I made a silent pledge to avoid joining the raucous but divided chorus praising or condemning Don Cherry’s latest outburst of bully-boy belligerence. And decided to break it five minutes later.
When I first heard – and saw – Canada’s most famous clown 17-years ago I was impressed with his grotesque costume and critical, analytical, examination of Canada’s best known team sport and the players engaged at princely sums to play it at least once a week.
But he grew tiresome after a while. His Clown Costumes grew more outrageous; his opinions on individual players, especially those from Sweden, Norway or Finland, became wearying tirades of regret that while they brought some hockey skills with them they lacked the fighting spirit of Canadian born players.
It didn’t matter how skilled the stick-handling, the precise passing at dazzling speed, the shots on goal – if they didn’t show a willingness to “drop the gloves” for an on-ice version of Saturday night bare-knuckle brawling, there was something lacking in their game.
A steady procession of stars from Europe slowly brought a slight change in Cherry’s views on “foreigners” daring to challenge Canadian ownership of the highest skills.
In his long Saturday night reign he was berated for his open, often boorish, belligerent criticism of others but won consistently high TV viewing ratings. Meeting and surpassing the ever demanding TV gold-standard viewer ratings kept Cherry’s job safe – until his latest outburst about people who do not wear a poppy on Memorial Day, November 11, the day set aside in 1919 to mark the Armistice to end the blood-bath of WW1, the war to end wars.
Simultaneous storms followed Cherry’s condemnation about Canadians who don’t wear a poppy. The first erupted with the charge that Cherry was being racist and attacking new immigrants – a charge Cherry hastily denied. He says he just misspoke a word or two when he meant to say “everybody who doesn’t wear a poppy” should be ashamed.
Within a few hours Cherry was fired and the second storm burst with at last count 110,000 names on a petition screaming “drop the gloves” and demanding he be reinstated immediately. Most protesters charged Cherrry was being punished for exercising our much cherished, often abused, right to free speech. Others – a lot of others – claimed he meant new Canadians, “immigrants” only and was and justified in his criticism.
Cherry chipped in with an offer to apologize: “I think I could have smoothed it over pretty good,” he said – and I believe him as readily as I believe President Donald Trump when he talks before he thinks.
Like Trump Cherry has had a good run with fractured English and limited vocabulary and a petition with 110,000 signatures and still growing in support of “drop the gloves” philosophy is proof of some success. It is also, a little scary, unwarranted and unneeded north of the 49th parallel.