October 28, 2020

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Coach cornered as viewers decide he went too far

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/11/2019 (350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At 85, Don Cherry was often given a permission slip to be Canada’s xenophobic grandpa, the kind of guy "from a different era" who like to hold court about "those people" and "our way of life," unchallenged.

But Canadians, it seems, are no longer willing to Ron MacLean their way through Thanksgiving dinner in order to keep the peace.

By now, most people know the story: the longtime Coach’s Corner host was ousted Monday after a barely coherent, Trumpian rant on Saturday night about, best as anyone can tell, immigrants who don’t wear poppies (or something like that) on Remembrance Day.

"You people… you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price," Mr. Cherry said.

If viewers were surprised he would say that on TV, they shouldn’t have been. The larger context is that Mr. Cherry’s regular rants benefited the TV networks that employed him because he attracted viewers, even some who didn’t care about hockey but tuned in to see if Mr. Cherry would go over the line.

It was these same people — you know, the ones who have been used to justify his platform on Hockey Night in Canada since the 1980s — who decided last weekend that, this time, he went too far. The backlash from viewers was swift, with many taking to social media. #FireDonCherry began trending on Twitter and, by Monday, Sportsnet did just that.

Resist the urge to break out the air horns. The broadcaster gets to look like it reacted to a dumpster fire very quickly when, in fact, this was merely the blaze it decided to put out. Mr. Cherry has been a problem for decades, but a problem that attracted viewers.

Mr. Cherry’s regular rants benefited the TV networks that employed him because he attracted viewers, even some who didn’t care about hockey but tuned in to see if Mr. Cherry would go over the line. (Chris Young / Canadian Press files)

Mr. Cherry’s regular rants benefited the TV networks that employed him because he attracted viewers, even some who didn’t care about hockey but tuned in to see if Mr. Cherry would go over the line. (Chris Young / Canadian Press files)

Resist, too, the temptation to feel too bad for Mr. MacLean, who gave Mr. Cherry’s on-air comments a thumbs up — in kind of the same way you give your problematic aunt a thumbs up on Facebook when you want to get her to stop talking. It’s true that babysitting a sentient chesterfield on live television shouldn’t be part of anyone’s job description, but sitting idly by — or silently offering what could reasonably be construed as support — while your co-host spouts xenophobic and sexist non-sequiturs is not acceptable. It never has been.

Inevitably, when someone loses their high-profile, high-paying platform for saying something harmful, it is accompanied by lots of talk of "now" and "before" and hand-wringing about all the things we "can’t do now," which is usually just one thing, and that’s "say bigoted things with impunity."

Actions have consequences, and in this case they were enforced because the public demanded accountability.

Actions have consequences, and in this case they were enforced because the public demanded accountability.

Instead of rolling their eyes, or smiling politely, or doing anything else that falls under the banner of that other Canadian sport, Being Nice, the viewers finally stood up to their xenophobic grandpa, and made it clear he’d no longer be welcome in their living rooms.

Sometimes, you have to take the path of resistance if you want to make real change. Any system that allows a hockey colour commentator in a loud suit to become an untouchable figure of Canadian iconography is broken. Saying something is our best shot at fixing it.

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