Cherry should be fired if CBC really disagrees with his statements
Posted: Saturday February 7, 2004 6:36PM; Updated: Sunday February 8, 2004 1:09AM
The only thing louder than Don Cherry's mouth is the outfits he wears each Saturday night on Coach's Corner.
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
MINNEAPOLIS -- -- In a bit of bureaucratic maneuvering that is an affront to everyone intelligent enough to work a remote control, the CBC, Canada's national broadcaster, has decided to put Don Cherry's Coach's Corner segment during its Hockey Night in Canada telecasts on a seven-second tape delay.
Cherry, the bombastic and controversial ex-coach, has been called a boob before. Now he is being treated as if he were Janet Jackson's right breast.
Rather than bleeping mere words, the CBC will undertake the ludicrous, Orwellian task of bleeping ideas. Beginning with his must-see-TV five-minute bit next Saturday, within seven seconds some poor omnipotent soul -- it was not immediately apparent who would be the desk sergeant of Canada's Thought Police -- will have to decide if Cherry has said something unfit for national consumption.
Cherry's vision of the game sometimes might be out of 1884, but the CBC's approach is right out of 1984, an abomination. The only way the decision makes even the tiniest bit of sense is if it is nothing more than an elaborate ploy to get the 70-year-old to quit, a self-defeating proposition given that the ad rates the CBC is able to charge for his segment are as high as those for commercials during the actual game. As Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday, "Put him on hold? I don't know about that. That's only going to make Don madder."
The move was prompted by remarks made two weeks ago during a discussion on visors. Cherry implied that players who wore them lacked courage -- he said that they might be viewed as "sucks" -- and noted that it was mostly European players and "French guys" who had donned shields.
These are two of Cherry's favorite hobby horses: Europeans and French-speaking players. He has been relentlessly critical of both over the years. On a Coaches Corner segment a few weeks earlier, he said drug use in junior hockey was confined to the Quebec leagues. While continually wrapping himself in the Canadian flag, he once dismissed Nagano Olympic flag bearer Jean-Luc Brassard, a mogul skiing champion in 1994, as "that French guy." His Canada apparently does not include Quebec.
"He's good for shock therapy," Hitchcock said. "We don't necessarily listen for his ideas, but for his passion."
And certainly people do listen. One Sunday morning in 1990, Jocelyn Lemieux, then with the Montreal Canadiens, was railing about something Cherry had said the previous evening. When I asked him if he taped the segment and watched it after he returned home after the game, Lemieux said, "No, we all go into the back room and watch it during the first intermission." That is the power, the reach of Cherry.
Certainly the news of Cherry's comeuppance didn't upset everybody at the NHL All-Star Game. Markus Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks, a visor-wearing Swede, said, "I wish they would put him on a seven-minute delay."
And José Theodore of the Canadiens added, "I can put the volume on and laugh and I can put the volume down and still laugh. With or without volume, you just laugh when you see him. I don't take offense."
The problem is prominent French Canadians such as Théodore and a star like Naslund have not been willing to take on the insults. Unlike the swift reaction to ESPN's Rush Limbaugh by black NFL players that hastened the telecaster's resignation less than a week after saying that the Philadelphia Eagles' Donovan McNabb was overrated by guilty white media members who wanted a black quarterback to succeed, NHL players simply have shrugged off Cherry's comments.
If prominent French Canadians such as New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur or Ottawa Senators coach Jacques Martin had raised their voices about Cherry, there is an excellent chance the CBC would have repudiated him years ago despite his economic oomph. Either the players or Canada is inured to Cherry's act, or there is a sizable part of the population that agrees with him. Brodeur declined to speak about Cherry on Saturday.
If the CBC finds his ideas repugnant all of a sudden, it should have the courage to fire him. If not, the broadcaster should continue to give him his weekly platform without any governance. In the worst of all possible compromises, the network took a wimpy, political approach to the problem that is both an insult to Cherry and to the audience of hockey's flagship program.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Farber covers hockey for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.