Three notes and a question on the Don Cherry situation

Don Cherry deflects the fact that discrimination in sports culture runs deep.

Coaches Corner is no more. Photo credit / CBC

By: Dylan Webb, Sports Editor

Earlier this month, Sportsnet, a subsidiary of Rogers Communications, decided that it was time for the controversial co-host of Hockey Night in Canada’s Coaches Corner segment, Don Cherry, to step down. Sportsnet President Bart Yabsley cited Cherry’s “divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for,” as the reason Cherry was prompted to move on from hosting Coaches Corner. 

Given the ocean of analysis that is already floating around the mediasphere regarding Cherry’s dismissal from Sportsnet, rather than repeat the linguistic dissection that has comprised most of this coverage, here are three notes and a question on the controversy that have received relatively less attention. 

  1. Don Cherry has a long history of making discriminatory comments on air. As Dave Zirin notes in his weekly column for The Nation, citing hockey reporter Jashvina Shah, Cherry’s recent offense was “minor compared to things he had said in the past, but after an explosive response to his most recent comments, it was the final straw.” It’s this “explosive response” that leads to my next note.
  2. Sportsnet shouldn’t be crowned the leader of the anti-discrimination squad for asking Cherry to step down. The decision was about profit far more than it was about a commitment to anti-discrimination. Cherry’s “you people” comments were the last straw for Sportsnet only because of the overwhelming backlash they got from viewers. This backlash scared them into thinking their profit margins might be compromised by Cherry’s antics. The profit seeking motive is what drives the commercial media system, and it was outraged viewers that might compromise these profits that are responsible for his dismissal. 
  3. Despite what many commentators and viewers have attempted to argue, freedom of expression has no bearing on this situation. Cherry was fired by a private corporation for not doing his job in a way that met the expectations of his employer. Don Cherry is still free to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants — he just doesn’t have access to a national corporate media platform the size of Sportsnet’s (at least for now). Don Cherry’s Charter Rights have not been compromised in any way during this controversy, and this is not something that should even be a part of this conversation. 

Now, here’s my question: 

Why isn’t Ron MacLean taking a remotely similar degree of heat to Cherry? He gave Don the thumbs up during his rant, didn’t express a word of opposition to his comments at the time, and then offered a weak, disjointed, and watered down remorse-themed segment on Hockey Night in Canada the following weekend. MacLean spent most of the few moments dedicated to the issue reminiscing about his time with Don and his personal feelings on the topic. 

The point is, discrimination in sports, and society in general, is an issue that runs far deeper than ex-host Don Cherry.