Cherry, who has a history of divisive commentary routinely directed at Europeans, Quebecers and women, used last week’s “Coach’s Corner” segment to fire off a xenophobic tirade about immigrants and poppies.
“You people that come here, whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey. At least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy.” Cherry pointed his finger at the camera, saying, “These guys (veterans) paid for your way of life, that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price.”
MacLean said Saturday that there were steps that needed to be taken by Cherry, who did not apologize for or retract his remarks, but that “he didn’t want to do those steps.”
Viewers complained in large numbers to the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council (CBSC) about Cherry’s comments, so many that it exceeded the organization’s technical processing capacity. MacLean acknowledged the swift reaction, saying, “You called us on it, which I thank you for, because that’s the new world ... you caught it, and I felt so bad. And I apologized immediately. And Don, you know Don ... defiant.”
Cherry later said he ‘regretted’ using the phrase, “You people,” which is widely viewed as a way of othering a community, and is often used to disparage minority or racialized individuals or groups.
MacLean said he was conflicted about his decision to apologize vs. standing by his longtime friend and co-host. “How can you choose principle over friendship? But, I had to.”
MacLean said that if he “fell on his sword” too (presumably implying stepping down), then it would infer that what Cherry said was right, or that MacLean was just standing by watching silently on the sidelines.
“Don taught me to stand right. So, I had to have the courage of my convictions,” he said.
Some viewers online thanked MacLean for his honest, seemingly unscripted speech, while others accused him of betraying Cherry, and still others of not explaining why he didn’t say something to Cherry in the moment or explicitly denounce Cherry’s comments in this Saturday’s monologue.
Saturday’s first intermission also featured a segment with MacLean interviewing Hayley Wickenheiser and Guy Carbonneau, two inductees of this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame class. The induction ceremony is Monday.
Wickenheiser also mentioned Cherry in that short, three-minute segment, saying she appreciated that “he was always talking about women’s hockey.”
Sportsnet called Cherry’s remarks from last Saturday “divisive,” and said they “do not represent our values or what we stand for,” when announcing his firing on Monday.
Sportsnet has said they may eventually take the long-running first-intermission segment in a different direction.
Cherry, a native of Kingston, Ont., joined HNIC in 1980 as a playoff analyst and was so popular that he was kept on as a colour commentator. CBC later created “Coach’s Corner” as a vehicle to showcase Cherry with MacLean eventually replacing Dave Hodge as his sidekick.
“I love you very much,” MacLean said to Cherry through the camera, “and we honour you tonight in this last talk about ‘Coach’s Corner.’”
With files from The Canadian Press
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story had an incomplete quote from Don Cherry’s “You people” comments about immigrants. We have updated the story with the missing words.