The Cherry has been popped

Don Cherry, former Hockey Night in Canada analyst. Wikimedia Commons

Is the poppy as red as the Cherry when it comes to Canada?

When sports, politics, and news collide you get the sports editor speaking on issues he is intrigued by but only has surface knowledge of. Yet, in a twist of fate that sees people emboldened by free speech I get to have my say just as much as any Twitter troll. I will make an attempt to provide nuance in a hot-take culture and be fair to both sides, which may be new to some readers, so please buckle up.

For context, my pronouns are he and him and I am the son of an immigrant mother born to a minority Christian family in Pakistan, and my father was born in Regina and raised in Pense. His dad, my grandfather, worked his life as a trucker and farmer and my grandmother was also from a long line of farmers. My fiancée is an immigrant who was born in Russia, moved to Israel, and then moved to Canada when she was 15. So, my background is one that is extremely diverse and sympathetic to each ideology that is spouting off without understanding how to spell ideology.

Don Cherry fucked up. That is factual. If you deny that he fucked up, you have your head so far up your – actually let’s just say you have succumbed to a level of bias that leads your opinion moot.  Don Cherry being fired was not the solution. Debatable opinion: on one hand any level of discriminatory remarks should be called out as divisive and not indicative of any of the values we should hold as Canadians. On the other hand, Don Cherry is given less than five minutes a week to spew his opinion on hockey and current events every week, he had a discriminatory 20 second ill-contrived rant and, though he has extremely flawed logic, he is trying to essentially make a point that all of Canadians should respect those who fought for our country. The problem is Mr. Cherry equates the wearing of poppies as equivalent to showing respect and therefore, if you do not wear one, you are being disrespectful.

The huge issue is that those who are defending Mr. Cherry’s comments are taking the essence of what he was (hopefully) attempting to say and equating that with what he did say. There is a huge difference between pointing out a specific behaviour by a group of specific individuals that does not fit your philosophy and then generalizing it to all people within that group, and saying that your philosophy is those who wear poppies are paying tribute to the soldiers who have sacrificed for our freedom, therefore every Canadian should wear a poppy.

Now I do not know Mr. Cherry personally; however, he has always had a reputation of being, let’s say, a Canadian nationalist and has a laundry list of divisive remarks to point to. I’m sure he has plenty of anecdotes detailing the numerous behaviours that contradict him being labelled a racist as well (there was one time I heard him compliment a Russian hockey player, I think). What does this mean in regard to dealing with his behaviour on one of the most historic Canadian Broadcast platforms in history (Hockey Night in Canada)? Well Sportsnet believes it means first, coming out attributing Mr. Cherry’s words as his own and not representative of Sportsnet (according to Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley in a widely distributed press release). Then, two days later, after deliberation, releasing another statement announcing that Don Cherry has stepped down (translation: we fired his ass).

Ron MacLean got on his platform through Sportsnet and his own personal Twitter feed and apologized, referencing Kathryn Tenese of Kxtuna First Nation.

“In any wrongdoing the key is recognition and acknowledgement . . . and then you work on the relationship.”

This represented MacLean’s acknowledgement and understanding that both he and Cherry were wrong. Cherry for his comments, and MacLean himself for being a bystander, therefore supporter of the comments. Don Cherry was unwilling to compromise, in a follow up with the Toronto Sun’s Joe Warmington, he said “I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers”.

This statement represents Mr. Cherry’s personal philosophy that he was attempting to impose on everyone. Whether Mr. Cherry has the capacity to express his opinion in a nuanced debate and understand that the semantics of what he said represent hate and racism is unclear. It is likely true, but I wasn’t in the room when the Sportsnet bosses were talking to him. What I imagine happened is, in typical corporate fashion, Sportsnet made a business calculation on firing him or not, and the algorithm said fire him. Is this the right decision? Well that is not for me to decide but I said we were going to be nuanced so here we go.

Don Cherry is now a martyr for anti-PC (political correctness) culture. Because what Don said is not overtly racist (those bleeping bleeps don’t wear poppies and don’t belong in Canada) but represents what we could call micro-aggressions [EIC’s note: immigrant here to say it shows a hell of a lot of xenophobia], it takes a bit of a second to think “woah, that was kind of racist.” This is what Ron MacLean had to deal with in a 90 second bit, with a guy he has been doing this for 30 years with, while the producer is talking in his ear, and Ron is thinking about transitioning to the next subject, LIVE. Now, I’m willing to give Mr. MacLean a hall pass because literally every Canadian has been there; a friend makes a pretty racist micro-aggressive remark that you don’t call out immediately because of the heat of the moment and you know them more deeply as a nuanced human being.

Don Cherry is a human being, and he has a personal philosophy and extremely flawed logic that does not work when examined in a short form one-sided medium like Hockey Night in Canada. However, by firing him it gives some people, who also fall prey to these logical flaws, someone to idolize as a salt-of-the-earth Canadian sacrificing his job for his personal value of respecting the poppy and what it symbolizes by wearing one, and it should literally be law that every Canadian wear one. Now, as reprehensible as his remarks are, I would have preferred to see Sportsnet not fire him but suspend him. Then what I would like to see is Mr. Cherry along with Mr. MacLean both apologize together, and for an immigrant not wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day have an open discussion about the merits of wearing poppies, respecting the people who fight and have fought for our country, along with an acknowledgement and discussion that one does not have to wear poppies to show respect. Those that have recently come to Canada, those who have spent many generations in Canada, and everyone in between, much like Mr. Cherry and his ancestors, can all enjoy the privileges that come with living in this beautiful country, including respecting the military and soldiers in their own ways. I advocate for this because nuance and rehabilitation in corporate North America has been lost. If it makes us money keep him on the air, if it doesn’t then fire him. We need to take a cultural figure like Don Cherry and use him as a model to teach people that words matter, and if you do not express your sentiment in the right way the first time you must acknowledge that you did not communicate properly, and then rephrase, like we do in most other situations.

Those that are screaming “Racist!” and “Fire him!” may be forgetting that human beings are complex, and people need to stop the virtue signalling and examine each situation carefully with a balanced approach. I view Don Cherry as a powerful tool that can perhaps act as a lightning rod for those who are anti-PC, or be a model for rehabilitation and understanding that we can communicate in much more appropriate ways that push for objective truth and logical discourse, rather than personal truths and fallacious hate speech. Perhaps I believe in Cherry too much, but I feel like we all know someone like him, and I am positive that most of us have acted like MacLean far more than we would like to admit.

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