Don Cherry, the serially and sartorially outspoken hockey broadcaster, has been fired by Sportsnet, the network announced on Monday. He had been due to visit Yellowknife for Hockey Day in Canada in February.
Cherry and co-host Ron MacLean were expected to take part in festivities from February 5-8 as the major broadcast visits the Northwest Territories for the first time.
However, Sportsnet appeared to cut all ties with Cherry in a statement posted to Twitter. On Saturday’s “Coach’s Corner” segment of Hockey Night in Canada, the 85-year-old had stated he believed new immigrants do not wear poppies and do not support veterans.
Network president Bart Yabsley, who had earlier called those comments “divisive” and “offensive,” said in a statement on Monday – Remembrance Day – that Cherry had since been fired.
“Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down,” said Yabsley.
“During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for.”
Yabsley went on to thank Cherry for his decades of service to the sport of hockey. Cherry was an NHL coach with the Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies from 1974 to 1980. His broadcasting career began with the CBC in the spring of 1980.
Cherry and MacLean have together broadcast Coach’s Corner since 1986. MacLean apologized for Cherry’s remarks, and his role in the segment, during a live broadcast on Sunday.
‘I walk the walk’
Later on Monday, according to the Toronto Sun, Cherry said being fired on Remembrance Day hurt “because I would have liked to continue doing Coach’s Corner. The problem is if I have to watch everything I say, it isn’t Coach’s Corner.”
Cherry told the newspaper he stood by his comments. “I speak the truth and I walk the walk,” the Toronto Sun quoted Cherry as saying.
On Saturday, referring to new immigrants, Cherry had said on-air: “You people that come here, whatever it is, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey. At least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that.
“These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada. These guys paid the biggest price.”
Cherry would have celebrated his 86th birthday on the opening day of Hockey Day in Canada celebrations in Yellowknife. (The event, somewhat misnamed, in actuality spans four days of events culminating in a half-day live broadcast from the city.)
In spite of regular controversies over his comments on a range of issues, Cherry remained popular with a significant proportion of Canada’s hockey-viewing audience and would have been, alongside MacLean, one of the biggest names visiting the city for Hockey Day.
However, Yellowknife – which has one of the youngest demographics of any Canadian city – prides itself on the many cultures welcome and thriving within the municipality. The Northwest Territories, more broadly, actively promotes immigration and is working to increase the number of newcomers.
A Remembrance Day service held at the city’s St Patrick High School on Monday was attended by more than 1,000 people.
Separately, the City of Yellowknife has launched a campaign to attract volunteers to help Hockey Day in Canada organizers. More than 200 helpers are needed but currently only around 30 are signed up, the Mayor of Yellowknife said last week.