A history of Don Cherry's most controversial remarks

Arun Srinivasan
Contributor

Don Cherry was fired from Sportsnet on Monday after his anti-immigrant rant and steadfastly refused to apologize.

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time Cherry used his Coach’s Corner segment to espouse bigotry and racism, or simply to spark needless feuds with unsuspecting targets. Cherry constantly courted controversy as a public figure and his career is tainted with several acts an ordinary person would want to reverse.

That’s not Cherry’s mentality, though. Below we examine the most contentious incidents of his long-standing career.

Some kind of dog food

The modern iteration of Coach’s Corner began in 1986 when Ron MacLean replaced Dave Hodge and was paired with Cherry. The show was an instant hit as Cherry’s abrasive style contrasted with MacLean’s straight-laced approach appealed to a massive audience and brought Hockey Night in Canada out of the now largely forgotten Babe Pratt era.

It didn’t take long for Cherry to completely cross the line of human decency. Cherry is arguably the most prominent anti-European zealot in Canada and when asked about Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Alpo Suhonen during a show in 1989, he said the following:

“Alpo? Isn't that a dog food?"

Yes, Cherry compared a person’s name to dog food and walked away without sanction, though then-owner of the Jets, Barry Shenkarow, threatened litigation and called him a racist. Perhaps Cherry’s bosses should’ve followed Shenkarow’s lead.

Cherry’s support of the Iraq War

Canada formally did not participate in the Iraq War, a position that irked Cherry to no end. He used his platform to aggressively challenge MacLean and others opposed to the invasion.

“I hate to see them go it alone," Cherry said during a March 2003 broadcast. "These guys are over there, they're over there giving it all ... we're just riding their coattails."

MacLean simply asked Cherry why Canada would attack Iraq when it wasn’t provoked, sending the former Boston Bruins coach into a deranged frenzy.

The CBC received more than 1,500 complaints and promptly deleted the episode from his archive, but it wasn’t enough to erase Cherry’s adamant support for what proved to be an ultimately needless war.

Cherry would later appear on The Jim Rome Show where he said he drew criticism because of a left-wing media climate. The commentator would later use the derogatory term “pinko” while supporting his dear friend Rob Ford, which we’ll explain in further detail below.

“Our media up here is totally left wing," Cherry said. "It's socialist, left wing, pinko, commies. I got ripped to shreds in the left-wing media. That's the chance you take. I don't regret it and If I had to I'd do it over again.

Put that in your pipe

Cherry never shied away from the political arena for better, and often times, for worse. Although his rampant xenophobia became part of the Don Cherry Experience, Cherry also found a way to alienate those who have different political views at the municipal level.

Expressing his support for then-Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Cherry attended his friend’s inaugural city council meeting in 2010 and quickly took aim at his opponents.

“Put that in your pipe you left-wing kooks,” Cherry said of Ford’s detractors, via David Rider of The Toronto Star.

We’re not in the business of drug-shaming anyone, but it turned out to be an admittedly poor choice of words when describing Ford, who struggled with addiction throughout his life.

Known for his flamboyant sense of style, Cherry intentionally wore a pink suit.

“I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything, I thought I’d get it in.”

“I’m being ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers out there — it’s unbelievable. One guy called me a jerk in a pink suit so I thought I’d wear that for him too today.”

Pinkos is a derogatory phrase used to berate those with communist leanings, but Cherry never cared for convention.

In a three-minute address, he found a way to sum up his distaste for those against the Ford regime in pretty ugly terms.

Cherry vs. Europe

One of the defining features of Cherry’s personality is his hardline stance against European players and Europeans in general. His bigotry often found its way into Coach’s Corner segments and during public appearances.

If the Suhonen incident didn’t make it abundantly clear, here are a select few examples:

  • While serving as the part-owner, and later, head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga IceDogs, Cherry infamously refused to participate in the CHL Import Draft, despite the club finishing with 16 wins in their first three seasons. Cherry took over in the IceDogs’ fourth season, leading the team to a paltry 11 wins.

  • He reiterated his view that European players shouldn’t play in the Canadian Hockey League in January 2018 ahead of the CHL Top Prospects Game: “What happens is, if you look at it, there's a Canadian kid not playing. No matter how you cut the mustard, I said this a long time ago and we have it now in bantam, we have them coming over in bantams, if you can believe it. We have them in minor midget as I go all the time and they're very rich when they come over and you're asking me, 'Do I believe in Europeans playing in [the] Canadian Hockey League?' No. I don't.”

  • Cherry had this to say after Russian skier Larisa Lazutina and Olga Danilova tested positive for drugs during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics: “I’ve been trying to tell you people for so long about the Russians, what kind of people they are, and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism. They’re quitters and evidently they take a lot of drugs, too.”

