Don Cherry fired by Sportsnet for comments about immigrants
Don Cherry, shown with co-host Ron MacLean, was fired for criticizing immigrants for not wearing poppy pins to honor Canadian veterans.
Don Cherry finally went too far.
For three decades, the iconic hockey commentator has ruffled feathers on his “Coach’s Corner” segment of “Hockey Night in Canada” telecasts on CBC and Sportsnet. But he angered his bosses on Saturday night with his on-air remarks about immigrants in Mississauga, Ontario, and Toronto during his “Coach’s Corner” segment. On Monday, Sportsnet fired him.
Cherry, 85, criticized those who didn't wear poppy pins leading up the nation's Remembrance Day. The pins, which are sold by veterans groups, are worn to honor those who have served Canada.
"I live in Mississauga (Ontario). Very few people wear the poppy,” Cherry said. “Downtown Toronto? Forget it. Nobody wears the poppy. “... Now, you go to the small cities. 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. These guys paid the biggest price for that."
There was an immediate backlash on social media on Sunday. By Monday, many media outlets called for him to be fired.
Cherry has made outrageous and controversial statements many times in his long career. But this was the one he could not survive.
"Sports brings people together," Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley said in a statement Monday. "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 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.
“Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada."
After the firing, Cherry doubled down in what he said in an interview with the Toronto Sun.
"I know what I said, and I meant it," hw told the publication. "Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honor our fallen soldiers."
He added: "To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot."
Yabsley already apologized for Cherry’s comments in a statement on Sunday.
"Don's discriminatory comments are offensive and they do not represent our values and what we stand for as a network,” Yabsley wrote written. “We have spoken with Don about the severity of this issue, and we sincerely apologize for these divisive remarks."
The National Hockey League and Hockey Canada distanced themselves from the comments in separate public statements. Cherry’s longtime co-host Ron MacLean, who gave a “thumbs up” to Cherry’s comments during the segment, apologized on social media and on Sportsnet NHL coverage on Sunday.
"Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong,” MacLean said. “We at Sportsnet have apologized. We know diversity is the strength of the country. I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, I did not catch it, I did not respond."
Cherry, who has been known to have quite conservative political beliefs for a long time, coached the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies (now New Jersey Devils) in the 1970s and early ’80s endeared himself to many hockey fans with his love of the fight-filled and brawling “old-time hockey” and with his colorful and outrageous suits.
Cherry began doing “Coach’s Corner” on HNIC telecasts in 1985-86.
On a personal note, I interviewed Cherry while working for the Detroit News during the 1995 Stanley Cup Final between the Red Wings and New Jersey Devils. He was kind and gracious in greeting me and answering my questions during a practice as he sat in the stands of the Devils’ home arena then, the Meadowlands Arena.