Don Cherry has forever been a controversial figure to say the least. A shoot from the hip, off the cuff, no holds barred hockey commentator who has often found himself in hot water for sometimes ‘saying the quiet part loud’ if you will.
This most recent incident regarding immigrants not wearing poppies is really no different at the end of the day. His long-winded, only semi-coherent diatribe about the lack of poppies he sees in “Downtown Toronto” (talk about a dog whistle-turned bull horn), is just the latest example in a series of incomprehensible ramblings from the former NHL player-turned-coach-turned-public-broadcasting-personality.
While you certainly can’t take away or excuse the fact that Cherry’s comments were wrong and that he definitely deserved to be fired, this really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone.
The man is 85 years old, hosted Coach’s Corner for over 30 years and has a long history of making many controversial (often conservative-leaning) comments on air about issues that are way outside of his wheelhouse. Some such examples include but are not limited to supporting the war in Afghanistan, anti-Indigenous comments, sexist comments, anti-immigration comments (similar, but slightly different) and the list goes on. The man is a walking, talking controversy and everybody knows it.
What I find most amusing is seeing everyone bending over backwards to do damage control for Cherry’s mistakes, meanwhile he’s nowhere to be found. It’s almost like this is one example in a long patterned history of similar comments and so it wasn’t a ‘mistake’ like everyone is trying to make it out to be. Cherry knows what he said (don’t quote me on that) and he sticks by it, 100 per cent, even in the face of his dismissal.
In regards to Cherry’s comments more specifically, it’s clear and utter nonsense, plain and simple. For starters, wearing a poppy has no bearing on anyone’s devotion to Canada, respect for veterans or anything else for that matter. Wearing the poppy is an act of performative nationalism and nothing more; people show their respect and reverence for veterans in many different ways. Is wearing a poppy one of those ways you can do that? Absolutely. Is it the only way, or even the most meaningful? Not necessarily, no.
Secondly, last I checked Canada doesn’t require conscription, nor do we hold military parades or force everyone to support our government and our country by gun point. Save the state-sanctioned national pride for countries like North Korea, it does not belong here.
The response to comments like Cherry’s isn’t to try and refute them by sharing photos of veterans who are people of colour or are Indigenous, this just sets an expectation that all people of colour and Indigenous people in Canada have to justify their citizenship by being bigger and better nationalists then the people in the “small cities” as it was so eloquently put by Cherry.
Nobody’s Canadian citizenship should be tied to their ability to be ultra virtuous super citizens. People of colour and Indigenous people in Canada deserve respect and are Canadians because they are people too, the same as us, not because they’re nationalistic superheroes.
This type of thinking just plays into the framing set up by Cherry in the first place. By engaging with his point and attempting to argue in a well-intentioned way, I think people inadvertently reaffirm the idea that in order to be a good and deserving Canadian people need to tow the line and be uber nationalists, which I think does more harm than good.
It’s best to call out Cherry’s comments for what they are, utter nonsense based in racial pseudo-science. His firing certainly helps this cause as well, because now, going forward, we can affirm not only the humanity of all people but also the nature of Canada as a civic nation, one based on respect for its laws instead of its ‘racial purity,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean.