It's time for Don Cherry to remove himself from national television. If he's ever to be off the air in this country, it'll be because he removed himself or died. Somehow, the CBC, the great bastion of inclusion and diversity, misses the fact that it's paying nearly a million dollars a year to have Cherry advocate violence and xenophobia before an impressionable audience for ten minutes a week.
Cherry and his former acolyte, Mike Milbury (another one whose place on prime time is mind-boggling, but for other reasons), are the last two talking heads doggedly repeating the importance of fighting in hockey. Most others, at this point, realize fighting is getting kind of silly. It doesn't really help turn the tide of a game and it's putting players at risk of pointless injury. Some good teams aren't even bothering to carry a "fighter" anymore. Yet, Cherry continues to insist fighting is important in the game, and that any decent fan loves it.
The xenophobia is a more serious matter. From "Chicken Swedes" to his disdain for Quebec-born players, whom he compares to the dreaded European interlopers who steal the jobs of "good Canadian boys," he condemns anyone who plays the game in an "un-Canadian" way.
The problem with the things he says isn't that he says them in the first place; this is a free country with the right to speak freely, after all. The problem is that we pay to keep him on the air and say these things to a national audience, largely made of young hockey players, and they listen. Some of the things Cherry says, "respect the troops," "behave like a gentleman off the ice," and "don't dive to draw a call," are all unobjectionable. However, when he starts ranting about the benefits of violence or his disdain for "foreigners," viewers wince in the knowledge that kids are absorbing what he says.
Just, for a moment, imagine Cherry's comments in any other context. Think about a teacher or coach standing before a group of children and exhorting them to violence, or to disparage another because he's "different." Schools and sports teams spend a lot of effort making sure that kind of bullying is kept to a minimum, not actively promoting it. One might argue the Cherry comments are for a more adult audience, but it's hard to back that up when his rants are peppered with "all you kids out there."
And make no mistake, they are listening. Ask any pee wee player what Don Cherry says about fighting and they'll tell you a player needs to be a "stand up guy," "have his teammates' backs" and never wear a visor if he intends to fight. Follow an NHL player on twitter, and you'll see references to what "Grapes" would say about a certain behaviour. Sadly, although the outrageous suits, blatant leaf and Bruin cheerleading and deliberate mispronunciations of "foreign" players' names are relatively harmless, if irritating schtick, Cherry's message of intolerance is...well...intolerable.
His rant on Saturday night about how Mike Richards was right, and that P.K. Subban is "disrespectful," was more than a little over the top. Cherry gleefully took the opportunity to point out that Richards was merely supporting a comment Cherry himself had made a couple of weeks earlier, that "whatever his name is" needs to "tone it down" and be more "respectful" or someone's going to "get him."
While assuring the audience that there's something so wrong with the way Subban is playing that he'll be punished for it in an application of Cherry Code violence, he neglected to say what, exactly, Subban is doing wrong. Is he taking cheap shots after the play? No. Making inappropriate comments about opponents? No. Daring to be a rookie Montreal Canadien with confidence and buckets of talent? Yup. Adding to that a motor mouth that drives opponents crazy? Yes again.
What's so wrong about any of that? Subban yaps, but he doesn't gab and run. He was willing to put his fists where his mouth is when Richards turned on him last week, but Richards was the one who walked away and complained later. That Subban wasn't afraid of Richards should have pleased a guy of Cherry's sensibilities.
Cherry doesn't like the Canadiens. They represent French Canada, they play a low-violence, skilled style and they beat him mercilessly when he coached. He also doesn't like "foreign" players. I don't want to believe any kind of racism is inherent in his comments, but when he rants irrationally about the play of a kid of colour, it raises the question. If he doesn't want people to ask it, he should be much more clear when vehemently condemning a player who appears to have done nothing egregious.
If he'd said, "this is what P.K. Subban is doing wrong, this is why he's not respecting his opponents," then we might have understood what he's talking about. As it stands, we were treated to a semi-coherent rave about Subban's "disrespect."
The fact that he seems incapable of explaining himself logically or reasonably is reason enough for Don Cherry to remove himself from broadcasting. And if he won't do it, the CBC should.