By Moira Warburton
TORONTO (Reuters) – Don Cherry, whose provocative views and outlandish suit jackets made for appointment viewing on Canada’s popular Saturday night hockey broadcasts, was fired after inflammatory comments he directed at Canadian immigrants, the Sportsnet network said on Monday.
Cherry, 85, had been a fixture since the early 1980s on “Coach’s Corner,” a commentary that runs during the first intermission of the highly rated “Hockey Night in Canada.”
He entered the broadcast booth after a long playing career in hockey’s minor leagues and then as a popular, flamboyant National Hockey League coach, most notably with the Boston Bruins in the 1970s.
Cherry attracted adulation and criticism for his outspoken views on the state of hockey and its players. He also strayed into social commentary, arousing controversy on issues like his support of the Iraq war and criticism of “left-wing kooks.”
On Saturday night, he complained about people not wearing poppies – a Canadian practice of wearing artificial poppies on lapels ahead of the country’s Nov. 11 commemoration of war veterans – in comments that singled out immigrants.
“You people … that come here, whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey,” Cherry said. “At least you could pay a couple of bucks for poppies or something like that. These guys paid for your way of life, that you enjoy in Canada.”
The backlash was swift, with #FireDonCherry and #DonCherryMustGo trending on social media. Cherry’s co-host, Ron MacLean, who nodded and gave a thumbs up as Cherry made the comments, later apologized and said he regretted not speaking up at the time.
By Monday, Cherry had lost his job at the Rogers Communications Inc-aired show.
“Sports brings people together,” Bart Yabsley, president of Sportsnet, said in a statement published on Twitter. Cherry’s “divisive remarks do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
The NHL described Cherry’s remarks as “offensive and contrary to the values we believe in.”
Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democrats and the first person of color to head a Canadian federal political party, also slammed Cherry.
“All sorts of people have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of Canada,” Singh wrote on Facebook. “There is no ‘you people’. We’re all as Canadian as the next. We honor all who served.”
Cherry offered no apologies in an interview with the Toronto Sun newspaper published online on Monday.
“I know what I said and I meant it,” he told the Sun. “Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honor our fallen soldiers.”
(Reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Peter Cooney)