Monday, March 02, 2009


Saturday night, I watched my last hockey game on CBC television. 

It wasn’t that the game was dull or badly produced. Indeed, my beloved but eternally woeful Leafs came through to win their sixth in a row, suddenly on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in three years. It won’t happen, of course. But even if that miracle does come to pass, I’ll be watching the rest of this season and the playoffs elsewhere. Because I just can’t take any more of the garbage that spews from CBC’s resident bigot and bully, Don Cherry.


I used to be a big fan of Don and always looked forward to his “Coach’s Corner” observations. He was plain spoken, politically incorrect and passionate about the game we both love to death. He always championed the guys with heart, recognized the contributions of players who seldom got noticed and otherwise educated his audience in the invisible nuances of what happened on the ice. Don Cherry has forgotten more about Hockey than I’ll ever know and taught me things that have enriched my experience of the game.

But somewhere along the way, Don got ugly.

Maybe he always was and I was late noticing. But quite honestly, I think his fame and larger-than-life TV persona finally got to him.

He used to spar with his on screen partner, Ron MacLean, but more and more often his arguments have become petulant and insulting, refusing to brook any opinion but his own and brow-beating anyone who dares question him. More than once, I wondered how badly MacLean must need his job to put up with the abuse he endures. Or, maybe he just secretly enjoys being Cherry’s Bitch.

Or it could be that’s all part of the act CBC demands. But what happened on Saturday night was a new low.

On a “Coach’s Corner” appearance you can watch for yourself here, Cherry began with one of his recurring bits wherein he insults a couple of non-Canadian players by mispronouncing their names. Don has always voiced a dislike for NHLers who aren’t “Good Canadian Boys”, often bemoaning the jobs they take from the locals, their preference for visors and their general lack of interest in dropping the gloves and pummeling somebody. Most of us have come to just let that part of his repertoire slide,  ignoring it in the same way we ignore old farts who still use the “N” word because they just don’t know any better.

But then Don took on Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, a guy widely acknowledged as the most skilled and exciting player currently playing in the NHL and whose enjoyment of what he can accomplish often leads to exuberant celebrations after scoring a goal. To Don this goes against “The Code” of hockey, a Code which requires players to suffer brain damage to redress perceived insults, to lose eyes rather than wear protective visors and to place settling personal scores above doing what’s best for their team.

Angry at Ovechkin’s “hot-dogging” after scoring a goal and comparing it to the celebrations of detestable European Soccer players, Don suggested that it was time some big defenseman “hiding in the weeds” take the opportunity to “Cut  him (Ovechkin) in half”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The most popular hockey commentator in the world, a man literally worshipped by every grinder and wannabe who plays the game, had not only advocated injuring the best player in the league, but encouraged somebody to do it because -- celebrating a goal just wasn’t “The Canadian way”.


Perhaps, in his dotage, Don has forgotten “good Canadian boy” Tiger Williams riding his stick around Maple Leaf Gardens or Theo Fleury joyously sliding the length of the Calgary Saddledome after scoring a goal that would win the Stanley Cup – a moment “Hockey Night in Canada” features in its opening montage of historic highlights.

I waited for Don’s wrap up of the game to see if he might take a step back, realizing he’d overstepped the bounds of civilized sport and simple decency. But he used his time to reiterate his call for Ovechkin’s head and then spewed some more Xenophobia, indicting the League leading Detroit Red Wings for having so many Europeans on their team and railing against all those who don’t share his love for fighting in hockey, looking more every moment like that old guy at the end of the bar who rants about the righteousness of his bigotry long after everybody has stopped listening.

It’s interesting that the week preceding had been marked by CBC begging for more money to cover a budget shortfall and its supporters suggesting that not meeting their need would signify that the Canadian government wanted to silence the only true voice of the nation. Since when is slagging the ancestry of millions of us and suggesting a bounty be placed on somebody’s head been part of what this country represents?

Although part of me surmises that if Peter Mansbridge were to suggest knee-capping Stephen Harper on “The National” he’d strike the same sympathetic chord with his viewers that Cherry seems to illicit from his crowd.

Sometimes I think Passive-Aggression is our real National Pastime.

And isn’t it interesting that a network that for years has equated America with racial intolerance and international ignorance keeps showcasing a guy who trashes anybody from outside our own borders. Have you ever heard any American sportscaster suggest Hideki Matsui didn’t deserve to play for the Yankees, Yao Ming was taking an American’s job on the Houston Rockets or that all those Samoans were ruining the NFL?

Can you imagine what the CBC would say about that if they did?

Is it those clichéd low self-esteem Canadians who have a problem with foreigners – or is it really somebody in CBC management?

What Cherry (and maybe the CBC) seems to forget is that this country is no longer representative of what he expounds on such a regular basis. A lot of us appreciate the skill, speed and dexterity that European players have brought to the game. Most of those “kids out there”, who Cherry presumes to teach, think nothing of correctly pronouncing the names of classmates from all over the world. And on weekends, those same kids play “Timbits” hockey with teams that are half-Asian, half-South Asian or (in my neighborhood) predominantly Russian. Most of those kids also don't mind having a girl or two on their team.

Like most Bullies, Cherry is also both ignorant and a coward. His claim on Saturday that nobody goes to games in Detroit because of their Europeans and what brings fans in are the fights are both completely false arguments. Detroit’s gate is 98% this season, in a city with one of America’s worst economies. And the team involved in the most fights, New Jersey, is 25th in attendance.

Today, Canada’s foremost Sports Journalist, Bob McCown of TheFan590, repeated a call for Cherry to come on his show and debate the merits of fighting in Hockey. Like many of us have long noticed, Cherry never gets anywhere near scraps with anybody his own size. As McCown rightly described it, Don Cherry “turtles” rather than having the courage to face somebody who’s willing to go toe-to-toe with him.

At any rate, Don and I are done. And one of the few remaining shows I watched on the CBC is done too. They may get some more of my tax dollars but my eyes are going elsewhere. I just discovered the big screen LCD has a direct link to play anything on my laptop, so here I come.

It’s great to have options and to not have to be subjected to tired old acts that no longer reflect reality. CBC should take note.


DMc said...

Sometimes, you say?

BlaineW. said...

Amen. Absolutely. Very well put. Saturday night was a new - new low and everybody I know who saw it feels the same way. I can't add anything to this, I don't know ... The Pope has no clothes. Retire The Code. Get over it before it gets worse, before he gets any worse. If somebody actually goes after Ovechkin for being young and great and full of joy I swear to God ... what a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Before spitting on Europeans, this national hero also invested considerably into insulting French-Canadians and Quebeckers, some of whom are indeed making this year's play-offs worth a bit of attention.

Anonymous said...

You're correct in yout opinion, Don's a major Homer and his views alienate some but not most of his audeince which has to be 50% Newfs.