'I don't regret a thing': Don Cherry speaks out on his firing and Ron MacLean
Published Monday, November 11, 2019 3:11PM EST Last Updated Tuesday, November 12, 2019 9:25AM EST
TORONTO -- Hockey broadcaster Don Cherry has suggested that he was given an opportunity to stay with Sportsnet after making widely derided comments about immigrants and poppies.
“I could’ve stayed on if I wanted to and knuckled under, and turned into a simp, but that’s not my style,” Cherry said Monday night in an interview with Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010. “I’m unemployed now after 38 years. It’s kind of strange to be unemployed, halfway through the season. And of all days Remembrance Day. It’s sad.”
Cherry was fired Monday, nearly 40 years after he began working for “Hockey Night in Canada,” as part of the fallout from Saturday night’s broadcast.
During his “Coach’s Corner” segment, the 85-year-old Cherry claimed that immigrants do not wear poppies or support veterans.
"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," he said. "These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price."
Since his firing, he hasn’t elaborated on what he could have done to remain at the “Coach’s Corner” desk, but told Newstalk 1010 that “there’s no doubt about it” that he could have kept his job.
“If I had gone on and said a few things and done a few things, I definitely would have been back,” he said. “If you’re not going to be yourself on television, then what’s the sense in doing it?”
His remarks, which are the latest in a decades-long string of controversial comments from the popular commentator, were widely criticized. Sportsnet network president Bart Yabsley called Cherry’s comments “discriminatory” on Sunday and announced Monday that he would be no longer be on air.
“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,” Yabsley said in a statement. “During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
Yabsley also thanked the 85-year-old Cherry for “his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.”
CHERRY SOUNDS OFF
Speaking to Newstalk 1010’s Barb DiGiulio, Cherry referred to his comments as “one little slip,” and referenced “all the guys that have gone” in the entertainment business.
“It is the most toughest business in the world,” he said. “You make one little slip and you’re gone. After 38 years, which is kind of tough to do, but you got to be tough in this business. You can’t whine about it. You’re gone, you’re gone.”
Cherry attempted to clarify his remarks in interviews Monday, saying that he did not single out visible minorities. His comments have widely been interpreted as singling out new immigrants. He specifically mentioned the cities of Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., both of which have visible minority populations of over 50 per cent, and contrasted them to smaller towns, which are predominantly white.
"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,’” he told The Canadian Press.
Elaborating on Newstalk 1010, he said his comments were meant to refer to “everyone.”
“You make one little comment like ‘you people’ and you know how it picks up,” he said. “It could have been anybody. It could have been the Irish, it could have been Scots, it could have been English.”
Cherry stands by his remarks. “That’s the way I feel and I’m not changing it and I don’t regret a thing,” he said on Newstalk 1010.
“I still feel that everybody in this country that likes our way of life -- these beautiful people gave their lives in their 20s and in their teens for our way of life -- they should wear a poppy. If that’s offensive, then there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Cherry said nobody said anything about the comments to him before he left the studio Saturday night, and it wasn’t until Sunday that he caught wind of any dissatisfaction from Sportsnet heads. “Sunday I knew they were unhappy, but today was the day they lowered the boom,” he said Monday.
Ron MacLean, the longtime co-host who flashed a thumbs-up sign at the end of Saturday’s segment, apologized Sunday for staying silent during Cherry’s remarks.
Cherry told DiGiulio that he stills considers MacLean a friend, though he wasn’t happy to see the apology. “The only thing I can say about that is I’m disappointed. I think anybody that knew Ron was disappointed. That’s all I’ll say about that,” he said.
Asked what he would be doing next Saturday night, Cherry said that he would “be sitting, having a couple of beers, watching and wondering who’s going to be on at the end of the first period.”
PUNISH OR PRAISE
Cherry’s comments were swiftly panned online, but also received some support, with the hashtags “Don Cherry Is Right” and “Boycott Rogers” (the media group that owns Sportsnet) trending on Twitter in parts of the country Tuesday.
“Naturally, the guys that are for me and the women that are for me, they say ‘Way to go Don,’ and the people that are against me, they took it the way they wanted to take it,” he said of his remarks.
“Coach’s Corner” has been a fixture for more than 30 years during intermissions on “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcasts. CBC produced the show until 2014, when it was taken over by Sportsnet. CBC, which still airs the show but does not earn any revenue from it, issued a statement Monday saying the public broadcaster “respect[s] Sportsnet’s decision that this is the right time for Don to step down.”
Cherry has periodically attracted controversy for making comments deriding Europeans, French-Canadians and people who ride bicycles. In 2003, his segment was placed on a seven-second delay after he criticized Canada’s decision not to join the Iraq War.
Some hockey journalists were less surprised by Cherry’s firing than by his making it this long without losing his job.
“It’s been a long time coming, several decades in the making I would say,” said Ken Campbell, a senior writer with The Hockey News, on CTV’s Your Morning Tuesday. “This was not an isolated incident. It wasn’t a one-off transgression. It was a pattern of behaviour that we’ve seen over the past 25, 30 years.”
For many, Saturday’s comments seemed to be a bridge too far. The Canada Broadcast Standards Council issued a plea to people to stop reporting Cherry’s comments to them, saying it had already received more complaints than it was able to process.
Parminder Singh, the original play-by-play announcer on the Punjabi-language edition of Hockey Night in Canada, said he considered Cherry an idol as he was growing up and once he entered the business.
He said he wants Canadians to understand that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and that he wished Cherry had said something less divisive.
“It’s important for us to recognize that … what we’re honouring, the veterans – they come from all different backgrounds and cultures,” he said. “It should have been done in more of an embraceful manner.”
Several organizations that have traditionally supported Cherry issued statements Monday asserting agreement with his firing.
“While we recognize Don Cherry’s four decades of service broadcasting NHL games, today’s decision was a justifiable response to his comments on Saturday night,” said the National Hockey League.
The Royal Canadian Legion said that it appreciates Cherry’s “passionate support for veterans” but found his remarks “hurtful,” while Budweiser – the parent company of “Coach’s Corner” sponsor Labatt – called them “clearly inappropriate.”