Don Cherry – bigotry masquerading as patriotism

A few days ago on the CBC Radio morning show, a presenter expressed surprise when, as he walked the streets of Toronto on his way to work, he saw so few poppies displayed on the clothing of pedestrians.

The explanations for this state of affairs range between the possibilities that most persons were wearing winter garments which may have covered a poppy on an inner garment, to people who simply don’t care about the wars in which thousands of Canadians lost their lives. However, nowhere in the comment did they consider that perhaps many Canadians remember what was written about the two great wars, WW1 and WW2, but beg to differ on the reasons and nature of these two wars. And those reasons may be a long way from the received wisdom that saturates local media on the days leading up to Remembrance Day, November 11th. That may account for the lack of poppies on lapels as well.

It doesn’t take much for those who watch the news with critical eyes to notice that Remembrance Day coverage is always saturated with calls to patriotism and a renewed commitment to nationalism. However, while patriotism and nationalism are often construed as noble sentiments, skeptics tend to temper this with a glance at 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson’s well-known aphorism: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, which brings us to Don Cherry, host of Coach’s Corner, a segment of the TV hockey program Hockey Night in Canada.

Cherry is noted, even loved, by a certain segment of Canadians for his plain spoken, down home commentary on our country’s national sport, and sometimes for his misguided trips into areas quite beyond the sport itself. In the past Cherry saw “cowards” every time the topic is about European players who play in the National Hockey League. He was particularly severe on the Russians and the Swedes. He often stooped to the childish habit of making fun of their names. He often gets censured for it, but Cherry carries on, hardly acknowledging even making a mistake.

Last Saturday night Cherry wandered beyond the game as he often does when Remembrance Day approaches, waxing about the thousands of Canadians who gave their lives in defense of freedom. Proudly displaying a poppy on his considerable lapel, Cherry ranted about how few people wear poppies these days. He says that in Mississauga where he lives few people wear poppies; in Toronto he says, it’s even worse. Then he compares this with the many small Ontario towns where poppies are proudly displayed everywhere. Then Cherry pointed to the TV audience and huffed: “…you people…that come here…you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple of bucks for a poppy…”

Now, according to one commentator, the small towns where Cherry claims that poppies abound are “full of Anglo-Saxon white folks”, which is not quite the same picture you get in Toronto and Mississauga, where pedestrians represent as many colours as a Don Cherry double-breasted getup.

The question is, when Cherry looked out into TV land and wagged his finger at “you people”, what people was he talking about? Presumably, Cherry, a hockey man who could spot talent, used those skills to pick out the ones “that come here”. However, knowing that hockey players are mostly white Canadians, Americans and Europeans, Cherry, like most people, is more than likely able to tell a Swede from a Canadian only by the names on their sweater. It is not likely that Cherry or even the most discerning policeman will be able identify a Ukrainian or Pole who is walking on Yonge street wearing a winter coat. Yet Cherry was able to recognize “you people that come here”.

We are pretty sure who Don Cherry was talking about – non-white people, people of colour, Sikhs, people from Africa and Asia. Had this been some isolated blowhard mouthing off within the reach of a TV camera, that person could be easily discounted and “life goes on”. But here is a man, whose program reaches over 18 million viewers, who gets to spout thinly disguised racist tripe every Saturday night and still kept his job. Many, including Cherry, will argue that he is exercising his right to free speech.

True, but Cherry’s freedom, which he exercises with gusto, was paid for, as he loudly claims, by the thousands who lost their lives defending it. Unfortunately, for this self-promoting bigot, that included Indigenous Canadians, East Indians, colonized Africans and West Indians – the same “you people” at whom Cherry was pointing his finger.

Mercifully, Rogers TSN, his employer, fired him after 38 years of unfiltered bigotry. Sadly, within hours of his dismissal over 100,000 thousand “hockey fans” their their support for Cherry and signed a petition to have him reinstated.

From our perspective Don Cherry’s dismissal was long overdue. We wish him good riddance and a quiet (real quiet) retirement away from microphones and TV screens.

Nearly four decades of bigotry masquerading as patriotism? Enough already!