In Defense of Don Cherry

I feel like this is a risky thing to do, because these days, once we make a moral pariah out of someone, they're like modern-day lepers. Merely associating with them is to tolerate, perhaps even endorse, whatever terrible sin made them into pariahs in the first place.

But since thoughtful responses were invited, I'll do my best to make one and see what happens.

First, I need to stipulate to a few things, otherwise someone sooner or later will say "but all those terrible things he always said about Europeans!" or something along those lines. Yes, his opinions on European hockey players always made me cringe. He based his opinions on contact-averse players like Igor Larionov, for whom bone-crushing hits were not a part of his game. But he was always wrong to do that, because, well.....he was wrong. As anyone who ever watched Vladimir Konstantinov or Krzsyzstof Oliwa could attest.

And, I'm a veteran as well. And the last thing I want (and I am too late to this game because this is how it is now) is for "support the troops" to be politically correct. Political correctness is about shaming people who don't have the right opinion into compliance. Much of it these days means maintaining a mental database about things you can't say - even formerly innocuous phrases like "you people" - lest you run afoul of people who will assume the worst about your intentions and character. But, in a September 11th-induced twist, it also means that if you don't express a certain level of support for veterans, such as by wearing poppies on the right day, you'll get shamed for that too. I've never been all that comfortable accepting people's "thanks for your service", and the absolute last thing I want is for people to feel obligated to say it. Like they're afraid I'll think they're some kind of ingrate if they don't.

Lastly, when I say "stick to sports", to people whose job is sports, I mean it, whether or not I agree with what they say about politics. If we can't get a respite in sports from the constant assault on our senses that is political discourse, where can we? We pay a lot of good money to make everyone in sports much richer than we are ourselves - I don't think it's too much to ask that you not take our money and use it to create a bully pulpit for yourself that just makes half your audience upset.

So, these are things where I think Don Cherry needs to cool it.

But firing him is over the is much of the reaction to what he said.

Piece of shit. Turd. Covered in shit. That's just some reactions I've seen on this site - getting the full range of Twitterverse reactions is not a cesspool I much care to wade through.

Who is Don Cherry? A blowhard and irritant, yes. Is that all?

Or is Don Cherry also an incredibly devoted family man and charity worker? Do they count for anything?

There is a Don Cherry's Pet Rescue Foundation, which supports animal shelters and animal welfare organizations; it has always been a pet cause of his (pun intended) to support animal welfare. He has a line of doggie snacks, the profits of which all go to the Foundation, and he endorsed a bill in the Canadian Parliament that intended to toughen up animal cruelty laws.

Piece of shit.

15 years ago, Grapes also created the (since renamed) Rose Cherry Home for Kids, which is a Ronald McDonald house of sorts, for children with incredibly complex and difficult medical problems - severe brain damage, incurable heart problems, and so on. Parents can leave their children there for a time while they take a very badly needed break from the round-the-clock, unceasing care they require.


Most articles about Don Cherry, in fact, at least the ones not about his controversial mouth, include some kind of mention - from his coworkers, mind you, not himself - that he's involved in all sorts of charity work that he doesn't talk about because he doesn't want to. The kind of charity work that is probably just covered in shit for his bigoted ol' presence there.

As for his actual comments on immigrants.....

I don't consider it particularly wise to antagonize an entire section of listeners, and the comments had nothing to do with hockey, and broad generalizations are kind of Don Cherry's M.O., but not appropriate without a boatload of qualifiers. But neither is the generalization in question without a basis in truth. It's not really about poppies, though I have no doubt (and neither should anyone else) that support for the Canadian military is near and dear to Cherry's heart. I could give a lot of examples to support Cherry's claim that immigrants (qualifier: some number of immigrants, not all) are actually pretty ingrateful toward the country they've chosen to live in. Two examples:

- Immigrants (or an activist purporting to speak for them) rearranging flags so that the Mexican one flies above an upside-down American flag

- Mexican soccer fans in the United States chanting homophobic slurs at the United States soccer team

It may indeed be time to ask for a little more integration into society when our immigrants won't stop with the homophobic slurs. On "Pride Night" no less. I defy anyone to defend this kind of thing. If you think Mexican immigrants (and Mexicans still in Mexico) need to stop chanting homophobic slurs at soccer games - congratulations, you can generalize just like Don Cherry can, because I'll bet not every Mexican fan does it. And no, it's not all that different, because "not chanting slurs" and "supporting the troops" are both morally upright choices that we can in general agree are good things.

These are American examples, but I have little doubt one could find Canadian examples as well. No, Don Cherry did not have a word to say about slurs at soccer games, but it's the same underlying issue - Grapes just chose a perceived symptom closer to his hot button, and then expressed it in his usual inelegant way.

But even if you disagree with every single word Cherry said, what is the worst case here? He made some people uncomfortable. And for that, CBC went straight to the nuclear option. Which forces me to ask: How can we properly respond to some of the real nasty pieces of work - think neo-Nazis - when we apply the same label to a huge broad spectrum of offenses? Everything from spitting out a "you people" to burning a cross and wearing a swastika gets the same treatment - the same labels, the same responses, the same reactions. "Racist" is a word that's lost its meaning because of how broadly it's been applied. That's dangerous. If Don Cherry had come out with a "Heil Hitler" on air or expressed some kind of Nazi sympathies, he'd be fired. As well he ought - Naziism is a murderous ideology. "You people should wear poppies" is not even on the same planet. How can we properly respond to the worst of the worst, if we train the full arsenal of outrage howitzers on even the most minor offenses? We can't - and we embolden the worst bigots in doing so. Meaning the really hateful, the violent, and the truly dangerous. If the response is measured, they have incentive to bottle up their worst instincts. If you lump minor offenses into the worst categories, then the phrase "in for a penny, in for a pound" will apply in scary ways.

So no, Don Cherry did not deserve to be fired. As I hopefully shouldn't have to explain by now, that's not the same thing as saying what he said was perfectly OK. It's not OK to shoplift, but we don't chuck people in for life for it. It's possible - or it should be - to associate with someone and still have that mean you don't agree with everything they say. It's possible - or it should be - to discipline without immediately going all the way.

This is a fanpost written by a WIIM community member. The views and opinions expressed here are that member's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the site itself.