NBC SPORTS executives spent last week fielding inquiries about the questionable taste of one of their broadcasters. But in this case they weren't kicking a controversial curmudgeon off their airwaves (as they did when they fired Don Imus from his MSNBC TV gig)—they were welcoming one. The network announced that CBC hockey analyst Don Cherry, who has been shocking northern audiences for 27 years, will appear on NBC during the Stanley Cup finals. In the wake of the Imus fiasco, Cherry did not seem to have mellowed. "A lot of people have written that what I say [in Canada], I would never get away with it down in the States," said Cherry, 73. "I'll just go on and do what I have to do."
Cherry has turned hockey commentary into performance art: He's known for garish suits; his ever-present English bull terrier; and outlandish, sometimes xenophobic, opinions. His defenders see him as charmingly old school, but his remarks can sting. The Ontario native has called Russian athletes "quitters," questioned the manhood of European players in general and referred to French Canadians as "whiners."
In 2004 the CBC put Cherry on a seven-second delay after he said European players who wear visors lack toughness. Still, a survey of CBC viewers that year named him the seventh-greatest Canadian ever. NBC hopes that popularity will carry over. "There hasn't been any hesitation [about working with him]," says Mike Baker, a producer at Versus, which may also feature Cherry during the playoffs. "I would never put a leash on him."