It’s a question that has been asked many times before, and each time, in the eyes of CBC executives at least, the answer has always been no. Don Cherry’s 1st intermission segment, Coach’s Corner, returned to the CBC airwaves with the return of the National Hockey League last week. And after a summer where three NHL players took their own lives, Cherry wanted to make sure his views were well-known. The aftermath was a controversy surrounding Cherry that might be the biggest ever.
Cherry took issue with the claims of many hockey pundits that fighting in the National Hockey League may have led to depression, or other mental problems, which in turn resulted in the suicides of Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien. Here is a quote from Cherry.
Is that ridiculous, I’ll tell you one thing there, people that are against fighting you should be ashamed of yourself. You took advantage of that to make your point on fighting, you should be ashamed of yourself doing something like that.
He then followed that up by quoting TVA Sports analyst Georges Laraque, and taking three ex-NHL players, who were all fighters, to task.
But, the ones that I am disgusted with, and, I hate to say this when the kids are listening… They are a bunch of pukes that fought before: Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson. The reason, oh the reason that they’re drinking, drugs and alcoholic is because they fight. You turncoats, you hypocrites. The one thing that I’m not is a hypocrite. You guys, you were fighters and now you don’t want guys to make the same living you did.
I don’t think that Grimson, Nilan or Thomson deterring fighting is in any way being hypocritical. They know better than anyone else that it is a hard job and it can result in injury. Cherry did offer a half-hearted apology on Saturday night when he said he shouldn’t have called them “pukes”, which for me is very childish. He didn’t apologize for calling the trio “turncoats” or “hypocrites” though.
Cherry has bigger problems now though because, it turns out that neither Grimson or Nilan have ever linked fighting in hockey to drug and alcohol abuse. Shortly after the October 6 broadcast of Coach’s corner, Nilan Tweeted.
Nilan’s Tweet added fuel to the fire with fans who were already angry with Cherry’s message. Nilan confirmed that what Cherry said was worse than initially thought. It is fine for Cherry to express his opinion, but it turns out Nilan never said what Cherry accused him of. It is vital that commentators never misquote players, especially in a negative light.
On Friday afternoon Kirstine Stewart of the CBC responded to Cherry’s comments. To me, this is a sign that the CBC knows what Cherry said was wrong, even worth firing him for. Of course CBC doesn’t want to do fire him, so the next best option is damage control. It was poorly executed both by Stewart and Ron MacLean on Saturday’s broadcast. Here is what Stewart had to say.
While we support his right to voice that opinion, we do not share his position. Safety is a top priority for CBC, and we support the initiatives of the NHL and others in keeping players safe on and off the ice.
The story took another turn this morning with the news that Nilan, Grimson and Thomson are considering legal action against Cherry for his comments. Grimson is now an attorney in Nashville, so he is well-educated with lawsuits. Here is the statement released by the three today.
During CBC’s broadcast of Coach’s Corner on Oct. 6, 2011, Don Cherry inserted himself into a prominent debate involving the recent deaths of three (3) NHL players, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and mental illness. In doing so, Mr. Cherry targeted the above-named individuals, some of whom have suffered from such diseases, as a result of views they previously expressed. Mr. Cherry’s comments were more than inappropriate; they were baseless and slanderous. Furthermore, Mr. Cherry’s subsequent attempt to qualify his comments on Oct. 8, 2011, was entirely ineffectual. Mr. Cherry’s conduct throughout has demonstrated a complete lack of decency.
CBC had three options on Friday morning. The most extreme would have been to fire Cherry. They could have also suspended him from their broadcasts on Saturday and Sunday, which would have bought them some time to decide what to do. The third option, which is the one CBC chose, was to do nothing. While Cherry certainly does have the right to freedom of speech, CBC has no obligation to broadcast it.
My suggestion to CBC is to let Cherry finish the season. Then they should let him retire, while allowing him to come back for big events such as the All Star Game. Or they should bring in someone with an opposite viewpoint to counter what Cherry says. Regardless of what Ron MacLean thinks, he usually lets Cherry speak without any real argument.
Cherry is a good guy, he is right about a lot of things in hockey. However, he needs to learn when to keep quiet on certain issues. A better tribute to Belak, Boogaard and Rypien would have been to show some of their goals, shot blocks or hits and then say how much the game will miss them.