Squeezing ‘Grapes’ out
This past Tuesday – the day after Remembrance Day – I rose to speak at a Probus Club gathering in Bradford. I was still wearing a poppy on my jacket lapel. As I was about to speak, when someone asked if it was still OK to wear a poppy on Nov. 12. I nodded, suggesting that it’s still Remembrance Week and I was offering stories and reflections on the experiences of veterans, so why not still wear my poppy?
“Besides,” I added, “this is my ‘You People’ poppy.”
That got a few moans and a couple of laughs from the audience.
“No laughing matter,” I added quickly. “You see, I’m the son of immigrants to this country. And I’ve worn poppies proudly since I was a teenager in high school.”
Of course, I was alluding to the remarks of Don Cherry, former television commentator on Sportsnet’s “Coach’s Corner,” broadcast on CBC TV since the 1980s. In case you missed it, on last Saturday’s instalment during the first intermission on “Hockey Night in Canada” Cherry decided to go on yet another rant. This time, he pointed at the camera and spewed out xenophobic nonsense about newcomers to Canada not wearing the poppy, the symbol of remembrance and sacrifice by Canadian servicewomen and men since the end of the Great War on Nov. 11, 1918.
“I live in Mississauga,” he began. “Nobody wears, very few people wear a poppy. Now you go to the small cities, and you know, the rows on rows, you people love – that come here, wherever it is – you love our way of life. You love our milk and honey. At least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that.”
His “you people … that come here” epithet had nothing to do with hockey. He wasn’t even slamming his usual non-Canadian hockey targets – the Swedes, the Europeans and the Russians. No. His blatant suggestion was that Mississauga’s increasingly diverse population of South Asian, Asian and African people did not hold the same apparent values that he does. I might add here that Mr. Cherry either chose to ignore or didn’t notice the large numbers of his own Anglo-Saxon brethren who for any of a number of reasons chose not to wear poppies this past Remembrance Week either. No. Don Cherry has just found another way to express his distrust of and disenchantment with Canada’s growing immigrant population. And his contention – that immigrants don’t understand our values – has finally gone a step too far.
On Monday, Remembrance Day, the very day Mr. Cherry claims to hold most dear for its connection to the servicemen and women, Sportsnet announced that it had fired the star of “Coach’s Corner.” In its words, the broadcast corporation said: “Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down. … During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our value or what we stand for.”
What the heck took them so long? Don Cherry has expressed views that haven’t represented Canadians’ values for decades. Not only has he slammed Swedish and Russian hockey players for what he calls their less aggressive play on the ice, but he’s also slurred French Canadians and Indigenous people. When “Coach’s Corner” co-host Ron MacLean attempted to rein him in on the issue of equal opportunity for First Nations, Cherry flew off the handle live to air.
“Fair shake?” he railed. “Why don’t you go out and get your own fair shake in life and work for it? Don’t give me that stuff.”
He’s exploded on radio and television over women reporters attending post-game press conferences in the locker rooms of male pro athletes. He’s taken swings at the CBC – biting the hand which for many years before Sportsnet actually fed him – calling its decision-makers weak and too left-wing. And, as I see it, that might be the real root of the problem. For many years, CBC senior producers and executives have turned a blind eye to Cherry’s rants because of the advertising revenue and favourable ratings they generate. I only offer anecdotal evidence, but I dare say that nobody at the CBC has ordered Don Cherry to do anything in years, else why would his epithets about European players, francophones, women and Indigenous People have gone unchecked so long? I’m afraid it’s the same blind reverence for stars that got the CBC into trouble over the Jian Ghomeshi and Evan Solomon scandals.
I’m not sorry to see Don Cherry’s “Rock ’em, Sock ’em” style of commentary come to an end. Maybe his exit will move Sportsnet to find a commentator with something constructive to say about the state of our beloved winter sport and leave the fate of the poppy drive each November to genuine patriots.
For more Barris Beat columns, go to www.tedbarris.com