I have a long history with Don Cherry. Not in a personal sense—we’ve never met—but in a hockey sense. He was head coach of the first Bruins team I fell in love with, the beloved and vaunted Lunch Pail A.C. (here’s a great read about a real crew of characters). The late ’70s Bruins were tough, talented, and tortured by that team on the island alongside the St. Lawrence River, as Cherry’s squads lost to the hated Canadiens in the ’77 Cup Final, the ’78 Cup Final, and, most torturously, the ’79 semi-finals. The ’79 semis was viewed as the de facto Cup Final and would forever sear the words “too many men” into Boston’s sports history (the Habs steamrolled the Rags 4-1 in the actual Final). And it also sealed Cherry’s fate.
But before that ignominious ending, Boston and New England fell in love with the fiery and charismatic bench boss who led the Black and Gold for five seasons and assured us that everything would be okay after Orr and Espo. He may have come up short on the ice but he won the region over. And Cherry is still beloved here as evidenced by his appearance at Rick Middleton’s number retirement.
After his coaching career, he was hired as a color commentator for the CBC but had trouble hiding his team biases (foreshadow alert) so he didn’t last in that role. But because of his personality, outspokenness, unreal eye for the game, and tendency to call it as he sees it, Coach’s Corner was created in 1982 to better suit his skill set. Ron MacLean replaced orginal co-host Dave Hodge in 1986 and the two had an easy, undeniable chemisty that Canadians loved. As a result, the segment became so popular that virtually the entirety of Canada would wait with bated breath for the first period of the Hockey Night In Canada game to end so it could hear Cherry’s latest hot-take; in just a few years, Don Cherry had became a Canadian icon.
He also supported many worthy causes and drew attention to people and stories that Canadians would otherwise not know about. Make no mistake, Don Cherry did a lot of good for a lot of people. Gradually, and as he got older, Cherry became the sort-of proverbial “uncle at Thanksgiving” that would cause occasional cringes, be it about head-shots or a European style of play. Or saying that Americans were ruining the NHL. They were was always shrugged off as the harmless rantings of an old guy. Which, for the most part, they were. Unless you were on the receiving end.
But after his comments Saturday night, in which he shamed purported immigrants for not adhering to Cherry’s own personal poppy protocol, his bosses decided that he crosssed the Rubicon and that they could no longer air what he had to say.
This isn’t “cancel culture” (which isn’t really a thing anyways). This is an 85-year-old guy who has been making xenophobic comments for literally decades and managed to keep his job when many others would’ve been fired for similar statements. But Cherry was always given the benefit of the doubt from his employers because
of the truckloads of money they make off of him “that’s just Grapes”. But as I predicted on an episode of Spittin’ Chiclets from back in the early days, eventually he’s going to say something that’s going be deemed too offensive and it’ll be curtains for Coach’s Corner.
Not to mention, statements like Cherry’s completely counter the NHL’s whole “Hockey is for everyone” mantra when a guy is shaming “you people” for not living up to his poppy standards.
Maybe those folks he’s referring to are not completely aware of the significance of the poppy. Or maybe they’re struggling immigrants (or not immigrants at all) where every dollar counts. Or maybe they’re fully aware of the poppy but think that how they feel on the inside is enough. But to say the absence of a plant on your lapel indicates you don’t appreciate those who joined the armed forces and the sacrifices made even has Stretch Armstrong rolling his eyes. Not to mention, who knows who’s an immigrant and who’s a third-generation Canadian?
Not to mention, who fucking cares?
Like many others in his age bracket, he’s from a very different generation and so aren’t many of his views. And the people who sign his checks no longer feel that some of those views are compatible with what they’re trying to do—sell the game of hockey to the widest possible audience. So Don Cherry’s ground-breaking segment is now history and, likely, his career in media. He’s not a bad person. He’s flawed like the rest of us. I can still appreciate what he did here 40 years ago without agreeing with his takes. I wish him the best moving forward.