So Don Cherry.
This is not the start of a joke like “so Don Cherry walks into a bar…”.
Don Cherry has said worse things than he did on Saturday November 9, 2019. Much worse things. Things about Europeans, Russians, Native people, liberally minded people, women, those who speak about social injustice and the privileging of some groups over others, former NHL enforcers who air their concern about the damage caused by getting punched in the face and head over and over again, advocates for responsible treatment of the planet and people who speak about the approaching challenges of a warming climate.
Don Cherry has said much better things that he did on Saturday November 9, 2019. He is a fierce nationalist who LOVES Canada, he is a strong advocate for Veteran rights, and he supports the troops by raising money and going out of his way and into war zones to show his appreciation for them. Unrelated to last Saturday night, he is a big fan of younger and developing hockey players and recognizing their achievements, he advances the pursuit of hockey IQ, he understands the game well and seems to break it down in a way that has me conclude that he still has some coaching chops, even if he now spends most of this time on something else.
I was sad when his dog died because he seemed terribly heartbroken and it’s nearly impossible to not have empathy when someone loses the object of their unconditional love.
And I don’t know much else about the man other than the superficial qualities that are easy to figure out by looking at him on TV during Coaches Corner. So he is old, he is 85, he’s male, he’s white, and he has some contacts in the fabric and garment business who are able to source some of the strangest material ever imagined-up.
The things that kind of sucks is the fact that the way he acts seems to be the behavioural caricature manifestation of his superficial characteristics or qualities. No one was surprised when he said that he would have voted for Trump. No one was surprised when he said that anyone who believes that humans are causing climate change are cuckaloos. No one was surprised when he said that he was “being ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers” during Rob Fords inaugural meeting as mayor of Toronto. No one was surprised when he said that the best hockey players in the world are from Canada, or when he suggested that hockey players from Europe shouldn’t be allowed to play in the CHL or that the way they celebrate scoring a goal is going to get them put onto someones hit list.
That is the thing about Don Cherry, no one is surprised by anything he says or does. Good or bad, it is unsurprising. He has some very good qualities and works to improve the lives of some people, and he has some bad qualities and says stuff that makes you wonder if he has any good qualities. None of this is the point really. He’s been doing what he does for so long that we all kind of just accept it as Don being Don and we move off of it quickly. It’s like the frog in a boiling water that doesn’t notice things are heating-up. The pace has been such a slow creep that we didn’t really notice much of anything over the last 40 years.
This is a part of the problem. While everyone else was changing, he was either staying the same or become more like Don Cherry. There is no way that someone who vocalizes the problematic things he says would get a spot of TV today – at least on CBC; although he hasn’t worked for them for since 2014.
I am not sure what triggered him on Saturday, probably living in Mississauga and noticing that the people no longer look the way they used to and not enough of them were wearing poppies to pay tribute to Veterans. While he didn’t come right out and say the first part, he did directly state the second part before indirectly stating the first. If he had simply made two observations, that Canada is becoming more multicultural and that these days he sees fewer people wearing poppies, people would have agreed with him on both counts and maybe been compelled to go out and buy some of their fellow Canadians a poppy. Even if the audience was motivated to do nothing, Don would still have his job.
The thing with what he said on Saturday night is that it eliminated the possibility that moderate thinkers would be able to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was inarticulately making a valid point.
I don’t wear a poppy. This doesn’t mean that I hate Veterans or that I adore war and violence. It isn’t something I do because I’m not a big fan of virtue signalling. I buy them, I stuff money into the donation box, take a poppy, and feel like a heal because I have done next to nothing to improve the lives of the people who served in the armed forces or lost someone who did. I think it would actually be a few steps worse than nothing if I was to wear the poppy because I feel like I am trying to take credit for doing something that amounts to effectively nothing.
But I am aware of the first world war and the efforts made by Canadian soldiers. Many of them died, many more were gassed, and they got after taking care of the threat that Germany represented to the entire world. I am aware of most of the wars that Canada has found itself in and am grateful that many Canadians made the decision to join the armed forces and risk their lives fighting the numerous enemies over the last century.
