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Don Cherry stepping down from Hockey Night in Canada over divisive comments

Last Updated Nov 12, 2019 at 1:00 pm EDT

Sportsnet says Don Cherry will be immediately stepping down from Hockey Night in Canada after comments he made on Saturday night’s Coach’s Corner about newcomers to Canada not wearing poppies sparked huge backlash.

A statement released by Sportsnet said following discussions with Cherry, “it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down.”

President of Sportsnet Bart Yabsley thanked Cherry for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada. “Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years,” read the statement.

Cherry, during a phone call with KiSS 92.5’s Maurie Sherman Monday night, said he “meant every word” of his comments. Listen below.

In an interview with the Canadian Press late Monday night, Cherry says he wouldn’t be apologizing.

“I know what I said and I meant it. Still do. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers,” Cherry told The Canadian Press, saying Sportsnet fired him.

The move follows what the organization calls Cherry’s “divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for,” made over this past weekend’s broadcast.

The 85-year-old said on his weekly segment as part of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday that he’s less frequently seeing people wearing poppies anymore to honour fallen Canadian soldiers – and he singled out those he believes are immigrants in Toronto and Mississauga, prompting a swift online backlash.

“You people … 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,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

Cherry made his comment prior to running his annual Remembrance Day video montage, where he is seen walking through a military cemetery in France visiting the graves of Canadian soldiers who went to battle in the First World War.

Cherry, however, denies he was singling out visible minorities.

“I did not say minorities, I did not say immigrants. If you watch ‘Coach’s Corner,’ I did not say that. I said ‘everybody.’ And I said ‘you people,'” Cherry said.

“Irish, Scotch, anybody that’s newcomers to Canada, and they should wear a poppy to honour our dead from the past, whether they’re Scotch or Irish or English, or where they come from.”

Cherry added that he could have stayed on “if I had turned into a tame robot who nobody would recognize.”

“I can’t do that after 38 years,” he said.

Ron MacLean apologized during the opening remarks of Hometown Hockey which aired on Sportsnet Sunday evening.

“I owe you an apology too. That is the the big thing that I want to emphasize. I sat there, did not catch it and did not respond,” said MacLean.

Rogers Media, a subsidiary of Rogers Communications, is the parent company of Sportsnet which also owns this website.

Budweiser, the sponsor of “Coach’s Corner”, put out a statement condemning Cherry’s comments after Sportsnet’s decision.

“The comments made Saturday on Coach’s Corner were clearly inappropriate and divisive, and in no way reflect Budweiser’s views,” says the statement from Todd Allen, vice-president of marketing for Labatt Breweries of Canada, which has Budweiser as one of its brands.

“As a sponsor of the broadcast, we immediately expressed our concerns and respect the decision which was made by Sportsnet today.”

The NHL also released a statement calling Sportsnet’s decision a “justifiable response to his comments.”

“The opinions he expressed are in direct conflict with the values of diversity and inclusion that we embrace as pillars of our sport,” read the statement in part.

Cherry said he is receiving many phone calls and texts of support. He said he doesn’t have any immediate plans.

“I’m figuring out what I’m going to do with all my jackets,” he joked.

The hashtags #firedoncherry and #DonCherryMustGo were trending on social media in the wake of his comments and prompted several politicians include Toronto Mayor John Tory and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie to speak out against the rant.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council also posted on their website Sunday that they would be unable to accept any further complaints as the number they have received concerning the Coach’s Corner broadcast has exceed their their technical processing capacities.

There was no immediate word on who might replace Cherry on “Coach’s Corner” or if it would continue in its current form. A spokesman said Sportsnet was “still considering options for our first intermission segment.”

A consistently polarizing figure throughout his long broadcasting career, Cherry also had his share of supporters weigh in on social media over the last couple days.

A hard-nosed career minor-leaguer who won coach of the year honours with the NHL’s Boston Bruins in 1976, Cherry moved in front of the camera in 1980.

The list of controversial Cherry moments is a long one.

In 1989, when asked about then-Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Alpo Suhonen, Cherry quipped that his name sounded like “dog food.”

Seven years later, Cherry lambasted Ottawa fans after they cheered for Russia against the U.S. in a World Cup of Hockey semifinal.

“Don’t do it again, it was a disgrace. If Saddam Hussein put up 1,000 missiles at our country, who would you go to for help? The Russians or the U.S.? Don’t do it again.”

Cherry was voted the seventh-greatest Canadian on CBC’s television project, “The Greatest Canadian,” in 2004. He finished ahead of Wayne Gretzky, inventor Alexander Graham Bell and Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald.

That same year, Cherry was publicly reprimanded by the CBC and subjected to a seven-second tape delay when he said only “Europeans and French guys” wore visors.

— With files from Paola Loriggio in Toronto and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.