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Famed hockey host Don Cherry defiant after being fired for rant on immigrants: ‘I meant it’

“I know what I said and I meant it. ” Cherry told the Toronto Sun. “Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honor our fallen soldiers.”

Longtime Sportsnet commentator Don Cherry (left, seen beside co-host Ron MacLean) was fired Monday for comments he made about immigrants during Saturday's "Coach's Corner" segment.
Longtime Sportsnet commentator Don Cherry (left, seen beside co-host Ron MacLean) was fired Monday for comments he made about immigrants during Saturday's "Coach's Corner" segment.Read moreSportsNet

Don Cherry’s words finally caught up with him.

The 85-year-old former NHL coach and Canadian hockey broadcaster, most well-known for his flamboyant suits, was done in by his increasingly harsh rhetoric that emanated from his long-running “Coach’s Corner” segment on SportsNet’s Hockey Night in Canada.

Cherry was fired Monday following intense criticism over a Sunday-night rant in which he claimed immigrants — whom he referred to as “you people” — refused to wear poppy flowers to honor fallen veterans as part of the country’s Remembrance Day. In a statement Monday night, SportsNet called Cherry’s comments “divisive” and said “they do not represent our values or what we stand for.”

While Ron MacLean (who gave a “thumbs-up” to Cherry’s comments on-air) apologized for the segment, calling his on-air partner’s comments “discriminatory” and “hurtful,” Cherry has remained defiant, defending his remarks in statements to Canadian newspapers.

“I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honor our fallen soldiers," Cherry told the Toronto Sun, adding, “To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot."

“I don’t regret a thing," Cherry told the Toronto Star. “If you notice, I never said ‘immigrants,’ I never said anything, I said ‘you people’ and they could have been Scottish, they could have been Irish, they could have been anything, but that’s the way the world is today. They listened to those people.”

Cherry did not respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment.

The only surprise is that it took this long for SportsNet to show Cherry the door. My colleague Mike Sielski pointed to a column written by Sports Illustrated’s Leigh Montville about Cherry back in 1993 that pegged him as some mixture between Rush Limbaugh, Howard Cosell, and Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men.

"He knows the end will come someday. Maybe someday soon. Maybe tonight. He is pushing, pushing, pushing the limits too far, saying too much. One final piece of outrage will bubble from Don Cherry’s high-volume mouth,” Montville wrote, 26 years before Cherry was fired.

“I can’t believe they actually did it,” wrote The Athletic’s Sean McIndoe, who once wrote columns for SportsNet. “Whether his fans want to admit it or not, Saturday’s poppy rant was vintage Cherry. Bigoted and bullying, maybe without even realizing it, or maybe just without caring.”

In the United States, hockey doesn’t have the same broad appeal as it does in Canada, which is why Cherry was such a well-known figure north of the border. As Globe and Mail sports columnist Cathal Kelly noted, many reporters and fans at games would get up from their seats during first intermission and move to a TV just to hear Cherry’s comments. " No other analyst in any other sport commands that sort of attention," Kelly wrote.

In fact, Cherry’s dismissal was front-page news for many Canadian newspapers Tuesday, including the Toronto Star.

Here’s what my colleague, Flyers beat writer Sam Carchidi, had to say about Cherry:

I’ve always thought Cherry was a blowhard who just said things to shock people to get viewers. That said, in a Toronto Sun story, his wife said when he talked about “you people” he was not referring to immigrants. It sure seemed like he was when he added “you people ... who come here.” In any event, SportsNet should have at least given him a chance to explain himself, which they apparently didn’t do.
Personally, I found Cherry’s style boorish and childish. Here’s hoping they replace him with someone who brings more to the table. It shouldn’t be difficult.

Cherry played just one game in the NHL — for the Boston Bruins in 1955 — but spent 18 years playing professional minor league hockey for several teams, including the Hershey Bears (His brother, Dick Cherry, played two seasons for the Flyers). He also coached both the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies before the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation hired him as a broadcaster in 1981. But over the years, his hockey analysis has taken a backseat to sometimes-heated commentary involving misogyny, nationalism, and politics, including calling those who believe in climate change “cuckaloos.”

“The sad part is he’s actually a pretty nice guy for people that know him, but you can’t live in the past,” 94.1 WIP host and NBC Sports Philadelphia Flyers commentator Al Morganti said. “The standards now are so different on what you can get away with. And he’s just crossed it, again and again and again.”