One of my favourite pictures of me and my brother is from the spring of 2004. We are both sitting in front of a (very small) television, donning our Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys (mine, a Mats Sundin, his, an Ed Belfour) gazing at Coach’s Corner.
I learned a lot in terms of the game itself from watching Coach’s Corner. I have no problem saying that. A lot of people in hockey would tell you the same thing. When I coach, anytime I tell my players that ‘if you aren’t going to block the shot, get your stick out of the way, don’t deflect it and make life worse on the goalie’ it’s like I’m back in front of a TV watching Grapes. One of my assistant coaches always gets a laugh when he hears me say it, because he knows it’s verbatim from Cherry. Don Cherry’s love for the game was evident, his passion for youth hockey and the accomplishments of players was something I loved to watch every Saturday night. When I lived in Ohio and we wouldn’t get the Canadian broadcasts, I got up on Sundays and watched the Coach’s Corner segment from the night before on YouTube. Watching Coach’s Corner is a staple and is one of my favourite parts of hockey — correction, was.
Grapes was always honest and truthful to who he was and what he believed, whether you agree with it or not. This certainly wasn’t the first time that Grapes made a remark that raised eyebrows (and that’s probably an understatement for some of the remarks he made). Let’s be honest with ourselves — Grapes has made multiple remarks throughout the years that have rubbed people the wrong way. Even myself, someone who loved watching Don and Ron on Saturday nights didn’t always love some of Cherry’s opinions.
When you have the privilege of being in the spotlight, being on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) where so many young, new hockey fans and players are watching, you have to treat your position as such. I think what people saw when they watched Don Cherry was someone who was very open with what he believed and stood for. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
I’m not at all saying the comment of “you people” was right. I don’t believe it was. Do I think that Cherry was entitled to his opinion that not enough people wear poppies anymore? Yes, he’s entitled to that opinion and why can’t he share it? The way it was conveyed was wrong and to suggest that it is only immigrants who aren’t wearing poppies was also wrong.
Should Cherry have been fired over it? I’m not sure I agree with that. I also don’t think the opinions of those who have never watched Coach’s Corner are that warranted. If you’ve never watched Cherry on HNIC, why all of a sudden are you so up in arms about the comments?
I think we are living in a time where there is heightened sensitivity around everything everyone says. In a world of social media, young people have grown up with the idea that if you complain about something enough or you share it enough on social media, someone will lose their job or whatever it may be (I’m not sure that’s the best thing to be teaching young people). What is lost in this situation is the ability for people to understand that if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion, you don’t need to continue to watch that person on TV, you don’t need to listen to or like that person if you don’t want to. We all, as human beings, are going to cross paths with people in our lives — whether it be at work, school, in sports or even relatives — who we don’t see eye to eye with. Maybe it’s about political matters or values or anything in between. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we also must be resilient enough to recognize that just because we don’t agree with someone’s opinion, doesn’t mean we need to take it personally.
Cherry chose his words poorly. Though, I actually like that he stuck to what he said. I’m not saying it was right at all, but at the end of the day — would an insincere apology being forced by Sportsnet have been what people wanted? I don’t think the insincere apologies from sports commentators and hosts (or anyone else on television or in the media for that matter) are worth anything. Eventually, Cherry acknowledged that he should not have said what he said the way it was said. He still stood behind his opinion that everyone should be wearing poppies.
I also think it was commendable for Ron MacLean to state that he disagreed. After the fact, he acknowledged that he felt it was wrong what Don said and that he did not agree with him, despite how much he loves Don. He’s got every right and should state his opinion. Simple as that. It’s quite easy for people to attack MacLean for not saying anything in the heat of the moment — but if you have never been on live television where your segment is ending in 30 seconds and a comment catches you off guard, are you in a position to judge? Would you have been able to do better in that scenario? Easier said than done.
It was likely inevitable after Cherry’s comments on November 9 that it was going to lead to the end of his time on Hockey Night in Canada. But, I’m sad to see Coach’s Corner be no more. It has been a staple of Saturday night hockey for so long, for so many. Cherry’s comments were wrong, but he has every right to stand by what he said. MacLean was right for speaking up that he disagreed. At the end of the day, hockey is a game, a sport, where most people who are in it want everyone to have a chance to experience it. I think Don Cherry added greatly to hockey.
A poppy is said to be a symbol of three things in particular; sleep, peace and death. It is also noted in the history of poppies that their placement on tombstones symbolizes eternal sleep. Don Cherry’s time on the Coach’s Corner came to an end at the hands of comments related to the poppy — comments that have disrupted the peace of an entire nation and hockey community for over a week now — but his legacy and all he has done for hockey will be eternal.