Don Cherry Deserved to be Fired

Monday was Veteran’s/Remembrance Day across the United States and Canada. The day was initially designed to remember those who fell during the First World War but has since become a day to honor all of those who have served. For the hockey world however, the message this past Monday turned from one of remembrance and gratitude to one of intolerance. By now I am sure anyone who wanted to has read or seen Don Cherry’s comments during what would ultimately become his final appearance on Hockey Night in Canada. For those who have not seen it here is what Don had to say:

“You know, I was talking to a veteran. I said ‘I’m not going to run the poppy thing anymore because what’s the sense? I live in Mississauga, nobody wears — very few people wear a poppy. Downtown Toronto forget it! Downtown Toronto, nobody wears a poppy…You people love — that come here, whatever it is — you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy. These guys paid for your way of life, the life you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price. Anyhow, I am going to run it again for you great people and good Canadians that bought a poppy…”

On the surface many have said that there is nothing wrong with what he said. He was calling out those who do not wear a poppy in support of the veterans and agreed they should be called out. On the surface I would have agreed. Had Don stopped after stating that it is very rare to see people in Downtown Toronto wearing a poppy, he would have been fine. It is the statements after that ultimately and rightfully cost him his job.

I, like 18 million other Americans and 650,000 Canadians, am a veteran. As a veteran I am sickened that Don Cherry decided to use a day dedicated to honoring and remembering the men and women who have fought to protect the freedoms of these two great countries (countries that were built through immigration) to once again spew his anti-immigrant nonsense. Millions of veterans joined the military as a pathway to citizenship. On top of that there are many, many ways to help the veteran community beyond just buying a poppy. To sit there and say that “these people” do not appreciate and support the Canadian veteran community because he does not see as many people wearing the poppy anymore is beyond naïve, it is insulting. The show of support once a year is nice but with veteran suicide, alcoholism, homelessness and unemployment as year-long problems there are many areas where very important support can be provided.

Unfortunately, this hits home for me more than just as a veteran. You see, I am the product of a diverse family with people very close to me having come from Poland, Syria and Iraq. Some of them were born in the US and some were not. None of that ever mattered growing up though as we were all family. One summer while I was in college, I worked with two of my cousins (both of whom are Chaldean) at a construction company where they were the two top workers for the company. They were always given the large or difficult projects and never failed to complete them. In fact, the main reason I got the summer job working with them is because they vouched for me.  They made good money for themselves and for the company.  This changed on September 11, 2001. Shortly after the attacks that day they were both fired.  The owner trumped up some excuse for needing to let them go but everyone knew the real reason.  It was because of their Middle Eastern heritage. Both had families to take care of and now were without a job all because their grandparents immigrated to the US from the Middle East instead of Western Europe. Eventually one of them was able to recover and provide for his family while the other is just now getting back on his feet fully.

What does any of this have to do with Don Cherry’s rant, you might ask. The answer is simple. Don Cherry specifically and purposely singled out immigrants in his rant, making the claim that they enjoy all the freedoms that Canada has to offer but are not willing to pony up a couple bucks for a poppy to honor the men and women who gave that freedom to them. He did not go after the undoubtedly numerous Canadians who pass by the poppy vendors without purchasing one nor did he acknowledge that many immigrants do buy and wear poppies and some are even veterans themselves. He laid the decreasing purchases of poppies on Remembrance Day solely at the feet of people who are not natural born Canadians. In doing so he endorsed the mistrust and mistreatment of people from other countries based completely on them being not Canadian by people like my cousins’ boss. He made it just a little more comfortable for people who traffic in hatred, bigotry and xenophobia while making it more uncomfortable for those seeking a better life in lands that were built on the very idea of things like “give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Don Cherry is seen as a hero by many Canadians and Americans who grew up with Hockey Night in Canada. As such his words carry a great deal of influence. So when he goes on a fifty second rant about how “You people love — that come here, whatever it is — you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy. These guys paid for your way of life, the life you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price” many people are going to listen and take his words to heart. Fortunately this time the leadership at Sportsnet also listened and fired him, something he absolutely deserved and earned.

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