Sometimes, rather than jumping into the fray, I like to let things percolate. Which makes me late with my thoughts on the firing of TV commentator Don Cherry, two weeks ago today..
To Canadians Cherry is an icon, or a buffoon, someone who has always stirred passions. A former National Hockey League player and coach, he was perhaps Canada’s best-known media celebrity, voted one of the greatest Canadians of all time in a poll a few years back. There was some talk of him becoming Governor General.
Two weeks ago though he was fired from his media gig with Hockey Night in Canada, a position he had held for almost 40 years. His crime was supposedly racist remarks made during his weekly Saturday night commentary.
When news of the firing broke on November 11, Remembrance Day, I went online to watch the offending comments for myself. Supposedly Cherry had denigrated immigrants, called them un-Canadian, and for that he had to go.
I watched three times. He never said the word immigrant. He said he wasn’t seeing as many people wearing poppies this year, and that “you people” should show respect for Canadian veterans. Was this the use of code words? I don’t know. If it is, I don’t know the code.
The brass at the network, tried, convicted and executed him within hours. He was gone (which will save the network his salary, a reported million dollars annually) without being given a chance to explain.
Cherry has a reputation for pushing the edges of propriety. He has sparked outrage before, but never been fired for his remarks. He is known for his passionate support for Canadian veterans, which made the poppy comment unsurprising.
What the comments should have sparked was a discussion on remembrance and symbols. It could have been interesting to hear why people do or do not embrace the poppy tradition on Remembrance Day. Instead, Don Cherry was fired.
In all the outcry, both pro and con, I didn’t notice anyone asking if Cherry’s comments were true. You would think that was important. All too often though truth is sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and group think.
Cherry didn’t mention immigrants specifically. He said that in his Mississauga neighborhood and in downtown Toronto, he saw fewer people wearing poppies than in the past. Was that anecdotal observance accurate? That doesn’t seem to have been asked.
I grew up thinking Remembrance Day was universal, even if it wasn’t a holiday where I lived in Quebec. Long memories of wartime conscription there for some reason prevented the honoring of those who served. Sometimes politics doesn’t make sense.
I know that despite the “world” tag in the two largest twentieth century global conflicts, there were large parts of the globe not directly involved. I wonder if Remembrance Day is observed there? And if people from those countries emigrate to Canada, I wonder what they think of our ceremonies?
In Germany, as I discovered when we moved there, November 11 is not a time to remember the wartime dead. That happens a week later. There are historical reasons for that – and I have never thought to ask Canadians of German ancestry how they feel about the memorials to those who died fighting Germans. Maybe they don’t wear poppies.
Don Cherry is 85-years-old, and perhaps it was time for him to retire. The folks running Hockey Night in Canada had probably been suggesting it for years, but they couldn’t dump him without cause as he was enormously popular. Now they have found their reason.
I’m less likely to watch their show without Cherry on it. He was always entertaining, whether you agreed with him or not.
It will be interesting to see whether his departure has any impact on the ratings. Probably not – Canadians love their hockey.
Next November there will be a lot of people looking at others in their neighborhood to see if they are wearing poppies. They will be asking of Don Cherry was right, if fewer people are wearing them. And, thanks to a knee-jerk corporate reaction, there will be extra scrutiny on new Canadians.
It will be interesting to see if there is any media coverage.