Shut Up and Dribble: BREAKING: Old White Man Does Racist Thing, Actually Gets Fired

Sportsnet Does the Right Thing, Moves on From Don Cherry

  • Don Cherry—also known as “Grapes” during his playing days—agreed to step down as the face of the Coach’s Corner during Saturdays’ Hockey Night in Canada. Photo Olivier Cadotte

Most Canadians have caught a segment of Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada at least once in their lives.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean have been mainstays on Canadian television sets on Saturday nights for decades, capturing the attention of over a million viewers each week, even through Cherry’s most nonsensical and questionable moments.

I myself have very fond memories of Saturday nights spent in my grandfather’s basement watching HNIC and being excited for Coach’s Corner. But after this past Saturday night’s episode, it seems as though viewers may be ready to move on, and I think that’s for the best.

When calling out Cherry for his harmful remarks on the segment, activist and sports writer Shireen Ahmed hit the nail on the head describing what the show has become with #BoomerNightinCanada.

Regular viewers of HNIC are no stranger to Cherry’s perspectives on hockey and life, which have grown more and more controversial and babbling as the former coach has aged. Typically, his more offensive rants blow over quickly, but this time he’s really gone and done it.

It starts off fairly plain: “You know, I was talking to a veteran, and I said, ‘I’m not going to run the poppy video anymore, because what’s the sense?’ I live in Mississauga, nobody wears, very few people wear a poppy […].” This is more or less fair in some ways. It’s true that noticeably fewer people abide by the tradition, but here’s where Cherry’s anecdote takes a turn for the worse.

“Now you go to the small cities and you know, the rows on rows, you people love—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, these guys paid the biggest price. Anyhow, I’m going to run it for you great people and good Canadians that bought a poppy.”

Come again? You people? Did he really just say “you people”? Oh, you bet. He said “you people.”

And we all know who he means when he says “you people.” Cherry is making a dig at who he views as ungrateful immigrants who smite good, rural, white Canadians when they don’t wear a poppy over their heart. By mentioning Mississauga, which is home to a large South Asian diaspora, and by mentioning downtown Toronto by name, he places these communities in a box labelled “other.”

This creates this divide between “good Canadians” and “those other ones,” which is deeply hurtful to so many. It cuts into the cultural fabric of our country and erases the work of immigrants and People of Colour in the Canadian military.

Let me get this straight for all of you out there reading; Canadians of all races and backgrounds and Indigenous people served in the battles we pay tribute to on Remembrance Day. Portraying our forces as all white is harmful and insulting to the thousands who gave their time and their lives to serve their country, and it is their country.

And Ron MacLean—we like him, right? He’s a wholesome person, an upstanding member of the hockey community. He’ll say something about this right? Wrong. Instead, he simply smiles and gives the thumbs up, an act of complacency in the face of Cherry’s racist rhetoric.

He later apologized for this, stating that he didn’t catch what his co-host had said and that he recognizes that he is in part to blame for not speaking up.

Initially, Sportsnet issued a half-assed apology, never directly acknowledging the groups targeted by the host’s comments.

“Don’s discriminatory comments are offensive and 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,” wrote network president Bart Yabsley.

But what good will speaking to him do? Cherry’s surely had to be spoken to before for remarks made on the air. This isn’t even the first time he’s been overtly racist in one of his rants. In 2007, he responded to MacLean’s comment about the unfair treatment of Indigenous peoples with, “Fair shake, why don’t you go out and get your own fair shake in life and work for it. Don’t give me that stuff.”

He’s also made sexist remarks while on the air. In 2013, he went on the record saying that female reporters don’t belong in the locker room. His comments became so bad at one point that the Canadian Press had to hire someone to babysit him during broadcasts, which they clearly no longer do.

But on Monday afternoon, things got interesting. Several sources from within the league reported that Sportsnet had parted ways with their host of 29 years. Sportsnet soon released another statement on the situation.

“Sports brings people together—it unites us, not divides us. Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” wrote Yabsley.

It’s likely happening purely in response to the flood of criticism the network has received for the comments and for its inaction. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, Canada’s media watchdog, said Monday that it had received an unmanageable amount of complaints regarding the comments, urging people to stop submitting them.

If they truly cared about who his comments have harmed, they would have done this years ago when he first started saying racists and sexist things on air.

While I question the network’s motives, I commend them for stepping up and doing what I’m sure everyone was afraid to do by firing him.

As a journalist, myself hoping to one day make it in this industry, and with so many talented women in broadcast journalism out there, such as Sportsnet’s own Caroline Cameron and Cassie Campbell-Pascall, it was frustrating and disheartening to see Sportsnet enable these toxic, racist, and sexist rhetorics by letting Don Cherry continue to ramble on.

It’s naive to think that his comments weren’t landing with a significant portion of Canadians, our parents, and our grandparents, which is why it’s so important that the network prevents him from feeding the fire any more than he has.

His comments weren’t funny or charming 10 years ago, and they’re definitely not funny today. I for one, along with many other hockey fans, I’m sure, am thankful that his comments will be silenced, at least for now. Hats off to Sportsnet for doing the right thing—crushing Grapes.

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