited for that role. Instead, the “Coach’s Corner” segment was created especially for him during the first intermission. The segment remained a mainstay of Canadian hockey coverage until his firing this week.
“Don is synonymous with hockey, and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years,” Yabsley said in his statement. “We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.”