  • This video might be more illustrative on how he feels about Russian hockey.

Cherry vs. Quebec

Cherry often likes to fashion himself as the ultimate Canadian, forgetting that Quebec is also an equal part of the country.

During his aforementioned Iraq War rant, Cherry uniformly picked on French Canadians for no reason, while also singling out the Montreal Canadiens fan base for booing the U.S. anthem as a measure of protest against its involvement in the invasion.

"The true Canadians do not feel the way they do in Quebec there," Cherry said. "Believe me, the majority of the people in Canada love the United States. We know you'd be there to help us and don't think too bad of us.

"It's just a damn shame (Canadiens fans) had to boo the Star Spangled Banner in Quebec," Cherry said on the radio program. "You have to realize it's Quebec and it's French Canadians."

During a January 2004 debate on Coach’s Corner about whether visors should be mandatory in the NHL, Cherry couldn’t disguise his disgust and made a sweeping generalization.

“Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys,” Cherry said.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages investigated Cherry’s remarks and he was eventually (later retracted) placed on a seven-second delay.

A proponent of violence at all costs

The 85-year-old is toxic masculinity personified, advocating for a hyperaggressive style of hockey and the use of enforcers. Don Cherry’s Rock’Em Sock’Em video series often celebrated some of the NHL’s most devastating hits and accelerated Cherry’s worldview into the culture of hockey.

When enforcers were eventually phased out of the NHL, Cherry whined about how the state of hockey wasn’t what it used to be.

There is a cost of violence that often leads to brain damage, which can often cause or further depression, alcoholism and myriad mental health issues. Derek Boogaard committed suicide on May 13, 2011 and after his death, it was revealed that he was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed posthumously.

When a host of former NHL enforcers spoke out, issuing a warning about the perils of fighting in professional hockey, Cherry turned on his former allies in an outright nauseating manner during the Oct. 6, 2011 Coach’s Corner segment.

“The ones I’m really disgusted with … The bunch of pukes that fought before — Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan, Jim Thomson — the reason, 'Oh, the reason that they're drinking, drugs and alcoholics is because they fight.' You turncoats, you hypocrites,” Cherry said.

“There's one thing I'm not, it's a hypocrite. You guys, you were fighters, and now you don't want guys to make the same living you did."

Cherry vs. women 

Although Cherry has been a fan and advocate for women's hockey over his career, he's also been anything but supportive towards women in hockey. 

Cherry's sexism has been evident from even the earliest segments of Coach's Corner.  

"When you come to the games, keep your eyes on the puck. I’m telling ya, I’ve seen some awful smacks, and it’s always a woman yapping away there. Look at the game," Cherry remarked, after a woman was struck with an errant puck during a game. MacLean immediately interjected, telling Cherry that both men and women get distracted during games, but he was having none of it. 

You would think that Cherry's view on women in hockey media would've evolved over the years, considering his titanic stature in the industry. Unfortunately, Cherry remained sexist as ever, stating in 2013 that he felt women shouldn't be in the locker room, even though it's essential to reporting. 

“I don’t believe — and I really believe this — I don’t believe women should be allowed in the male dressing room,” Cherry said in April 2013 via the National Post. “I — now, wait a minute — I remember the first time it happened to me. Guys are walking around naked and I hear this woman’s voice and I turn around and there’s a woman, and she’s asking me about the power play, and I say let’s go outside, and she said ‘I’m not embarrassed,’ and I said, ‘I’m embarrassed.’”

Maclean quickly called Cherry out on his remarks, telling his co-host that they should receive equal opportunities. Cherry couldn't comprehend the concept, screaming "why aren't men in women's dressing rooms" forgetting that reporters are solely focused on their jobs. 

“I don’t feel women are equal,” he said. “I feel they’re above us. I think they’re on a pedestal and they should not be walking in when naked guys are walking in. And some guys take advantage of it and I don’t think [they] should be.”

We'll let his comments speak for itself.

Bunch of Jerks

Hockey is meant to be fun but leave it to a decrepit commentator to try to rain on one of the most fun developments of the 2018-19 season.

The Carolina Hurricanes began incorporating a victory celebration with “The Storm Surge” — renaming the Viking Thunder Clap which has been popularized by Iceland’s national soccer team.

As the Hurricanes grew more successful, they added more elaborate elements.

Cherry predictably wasn’t thrilled and called the Hurricanes a “bunch of jerks,” unwittingly creating a marketing slogan for the organization.

Carolina fully embraced the Bunch of Jerks label, selling merchandise and forming an identity of sorts, eventually losing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final.

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