I am less clear on what aging Veterans want from Canada or from their fellow Canadians, or if they view those who wear poppies as being with them and those who do not as being against them. If I had to guess I’d put my money on them not thinking much about who wears the poppies and their thoughts being on the people they served with, and particularly those who did not make it home. This is said having no direct experience with any of the nastiness of war. Maybe they did what they did to make sure people were as free to wear the poppy as they are to not wear it, but my feeling is that poppies were the last thing on their minds when they at war and that they don’t think much about them for 11 months of the year.
I’m willing to give Don Cherry the benefit of the doubt in so far as suggesting that he was trying to say something very positive about Veterans and that he wanted Canadians to re-up their appreciation for the actions taken by our armed forces personnel. And I kind of wish that he had just said it like that because it would have generated a lot of good will and probably a boost in donations for the poppy drive. What he said is, if nothing else, a distraction from Remembrance Day and the legitimate need for Canadian citizens and permanent residence to make sure ALL of our Veterans are treated fairly and well taken care of. Give money and time to Veteran organizations.
Of course, all of this could have been avoid if Don had said something else OR if we had heard what he was saying years ago. How much stuff did we just shrug off? And whats does that cause to happen? Well, things escalate. When the time comes that you do have to draw the line, it is going to be over something worse than any of the things that have been overlooked. The end result is that when the line is finally crossed it is about something that you would never have predicted as having dealing with. It will be so far past what is acceptable that for it to be the first offence will seem like a massive jump.
This is the problem with giving people too many passes. Because they are not punished for their misbehaviour, they develop a sense of invincibility and start to believe that the collective silence from everyone is an indication of our collective agreement with what they are saying. And when they get the next pass, it serves to reinforce this belief. After years of this pattern, there ends up being a moment when they cross the line, keep going and have a Saturday night like Don did when there is a big flip in the minds of many people and they say “enough is enough.”
Enough is enough, and it was enough a long time ago. He should have been corrected years ago and if he was still unwilling to change his behaviour, he should have had his future freed-up and been given the opportunity to do something else. This would have saved his legacy a lot of damage and it would have saved Remembrance Day 2019 from having to share the spotlight with news about Don Cherry’s termination from Coaches Corner.
I am not a fan of silencing people. I believe that unless someone is inciting violence or committing a crime with their words, they should be free to say more or less whatever they want. The same applies to Cherry, and as far as I can tell, he is still free to say whatever it is he feels like saying. He lost his job which is a measure of the same free speech he had and continues to have. The managers of the company he works for have every right to employ the people they want and, so long as they do not violate any labour laws when they terminate someones employment, they are well within their rights to do so. They actually have a responsibility to shareholders to release the problem talent and replace it with something more profitable.
I do not fault Rogers Communications Inc. for letting him go. They didn’t have a choice because he no longer speaks for all Canadians or most Canadians. He speaks for some Canadians and these people will be more than happy to give him a place to land when this whole things blows over.
I fault us for Don Cherry. We tuned-in and watched, we gave him an audience to talk at. Our attention was the reason why various media companies over the years hired him. He made them a lot of money because we gave him an ear. We didn’t say stop, smarten-up, change your ways or your going to be out of work, we simply said “oh, that’s just Don Cherry” as if that is a valid reason for anything. We kept him going because at some level of functioning, we are willing to overlook the tired actions of an old man who hasn’t been able to keep up with the pace of change.
The consequence to this inaction is going to be the further divide between those who think Don Cherry is great and those who are tired of having to tolerate someone who just doesn’t seem to be trying to get it right.
Don Cherry does not have a problem, he’s fine with what he said and seems willing to move on. We have a Don Cherry problem, and have had one for a long time. He may be a good man who says some stupid things. He may be an okay man who is stuck in the past. Or he might be an 85 year old white guy who cannot fathom how anyone could have a problem with his voicing his support and loyalty for Veterans while simultaneously declaring how “real” Canadians should act for the benefit of the people who just come to Canada for milk and honey.
This should serve as a warning that we cannot and should not give someone a pass for saying things that are wrong, pointlessly unhelpful or harming, or are divisive to the country as a whole. Give them a warning and the opportunity to change their course, and if they take it, welcome them back. If they chose not to, thank a Veteran for fighting for the persons liberty to remain as they want to be then honour the persons decision and your word by acting quickly to clean-up the mess. Doing nothing just moves the problem into the future while ensuring that it grows larger with each unpunished misstep.