WELCH | NHL Faces Moment of Reckoning Over Several Racist Incidents


 The NHL has suffered from two racism scandals in two weeks: one from a television personality in Canada and another from a head coach. The incidences have forced the entire hockey community to face many of its shortcomings, including its promotion of cultures of secrecy and its preservation of outdated perspectives.

The first scandal emerged in the firing of Don Cherry, whose 40-year broadcasting career ended after he commented about the lack of poppy-wearers on Remembrance Day in Canada, specifically targeting non-native Canadians for neglecting the widely supported tradition. 

“You people — you that come here, whatever it is … could pay a couple of bucks for poppies. … These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada,” said Cherry in his “Coach’s Corner” broadcast segment. Remembrance Day is a memorial holiday in Canada to commemorate the Canadians who have fought and died in armed conflicts.

I find that Cherry’s comments about the holiday reveal a belief that Canada’s immigrant population is somehow less patriotic or grateful for the Canadian way of life than native-born Canadians. More surprisingly, Cherry showed a complete lack of remorse when confronted about the charged statements, simply responding with a back-handed apology: “I know what I said and I meant it.” 

Cherry’s comments are all the more significant as he is a fixture of hockey for Canada. He hosts a segment during the game intermissions on “Hockey Night in Canada,” a highly televised program that draws in around a million viewers weekly. Even before the emergence of his anti-immigrant comments, Cherry failed at many aspects of his sports commentator career, bringing into question his suitability for the position. He could not pronounce players’ names correctly if his job depended on it — which it evidently did not — as he often mispronounced dozens of players’ names. 

He hardly seems capable of finishing a thought coherently, as his co-presenter constantly reminds him of what he’s supposed to be talking about. He has also referred to the Carolina Hurricanes as “a bunch of jerks” for their team celebrations, dubbed concussion spotters as “dum dums,” clearly an opinion with no place in 2019, and generally prefers the “good Canadian boys” over other players, even as the sport spreads internationally. 

Despite all of this, his brash personality has been a draw for his segment since the ’80s as he brings in millions of viewers, some of whom only tune in to watch his segment instead of the actual game. I have made several references in previous installments of this column to the old guard of hockey, who prize rough play and toughness over skill and strategy. Cherry is the figurehead of this way of thinking and his firing should represent a changing of the guard of television personalities.