As many older pundits across sports media struggle to last in the new, digital age, one figure seemed to be bulletproof from evolution – Hockey Night in Canada fixture Don Cherry.
Known for his exuberance – both in clothing and takes – Cherry went from a trusted source of game knowledge to the crazy uncle you deal with out of love. But hey, they made for great Twitter clips, right? In recent years, however, Cherry’s takes have gone from harmless-ish to downright incendiary. Cherry’s buffoonery came to a boiling point this past Saturday when he attacked immigrant groups for (supposedly) not supporting Canada’s Remembrance Day tradition of adorning a Poppy in honor of Canada’s veterans.
Sportsnet decided this latest xenophobic tirade was the last straw and on Monday announced that Cherry would be stepping down from his post immediately. Some cheered the move as a “long time coming,” while others chimed in that Cherry’s free speech was being censored and he “said nothing wrong.” Whatever side of the coin you fall on, it’s well-documented that this wasn’t Cherry’s first inflammatory comment and, if we want the game we love to grow, comments like these needed to be banished entirely.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Ducks fan, meaning you more than likely live in California, one of the most diverse and progressive states in the United States. Even if you’re not from California, you either have ancestry from a different country or care about someone who came from a different country. It could be a friend, family member, significant other, or maybe even a close co-worker. The vast majority of us have ancestry from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South or Central America, but we have one thing in common – hockey. And not just fans – but players too.
Just on our Ducks roster, we have Americans, Canadians, Swedes, Czechs, and Germans all playing together to achieve one common goal. Our greatest player is Finnish. We’ve had Danish, Slovak, and Russian players, and even more. Outside of our club, we’ve even seen Asian and Australian players start to infiltrate their way into the NHL and, who knows, maybe we’ll live long enough to see Latin American and African players start to become more mainstream. Appealing to a global market is the key to sustaining our beloved game for generations – even after we’re long gone.
That’s the danger in Cherry’s comments. It’s not just for the surface implications, but they affect generations of potential hockey fans and players who might be disenfranchised by the angry old man making comments that push them away.
The NHL has done a marvelous job with inclusion over the past 10 years and, like him or not, it’s because of Gary Bettman and company making it a point to try to bring as many different kinds of people together as possible.
So no, Mr. Cherry, we don’t have to worry about “you people” lessening the quality of life around North America – we have to worry about people like you alienating people who’ve done nothing wrong and keeping them away from the sport we love so much.