On the broadcast of “Hockey Night in Canada,” Cherry, an often controversial commentator, criticized immigrants in Canada for not recognizing Remembrance Day, the country’s equivalent to Memorial Day. The remarks started a firestorm in Canada that ended with Monday afternoon’s news that Cherry would “immediately step down.”
Many Canadians wear small artificial poppies in the days leading up to Remembrance Day to commemorate military personnel who died during war. Speaking Saturday night during “Coach’s Corner,” his intermission segment during the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Hockey Night in Canada,” Cherry noted that he rarely sees anyone wearing poppies in Mississauga, the Toronto suburb where he lives, or in downtown Toronto. Both areas have sizable ethnic populations.
“You people love — you, that come here, whatever it is — you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey,” Cherry said. “At least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life, that you enjoy in Canada.”
On Monday, after his firing, Cherry stood by his words in an interview with the Toronto Sun: “I know what I said and I meant it," Cherry said. “Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honor our fallen soldiers.
“I speak the truth and I walk the walk,” Cherry told the Sun. “I have visited the bases of the troops, been to Afghanistan with our brave soldiers at Christmas, been to cemeteries of our fallen around the world and honored our fallen troops on ‘Coach’s Corner.’
“To keep my job, I cannot be turned into a tamed robot.”
The NHL called the move a “justifiable response” to Cherry’s comments.
"While we recognize Don Cherry’s four decades of service broadcasting NHL games, today’s decision was a justifiable response to his comments on Saturday night,” the league said in a statement Monday. “The opinions he expressed are in direct conflict with the values of diversity and inclusion that we embrace as pillars of the sport.”
Hockey Canada, the nation’s governing body for the sport, did not name Cherry in a statement Sunday, in which it said: "The hockey community does not stand for comments made last night. Hockey is Canada’s game because it brings our nation together, be it around the television or in local arenas.
“Belonging and inclusivity are an integral part of our game.”
Ron MacLean, Cherry’s longtime broadcast partner, apologized Sunday for not pushing back on Cherry’s remarks.
“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat-out wrong,” MacLean said. “I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond. … Last night was a really great lesson for Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night. ”
A hashtag, #firedoncherry, popped up on Twitter, with many users calling for Cherry to be dismissed. Canadian Forces in the United States, a verified account of the Canadian Armed Forces, tweeted photos of minorities who served in the military.
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, the agency responsible for handling listener and viewer complaints, said Monday that it had received “a very large number of very similar complaints” about Saturday’s broadcast, which exceeded its “technical processing capacities.” It was no longer able to accept further complaints, it said on its website.
Cherry, a former professional player and NHL coach, has long been known for his outlandish and controversial comments on “Hockey Night in Canada.” He has been known to favor English-speaking, Canadian-born players over those from Europe or Quebec, whom he considers soft, and he has spoken out about Canada’s lack of support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his disbelief in the existence of climate change. Cherry has called people who ride bicycles “Pinkos” and the NHL’s concussion spotters “dum dums,” and he described a concussion lawsuit filed by NHL players against the league as a “money grab. ”
Even so, those comments hadn’t derailed a broadcasting career that began in 1981. That changed after Cherry’s latest comments.
Amanda Coletta contributed to this report.