Don Cherry lost his job yesterday over Remembrance Day remarks about immigrants and poppies. We explore what this means for cancel culture and the intent of the originators of the poppy tradition.
Don Cherry needs no introduction in Canada. On the other hand, since Dare to Know now reaches over 60 countries, maybe I should briefly explain who he is.
Don Cherry was the National Hockey League (NHL) Coach of the Year in 1976, with the Boston Bruins. Around 1980, he started drifting toward a career as a sportscaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Before long, they gave him a spot called Coach’s Corner on their flagship Hockey Night in Canada program, where he has worked for 34 years.
He was always controversial in that role. Over the years, he has been disciplined by the CBC for verbal attacks against French Canadian players, European players, players who wear protective gear and former players raising awareness about their brain injuries.
Canada’s beloved game his leverage to spout off
Not content to limit himself to hockey or even sports. Canada’s beloved game gives him the leverage to spout off about other people he has issues with like Iraq War dissenters, political left-wingers, female reporters, the Inuit and climatologists, among many others.
Things ultimately got out of hand on the Saturday night before Remembrance Day. Cherry explained to host Ron McLean that, although he had been in charge of the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual poppy drive for many years, he was thinking of giving it up. He said that where he lives in Mississauga, very few people wear a poppy and that nobody wears the symbolic red flower in downtown Toronto.
He went on to say, “You people that come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you could pay a couple of bucks for a poppy.” Those remarks were the last straw, and Sportsnet fired him. As an 85-year-old man with an estimated net worth of $14 million, I’m sure he’ll manage to cope financially.
Cherry attributes decline in poppy to immigrants.
Cherry attributes a decline in respect for the poppy to growing numbers of immigrants. In Peel Region, where he lives, the bulk of immigration in recent years has been from South Asia.
I gather that Don Cherry never met Lieutenant-Colonel Pritam Singh Jauhar. Like many of his fellow Sikhs, he served with distinction in WWII. He was instrumental in getting Canadian Legion halls to stop requiring Sikhs to remove their turbans to conform with “headgear” regulations. The Queen invited Jauha to tea to honour him. She told him that he had made a “wise decision” to advise her of the turban dispute.
Cherry wore a Royal Canadian Legion jacket even though he has never served in the military. In contrast, South Asian men, particularly Sikhs, have a long tradition of military service. Historian Steven Purewal told the CBC that if soldiers from Punjab had not held the Port of Calais during WWI, Canadian soldiers could not have made any of their contributions to the allied victory in Europe.
In World War II, two and a half million men served in the British Indian Army. They fought with the British Expeditionary Force and were part of Dunkirk. They were instrumental in liberating Italy and Greece. Being based in Asia, they made a massive contribution to the defeat of the Japanese.
“Stereotype of the thankless immigrant and it’s completely wrong”
As Purewal explained, “What Don Cherry did was endorse a stereotype of the thankless immigrant, of an immigrant that isn’t patriotic, of an immigrant that hasn’t paid his way, and it’s completely wrong,”
So, Cherry is wrong about people from South Asia having no respect for fallen soldiers in both World Wars. Even so, his fans, and he has a lot of them, defend him on other grounds. They say that he is part of a new trend called “cancel culture”. They insist that anyone who misspeaks or says anything that millennial snowflakes deem to be politically incorrect, now has their career ruined for life.
Controversial people have been “cancelled” since before I was born. Lenny Bruce went to jail in 1961. CBS fired the Smothers Brothers in 1969. Commentator and oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek lost his job at ABC Sports in the 80s. Performers are not entitled to a platform. There is no such thing as cancel culture.
“Racist people aren’t getting power they think they deserve.”
As satirist Cody Johnston explains, “The pearl-clutching panic has nothing to do with offended Millenials so much as entitled rich people who are upset that there are now slightly more consequences to their actions. The big outrage is that potentially racist or abusive people aren’t getting all the power they think they deserve.”
Johnston wasn’t talking about Cherry, but he fits the mould. He refuses to apologize, saying, “The problem is if I have to watch everything I say, it isn’t Coach’s Corner.” In other words, Cherry felt that he was entitled to his platform. Otherwise, he didn’t get the power he thought he deserved.
There’s another angle to this story. It has to do with why we wear poppies in the first place. As Ted Harrison writes in The Guardian, “The poppy represented mourning and regret, and served as a pledge that war must never happen again.” It isn’t about patriotism or national pride or militarism. People like Don Cherry seem to think that it is.
“Red flower should be a declaration of hope that wars should never happen again”
Harrison goes on to write, “Judged from the perspective of those first wearers of the poppy – that the red flower should be a declaration of hope that wars should never happen again – the poppy has been a sad failure.” Despite his commendable efforts to promote the legion’s poppy drive, Cherry just made a considerable contribution to that failure. And so, it was time for him to go.
Hopefully, he and his fans will learn from his mistakes.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
Globe and Mail
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